The United Nations has proposed a global IT alliance to help boost technology investment in the world's poorest countries.
At a meeting this week, representatives from the public and private sectors and other non-governmental organisations agreed to submit a proposal for the new alliance to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the hope of having the initiative adopted by delegates at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) gathering in Tunisia in November 2005.
Sarbuland Khan, a director with the UN ICT Task Force explained: "The idea is to keep the ball rolling after next year's summit ends. We need to help governments in developing countries make significant policy reforms and regulatory changes so that the private sector can play a key role in ICT investments."
Investments in computers, telecommunications systems and other infrastructure equipment are not happening in some countries because they are viewed by the public sector as risky, Khan said.
The first step is for local governments to make necessary market reforms, he said. Then, in a second step, wealthier countries and multi-lateral organizations such as International Finance could absorb some of the risk by guaranteeing support to investors in the public sector. "Donor countries should join hands and say 'OK, we'll cover risks up to 25 percent of the investment but the rest should come from the private sector,'" Khan said. "If the necessary market reforms are in place, why shouldn't the private sector be interested?"
The proposed global alliance will serve as "a facilitator" that brings key people together on a global basis to discuss policy, reforms and investment mechanisms, according to Khan. It will not be "an operational organisation," such as the Development Gateway Foundation or the World Bank, which implement projects, he said. "The alliance will facilitate action, but the action itself will be taken over by the operating units," he said.
Although the global alliance would be linked to the UN, it would be a totally independent body to ensure that it does not become "hobbled by bureaucracy", Khan said. The UN has 191 member states, making the agreement process highly complex, he said.
Ten organisations, including the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Bank, have agreed to gather views from partners in the public and private sectors and in multi-lateral organisations before the ICT Task Force meets again in April to draft a proposal for the global alliance, Khan said.