WSIS Volunteer Family, Phase 1 Report
The recently concluded first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society has been a ‘modest breakthrough’ for the volunteer movement. A breakthrough because for the first time in major UN Summits, Volunteering has been on the agenda and discussions from its earliest stages, and there is text on Volunteering in the official final documents. A modest one because we have realized that there is much more to do in order to convey a generalized understanding of the proper role of Volunteering in bringing about more fair and inclusive information societies –and this including among civil society organizations.
ICT Volunteering may be defined as the range of volunteer action the common characteristic of which is the targeted use of digital technologies. It comprises mainly of (1) actions by volunteers resulting in the practical ICT use by other people in their human development processes, and (2) the use of ICT, and in particular the Internet, to enable and facilitate volunteer collaboration (as in Online Volunteering).
Why should ICT Volunteering, and Volunteering in general, be considered in relation to the Information Society? We articulated the following reasons at the WSIS Paris meeting in July 2003:
UNVolunteers structured, since WSIS PrepCom 1, the analysis of Volunteering in the Information Society along two basic lines. First, examining the role of Volunteering in the emergence and evolution of the Information Society (more precisely, of ‘information societies’). Second, identifying the influence of the Information Society on the mass social phenomenon, known as Volunteering. The Plan of Action presented by the WSIS Volunteer Family at the December 2003 Summit contains a rich set of actions and proposals along both of these lines that would considerably expand the role of ICT Volunteering and the impact of Volunteering in the Information Society. We look forward to their implementation and hope that many institutions in the public, private and civil society sectors notice and support them.
I want to make reference in particular to two manifestations of ICT Volunteering that can have major effects, potentially facilitating the additional involvement of millions of volunteers in development activities. One is Online Volunteering, which breaks down barriers of geography in allowing people anywhere with access to the Internet to make their contributions in all fields of development, from AIDS to education, from gender equity to environment. The other is the widespread involvement of universities in narrowing the digital divide, through their unmatched pool of intellectual capital and new generations of students already familiar with the use of ICT across all sectors of human endeavour.
Let us look forward to a reinforced understanding of the roles and value of Volunteering in the second phase of WSIS, and let us be prepared to work hard together to achieve it.