Back to Common Ground Archive



Air Date: February 11, 1997
Program 9706


CULTURE OF INFORMATION


Guests:

Chuck Lankester, Director,
Sustainable Development Network Programme

Sanjay Srivastava, Systems Marketing Manager, Hewlett-Packard


(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely

distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

CHUCK LANKESTER, Director, Sustainable Development Network Programme: This is not just a
question of a country sucking information out of the cyberspace and saying, wow.

KEITH PORTER, Producer: This week on Common Ground, creating a culture of
information to support sustainable human development.

SANJAY SRIVASTAVA, Systems Marketing Manager, Hewlett-Packard: Frankly, it makes business
sense for us to be involved in this because it allows us into new countries and into new areas
and really be on the forefront of applied technology to the world’s needs. The next billion users
on the Internet are supposed to be coming from the developing world.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter. In simple terms, the phrase
“sustainable human development” means balancing global, economic expansion with concern for the
environment, health and social welfare of future generations. Making sustainable development a
reality requires careful decision making and easy access to critical information. Access to this
kind of information is the goal of an ongoing project of the United Nations Development Program.
The project is known as SDNP, the Sustainable Development Network Programme. SDNP director, Chuck
Lankester, says the program had its start in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

LANKESTER: In the beginning of the PrepCon process, frankly access to information was not
high on the agenda of the developing countries or on the list for the organizers of the
conference. But by golly, by the time Rio terminated, it had come to the fore and if you read one
of the major products of Rio, which is the so-called Agenda 21, or how we’re going to improve our
world in the 21st century, Chapter 40 of Agenda 21 is directed solely of this question of
providing access to information to different groups in the development process. So we then began
formally to do field work in 1992 with this recognition coming from Rio de Janeiro, that this
really was an indispensable part of the program.

PORTER: I notice in one of your documents there is a reference to the term “culture of
information.” What is a culture of information and how do you create one?

LANKESTER: It’s a tough question, because quite frankly in organizations like United
Nations Development Program, we have as much of a problem of changing the way that we’ve been
treating information as we do in most developing countries. What I think when I may have been the
one who wrote those words in the brochure, and I think that probably what I had in mind was that
you have to recognize the crude truth and that is that information is power. So many civil
servants, many decision-makers in many societies in many governments, reached the zenith of their
careers by making sure that the information which would enable them to advance was distributed to
a selected group of people who would support them or who would support the policies that they
were implementing. To go to those people today and say, there is no longer a culture of
withholding information on a selected basis, providing it on a selective basis, but rather you’re
going to put it onto a computer-mediated basis and the most junior person in the organization,
whether you’re a G-2 in the United Nations system, compared to the Secretary General or to
somebody at my level in the directorship, or whether you’re a junior civil servant and you’re
talking vis-à-vis the minister, you will both in future have access to the same level and
the same type of information, so no longer can you be told as the junior person on the totem
pole, do it this way because I know better than you do. No, today we all have access to the same
quality, the same type of information through computer-mediated information.

Now changing that paradigm of withholding to sharing is a massive cultural problem. Not in all
countries. There are some countries where governments are comfortable working with
non-governmental organizations, with academia. There are some countries, and we don’t need to
name them necessarily now Keith, but there are some countries where ministers are distinctly
uncomfortable working with the media or working with nongovernmental organizations and that is
what we are in the process of breaking down. So we’re not just providing connectivity. In the
process of providing connectivity, we’re trying to show many societies, many individuals in many
countries that this really is the way to go and if they want to become citizens, if they want
their economies to be part of the world economy, this is a technology, this is a medium, this is
a revolution that they’ve got to comfortable with and they’ve got to participate in it.

PORTER: It seems like we’re talking about two different areas here. One is the
information itself and the other one is this connectivity and how it gets shared. Let’s sort of
get that out of the way first. Are we just talking about sort of super high tech ways of
connecting people or are we talking about a wider array of sharing it.

LANKESTER: You’ve got a couple of questions there. Let me tackle the first one and say
that our initial and still our primary focus, because there are many countries who do not have
the connectivity, our initial primary focus then is trying to assist them in that. This tall
gentleman that you saw leaving my office as you were coming in is a senior project manager
working in Haiti in the environmental area. He’s tearing his hair out, what little there is left
of it, because there isn’t a bloody thing that’s going on in Haiti which permits him to access
information. The phone system doesn’t work, there is no access to the Internet, there’s
restricted channels of communication for the United Nations. What he’s desperately trying to do
is seek our help in opening that up and what we have just done is to organize a feasibility study
mission to go down and start seeing exactly how we can change the situation in Haiti. So
connectivity is still a major issue. Beyond connectivity, we are concerned about information
management. How and what and where, how it is organized, where do you get it and things like
that. But that’s still a second part of our mandate.

Coming now to the question of technology, yes, twice a day I get a little prayer mat out of my
cupboard here, we put it on the floor and we worship before the great god Internet. But, there
are many societies where either the user community today or the foreseeable user community in
terms of numbers of people and whether they have the purchasing power to pay for the annual
connectivity costs, which are typically $100,000 a year, makes us progressive work if you like,
toward the Internet. There are other technologies and other systems that we might want to
consider putting in place if the community is very poor or small. So the Internet certainly is a
goal on the horizon, access to the World Wide Web is something that we would like to bring to
everybody, but we take a very careful look according to local circumstances in each country, the
size of the community, how quickly we can make it grow, before we take a decision on the
technology that we will provide.

PORTER: Okay. So what position do you hold in this church of the World Wide Web? Are you a
high priest or…

LANKESTER: Oh I think I’m at least a choir boy.

PORTER: Oh, okay.

LANKESTER: Certainly not a deacon.

PORTER: All right. Now let’s talk about the type of information. Are we talking about
sharing just raw data, temperature, fluctuation type things, or rainfall data—that kind of
thing? Or are we talking about sharing best practices types of more refined data, refined
narratives, that kind of stuff?

LANKESTER: All of those things. Let me use that delectable phrase that we have in UNese
called “sustainable human development.” Sustainable human development means any information that
is relevant to the development process, whether it’s economic, whether it’s social, whether it’s
technical. We don’t try to tell countries what they should and should not do in terms of the
types of information. They do have in some societies, reservations about certain types of data
that may be available. Pornographic information, how to blow up your government in ten easy
lessons or build a bomb. That’s not the kind of stuff that many leaders of society in the
developing world are particularly anxious to make sure is available to their citizens. So we tell
them how those kinds of things can be stopped if necessary. But we’re not in the business of
censorship here. We’re trying to encourage them to get access to the broadest possible spectrum
of information. Now Chad is not interested in marine fisheries and Guinea Bissau is not
necessarily interested in the latest decertification techniques. So the environment, national
resource management is certainly a big part of the type of information that people are looking
for. But we find when we look at the usage of these networks, that issues pertaining, for
example, to health, to education, to commerce, are also very widely used. So it’s going to be up
to each individual country’s management, because each network is managed by representatives of
the stakeholders, it’s going to up to them to decide which are the particular areas they want to
focus on. But the ball park is wide open for any type of activity and it’s essentially their
decision to make

PORTER: Is this sharing of information—I can think of this in two different ways. Maybe
one way is that the UN is sort of at the top, the sort of mother of all information, passing it
out, or is it more of a two-way street where there’s information that flows both ways on this
network?

LANKESTER: Absolutely the latter, and in no way at all the former. The UN has a great
deal of developmental information which is relevant. But there are all kinds of other sources,
hundreds of thousands of other sources including thousands upon thousands of other sources of
relevant data about indigenous information and indigenous practices in the developing countries
which needs to be made available to other countries. So this is not just a question of a country
sucking information out of the cyberspace and saying, wow! Best practices or worst failures that
we must copy of avoid. This is also a question of the United Nations and other organizations
placing information on-line, showing what we have done, what we can do and where our experience
lies and how they can access that information. So it’s a give and take.

PORTER: How is the SDNP established and maintained in each of the participating
countries?

LANKESTER: Essentially what we’re doing here from New York is providing venture capital
for a couple of years for an entrepreneurial individual, backed by a technician, chosen by this
representative group of stakeholders, who is being given a period of time to go out, lead the
horse to water, in other words convince a broad array of people in different sectors of the
economy that they can do a better job in whatever function they’re performing if they have access
to information. Probably to give them either free or heavily subsidized access to begin with so
they become turned on, hooked almost like heroin addicts to the use of information, so that six
months, 12 months down the line when you say, sorry, that chap Lankester in New York has just
pulled the plug, we don’t have quite as much money, tomorrow you’re gonna have to pay for at
least half of the cost of accessing this information, we want the reply to be, where do I sign
and it generally is. But you have to lead the horse to water, convince people of the value of
doing this.

PORTER: How big is this network at the moment?

LANKESTER: Well we began in ’92, we have as of today, 26 operating networks in—I
shouldn’t say 26 countries—in 25 countries. One of those is a regional network in the South
Pacific islands. We have in addition to that, 27 countries where we have either completed or have
feasibility studies ongoing. Those countries in other words have all asked for and have moved now
to the feasibility stage. My task then is to locate financing necessary to implement. But behind
that 26 plus 27, there are something of the order of magnitude of another 55 countries which have
asked for assistance and we’re grappling quite frankly with the problem of how to help them.

PORTER: Yeah, that was my next question is how big will it get and what are the upper
goals here?

LANKESTER: Well I would like in a certain sense for it to stabilize at roughly where it
is because as new countries come on board, I would like to think that we’re in the phase and
indeed we have reached that phase, where there are already five or six countries which we’ve just
chopped off at the knees and said, you’re on your own. And they’re succeeding. They are now
self-financing and able to perpetuate the network with their own ingenuity and fund raising
abilities, whether it’s in subscriptions or setting up Web sites, charging for consultant
services or whatever it is. So I don’t think it’s a question of mass. It’s a question of how soon
can we give such a facility to all of the developing countries. Gosh, I’d certainly hope Keith
that three years from now we can wrap the whole damn thing up.

PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground with Chuck Lankester,
Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Network Programme. Printed transcripts and
audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details.
Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan
organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage
dialogue on world affairs.

How about that financing? Where is that coming from, this initial financing?

LANKESTER: Well initially until you’ve convinced people in this business that you’ve got
a serious product and it’s been field tested, you find yourself having to use your own internal
resources in the UN. We’ve drawn heavily on a program called Capacity 21. Capacity 21 was a
program that came out of Agenda 21 in Rio de Janeiro, which aims specifically at building up the
capacity of countries to take their own decisions. But beyond that, whereas I initially found I
was having to write to some of our representatives around the world almost on an old friend basis
saying, hey look you should try this. And they were saying, well since it’s you old friend, yes,
if you really think it’s important. We’ve switched in the last months to recognition that this is
an indispensable technology, it’s an indispensable component in the whole development process, so
we now having people coming forth saying, Chuck—just exactly the Haiti case that I referred to
already twice—if you can help us with the feasibility study, convincing the authorities, and
show us what to do and how to do it, we will find the financing either through our own allocation
of monies from the UN given to each one of the countries as opposed to my small headquarters
budget, or we have co-financiers. Canadian CEDA??, USAID, the World Bank, everybody who’s working
in Haiti faces the same damn problem of lack of connectivity. So if you’re gonna set something up
we have an interest in making it work. We may be able to contribute to getting it off the ground.

PORTER: All right. Well, let’s talk about some success stories now. Where have things
gone right in this process?

LANKESTER: In Pakistan we now have something like 3,000 institutions and individuals who
are members of the network. I think there are actually something of the order of magnitude of 400
institutions, so something like 2,600 individuals. And an institution might be a university of
10,000 students. They are networking. It’s a very interesting case because in this particular
country, the charge for access of the Internet is still so high that even for a community of this
size, it would be difficult for us to meet those charges on an affordable basis.

PORTER: On a community of what size?

LANKESTER: 3,000 subscribers including institutions and individuals. So what we’re doing
in Pakistan is that our computers here in New York, SDNP hub, call our SDNP computers in
Islamabad about every two or three hours, all at U.S. tariff rates because a telephone call from
here to Islamabad is a twentieth of the cost of whatever it is from Islamabad to New York. So all
of our transactions are actually being done off-line in the sense that there is a two or three
hour gap. So Pakistan is not truly interactive through SDNP on the Internet or on the worldwide
web. But that two or three hour time delay is more than compensated by the fact that they get
reliable service through New York and that paying a fraction of the price than they otherwise
would be paying. We would much prefer to have been given a price from the authorities in Pakistan
so that our SDN community could have and could afford to pay for a line and I think the dialogue
is working in that direction. Pakistan is a country where they have achieved in terms of
environmental security—I remember that the mayor of Karachi had a major environmental scare.
They found some very nasty stuff in a warehouse, rang the SDNP in Islamabad and said, what do we
do? They put out a message, they had 55 replies from every corner of the world in 24 hours, and
that very ugly chemical which killed the first two people who opened the bags, was safely
disposed of 48 hours later without any further loss of life or injury. Simple case.

In the same country we have people who have rare diseases, whether it’s need for a special rare
type of blood or a kidney transfer, we’re providing completely free access to those kinds of
services to publicize the need worldwide for medical attention.

PORTER: Well we’re running short on time. Why don’t you tell us about Bolivia?

LANKESTER: Well this is a country where communications are extremely handicapped, a small
land-locked country in South America. When we think of Bolivia we don’t think about sustainable
development or a culture of sustainable development. We think about burning the Amazon forest and
colonization and exploitation of silver and all those horrible things. And yet this is a country
where with the creativity and imagination and the use of radio stations in conjunction with
communications and what we have put in place there—this is a country which is now from stem to
stern, from the jungle to the Andes, to the ?? planning??, is talking about sustainable human
development, citizens are looking for information to improve their lives and at the next meeting
of the heads of state of Latin America in LaPaz in December, we’re going to give a live
demonstration. In fact, in the office next door we’re right now constructing, planning how we
will do that. Bolivia, of all countries, is going to tell the rest of Latin America, this is what
we’ve done, this is how we’ve done it, and this is the impact that it’s had on our people and on
our planning process, to do what we talked about in Rio which is to try to reconcile the need for
economic growth with sustainable growth.

PORTER: All right, finally, why don’t you tell us about this relationship you announced
with Hewlett-Packard and what their role is.

LANKESTER: Well that’s a very exciting new development. It’s extremely exciting because
it’s the first time that the United Nations Development Program enters into a formal agreement
with a private corporation. It’s a private corporation, a very prestigious one, a high member of
the Fortune 500 club with a world wide reputation, very solid, good product, which quite
unbeknownst to me, learned about what we were doing, investigated us behind our back, and came
and said, hey, we have some very similar ideas. Of course they’re concerned ultimately with the
bottom line and they’d like to sell some products.

SANJAY SRIVASTAVA: There’s three things that we’re really contributing and looking for in
terms of the relationship.

PORTER: This is Sanjay Srivastava, Systems Marketing Manager for Hewlett-Packard.

SRIVASTAVA: First off, we’re bringing in products and technologies which we’re
contributing into this relationship and these will be in the form of servers, of software, of
??jet and LaserJet printers and other accessories that will come together to form the basis for
the technology that will be used in the different developing countries that will be implemented.
The second piece is ?? expertise and advice and we’ve really had a very long-standing involvement
in the Internet marketplace. HP internally actually has the largest Internet network in the world
and so there’s expertise we’ve acquired over time that we’re able to contribute into this
relationship as well. And then finally, we’re actually working with the United Nations to be able
to use the joint marketing arrangement which allows for us to be able to profile how sustainable
development as a concept is benefiting from the use of technology and how some of that technology
comes from Hewlett Packard.

PORTER: You mentioned the marketing aspect of this. I remember Apple Computer early on
would give computers to teachers and to classrooms and built a market in the educational
community to buy more Apple computers obviously. Are you hoping the same kind of thing will
happen here?

SRIVASTAVA: Well, yeah, in some ways, the answer is yes. The basis for this is, the
strong basis for this from a marketing point of view and let me explain the way we looked at it
from the Hewlett Packard point of view. Obviously the United Nations Development Program is very
keen on bringing a lot more visibility into the concept of sustainable development and so there’s
marketing leverage that they’re looking to be able to find in this relationship as well. But just
from the Hewlett Packard point of view there’s three things that we really think are going to be
worthwhile from a marketing perspective, the first of which is actually as we market computers,
we want to market computers in more of a real sense. You know, we’ve been long criticized of not
doing enough on the marketing side and yet the approach we’ve taken to marketing is to do some
real marketing and profile how computers and technologies are actually being used. So you may not
find us doing advertisement for instance, about how people are walking down on streets and
talking about computers that might not be real scenarios, and in turn, we actually try and look
at real applications and how technology is making a real difference in the world. And this
opportunity, we thought, would be a good one because it would allow us to profile the use of
technology in very socially, sort of emotionally effective ways, if you will, because it does
actually help sort of make the world a better place to live in. So clearly that was one aspect of
marketing.

I think there’s another aspect of marketing from HPs point of view as well and when you think
about Hewlett-Packard, we really are very serious about the Internet as a market opportunity.
We’re one of the largest players in that market space and frankly, it makes business sense for us
to be involved in this because it allows us to get into new countries, into new areas and really
be on the forefront of applying technology to the world’s needs. I think I read somewhere that
the next billion users on the Internet are supposed to be coming from the developing world. So if
you look at the market opportunity, going back to your analogy about Apple, I think that some of
that is really true because it allows us to get out to the forefront of technology and apart from
just the marketing and the awareness aspect of it, it allows us to understand how technology is
being used and be able to bring that understanding back into a product development cycle and
really insure that as our products and product marketing efforts come out, they are very much in
tune with the future needs. So I think that’s another aspect.

And I think finally the third aspect of marketing is that it just makes good business sense for
Hewlett-Packard or good sense for Hewlett-Packard. HPs long been involved in the community and
the whole concept of sustainability, even at a business level, you know we’ve been in businesses
that we’ve wanted to be in for the long term and we get into market segments for the long term.
So the concept of sustainability is not new to us. In terms of our business strategies, we’ve
implemented that in terms of the way we’ve designed products, we’ve really based those on
standards and standard implementations to be able to give investment protection to our customers.
So it really was an embodiment of a lot of the thinking in the strategic part of the company, in
the marketing part of the company and this is very consistent with the way we’re moving forward
in the rest of HP. So in summary, yes it makes marketing sense, it makes business sense, and it
makes HP sense in the way and the kinds of people we are.

LANKESTER: Well certainly HP has some self interest in this and we would be extremely
naïve if we didn’t recognize that. We do. They, on the other hand, have come to us, as I
said, with a very healthy responsible attitude. We’ve worked out an agreement that’s mutually
beneficial, the synergies are very obvious to both parties and I hope that it’s a model that
others will follow.

PORTER: That is Chuck Lankester, Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development
Network Programme. Our other guest was Sanjay Srivastava, Systems Marketing Manager at
Hewlett-Packard. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost
$5.00. To order a tape or transcript or if you’d like to share your thoughts about the program,
please write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Suite 500, Muscatine, Iowa
52761. Be sure to refer to Program No. 9706. To order by credit card you can call us at
319-264-1500. Our e-mail address is [email protected]. Again, cassettes are
$5.00 and transcripts are free of charge.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by
the Stanley Foundation.





Copyright © 1997,
The Stanley Foundation


[email protected]