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May 2003    Main Feature
a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda
No. 73

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Managing editor:
David J. Skyrme


Evolving Innovation Infrastructures

Debra M. Amidon

In The Innovation Superhighway, several vignettes were featured about how people from many backgrounds and from across the world are coming together, sharing and applying their knowledge to convert concepts and dreams into plans, policies and programs for a more sustainable world. I provided several examples - from New Zealand, Singapore, Africa and other continents and countries, where collectively these knowledge networks are building the foundation for a future that does not exist today. Even in the short time since writing the book, there are more examples of this momentum building. This article outlines some of the developments. Read them in conjunction with Chapter 14 of the book and you can see what a powerful momentum is building up. If you aren't already participating in one of these networks, why not do so?

Global Knowledge Partnership

Following the first Global Knowledge Conference, held in Toronto in 1997, and hosted by the Canadian government and The World Bank, the Global Knowledge Partnership was created. Describing itself as "network of networks" its diverse membership base comprises public, private and not-for profit organizations from both developed and developing countries. It facilitates the flow of knowledge from the point of origin to the point of need or opportunity. Simply stated, the GKP has a vision of a world of equal opportunities where all people are able to have access to and use knowledge and information to improve their lives:

  • "We aim to promote broad access to and effective use of knowledge and information as tools of equitable sustainable development."
  • "We share information, experiences and resources to realize the potential of information and communication technologies to improve lives, reduce poverty and empower people."

It's action plan focuses on concrete policies, programs and projects to address global issues, including poverty alleviation, the digital divide, global governance and human resource development. One of its vehicles for doing this is its Development Gateway "where the worlds of knowledge meet". This is designed to provide the "value added" to audiences in developing countries and to other stakeholders. There are opportunities to exchange ideas and knowledge, find development projects, explore business opportunities, and access country gateways.

Even as recent as last week (as reported in the GKD electronic conference), the first ICT Development Forum on the theme of "Leadership for a Connected World" was held near Bonn, Germany, on May 21, 2003. The Forum was hosted by the Development Gateway Foundation, in partnership with the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and with Deutsche Telekom AG. To support that effort and to celebrate the World Telecommunications Day (May 17) there is a special report on e-leadership. Visit the DG special report Leadership & Innovation for a Connected World.

Established Initiatives

Particular initiatives highlighted in the book include:

  • Knowledge Wave Trust (New Zealand) - This organization promotes existing and new initiatives, stimulate public discussion and benchmark New Zealand's progress on economic, social and environmental fronts as it transitions to a knowledge society. Its launch conference in August 2001 generated over 100 specific recommendations. Recent developments have been the launch of a leadership institute at the University of Auckland Business School and a volunteer network of 'young seniors' (aged 55-65) to apply their knowledge, wisdom and experience for the benefit of their communities.

  • Singapore - the innovation nation. Never standing still, Singapore's government and other institutions are at the forefront of new initiatives focusing on knowledge, technology, innovation and value-creation. It puts emphasis on human capital, regarding people as the DNA of an organization. 2001 saw the creation of an Innovation Council - embracing the private and public sector - to position Singapore as 'The Innovation Nation' with specific plans to stimulate and nurture an enterprising spirit to all Singaporeans. The former Standards Board was relaunched in April 2002 as SPRING (Standards, Productivity and Innovation for Growth) to spearhead this movement. Its activities include running innovation classes. It also runs an E*Best portal (Excellence through Best Practices and Standards).

  • CBIRD (Cross-Border Institute for Regional Development). This is one of the most progressive experiments in crossing geographic territorial boundaries resides on the border of Mexico and the United States (Texas). Imagine if the 'border' between two countries did not in actuality exist? What might that bode fore the innovation capability and economic development of the region? One of the leading lights behind its inspiration of "One region, One future" ("Una Rgion, Un Futuro") is our E100 George Kozmetsky (see below).

  • NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development). This builds on a pledge by African leaders, based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development. At the same time, they want to participate actively in the world economy and political bodies. Unsurprisingly basic issues like health, food production and distribution and climate change, rather than topics like knowledge management, dominate their agenda.

Below are featured some newer initiatives that have been launched during the last year or so, as well as commentary on some related events.

Information Society: Voices from The South

One network that has recently launched itself using the facilities of a discussion list is 'Information Society: Voices from the South'. Created by the Digital Opportunity Channel of OneWorld South Asia and Bytes for All, a South Asian voluntary network, it aims to bridge the gap between the formal processes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and community builders and networkers in the South. It notes:

"Though the present dynamics of Information Society are being held within the realms of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) practices that are entirely a domain of the North, we believe the South too has a significant role to play and valuable experiences to share. This platform, 'Information Society: Voices from the South', is based on a realization of these facts, and is therefore run from the South, by Southern organizations. It is open to anyone (even from the North) who is interested on ICTs and Information Society issues in the developing countries."

Working each month on a defined topic, participants provide critical analysis, examples and best practices, and discuss challenges and opportunities alongside policy implications, preconditions, successes and failures. It wants to influence the national, regional and global strategies of key policy makers. Examples of issues under scrutiny are:

  1. 1. How does information society relate to development and poverty alleviation?
  2. How can indigenous knowledge and local content be represented and preserved?
  3. Why is it important to provide access to information to women?
  4. Should access be free in all cases? What about sustainability of access-related projects?
  5. Why and how diversity of opinions, cultures, languages and perspectives need to be addressed on information society agendas?

Further information on this initiative can be found at

Economic Commission for Africa

CODI (Committee on Development Information) is one of seven technical Committees established by the ECA's (Economic Commission for Africa) Conference of Ministers in May 1997. Its aim is to promote the growth of an information society in Africa. It meets bi-annually. The first meeting took place in 1999 under the theme 'Harnessing Information for Development'. This was followed by the theme 'Development Information for Decision Making'. The most recent meeting attended by development information experts from 53 African countries took place in Addis Ababa from 10-16 May 2003. Its theme was the link between development information and good governance. This recognizes that Africa's development challenges cannot be achieved in the absence of good governance. Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane, Director of ECA's Development Information Services Division says:

"Since good governance requires transparency and community participation in the decision process, it is important that appropriate data be collected, maintained, processed into information and made easily accessible to the general citizenry".

CODI has three subcommittees - on Information and Communications Technologies, statistics and geoinformation. Further information on CODI can be found at

ECIE (Electronic Commerce and Information Exchange)

Set up by Peruvians in 1995, ECIE was seen as a way to disseminate knowledge to rural areas of South America. Its treasurer Martha Davies presented "Building Virtual Bridges - Inca Style" at a World Bank workshop "Empowering the Poor through Rural Tele-centers" that took place in Washington last December. She recounted how Inca communities would work together to build suspension bridges made entirely out of straw. Straw or grasses were rolled into strings. The strings were then rolled into chords, the chords into ropes, the ropes into cables and so on. Thus the Incas were able to build something strong from something as light as straw. It was also an approach that embodied community participation. These practices served the Inca community well and it remains a tradition today in the rural areas of Peru.

Martha used this background as an analogy to remind her audience of the importance of involving people in the building of projects for communities. Personal involvement in community activities gives the poor strength and empowers them to create their own and community's future.

An Indian Perspective on the Digital Divide

Subir Roy writing in Business Standard on March 12, 2003 asked: "Can ICT be India's growth engine?" While noting that India's ICT infrastructure was improving significantly and had enormous potential for future development, he commented that previous models for India's economic growth had failed. Would India's ICT and software-led growth go the same way as the Asian Tigers export-led growth? These issues were explored in an Indo-US workshop organized by the department of management studies of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Govindan Parayil of the National University of Singapore highlighted two contradictions of ICT-led development - the digital divide and increasing returns. Two economies exist side-by-side, the traditional industrial/manufacturing one of decreasing returns, and the information / knowledge one of increasing returns. This creates a divide and instability. In history such divides create unequal distributions of income and wealth.

K J Joseph of Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum expressed a concern about excessive export orientation. The ICT sector makes a direct economic contribution through employment, income and export earnings. But it also delivers indirect benefits through enhanced productivity, competitiveness and growth of other sectors. However, he notes that India's economy, as a whole seems not to have benefited. This is because ICT activity is highly localized in just a few regions, and because its diffusion to other sectors of the economy has been slow. In addition, the ICT boom has created difficulties for other sectors that compete with it for skilled manpower. Areas like teaching, training, research and development have been impacted with consequential long-term implications for the economy.

Some interesting examples of the developmental use of ICT were presented. The Internet and web cameras have brought advanced eye care to the Mettur district in Tamil Nadu. Farmers are helped in Gujarat through the digitization of milk collection information by the National Dairy Development Board. Also in Gujarat, women receive basic computer education to help them create and manage micro enterprises. There are examples of multipurpose kiosks in rural areas catering to specific local needs for packaging and delivery of information, such as a village knowledge centre in Pondicherry. However, many rely heavily on local resources and vary widely in what is on offer. Many communities are perceived as backward and poor and are unable to acquire the infrastructure required to set up the kiosks.

Some of the problems highlighted during the workshop included:

  • Uneven regional development leading to greater inequality between rich and poor and different states
  • Lack of 'absorptive capacity' affecting the rate of knowledge diffusion to other sectors of the economy
  • Too strong an outward focus on ICT exports is coupled with poor domestic demand.

Although speakers recognized the potential for ICT to create jobs and alleviate poverty, they suggested that both state and social enterprise models have systematically glorified ICT and overstated their achievements. Some progress has been made in improving infrastructure, education, health, private enterprise, governance, rural development and public services. There is much more potential for future development.

In summary

Think about one short article, we have visited initiatives in Canada, Malaysia, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, USA, Mexico, Africa, other countries in South Asia, Peru and participating in a worldwide electronic discussion. We gain insights into how innovation is occurring in unexpected pockets of the world, and in many cases with courageous and foresightful action. All is illustrative of how programs and practices are evolving that could resolve the Productivity Paradox (now exemplified in the digital divide) with a new Knowledge Value Proposition that is featured in the 'Power of Innovation Capital'. Take a look at the related articles in our Global Knowledge Primer and marvel at some of the progress to-date.

Imagine: If we could just substitute the word innovation (instead of information) for the 'I' in ICT, The Innovation SuperHighway would effectively be launched!

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The Innovation Superhighway

Global Knowledge Partnership

Development Gateway Foundation

Leadership & Innovation for a Connected World

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Digital Opportunity Channel

Bytes for All

Voices of the South


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