Business Leaders Present Digital Divide Proposals

TOKYO (07/19/2000) - Members of the World Economic Forum's presented Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori Wednesday with their suggestions for how leaders from the world's major industrial powers, the Group of Eight, can address the growing digital divide between nations.

The report addresses the gap between those who have access to information technology, and those who don't, the so called digital divide. The Group of Eight (G8) comprises U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia.

In presenting its report today, the World Economic Forum (WEF), which is made up of business leaders from major multinational corporations, outlined steps it believes should be taken to help address the problem -- one it sees as a "global digital opportunity" for both the people of the world and business.

"The digital divide is one of the foremost problems at the beginning of this century," said Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum.

"It's clear that the G8 will make a major effort in this area. The World Economic Forum is ready to contribute but we need to see the outcome of the G8 summit first."

The report, which was commissioned by Late Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi as part of the run up to the G8 Summit, which takes place in Okinawa this weekend, recommends nine initiatives that the WEF thinks could be pursued by the international community, under the leadership of the G8, together with businesses, nonprofit groups and other organizations.

Chief among the recommendations was the need for the G8 to take the lead in organizing a coordinated effort to assist developing countries in bridging the gap. Coordination between multilateral institutions, the international business community, and civil societal and philanthropic organizations is also key, the report said.

Access to education is another key area highlighted by the report and by Richard Li, chairman and chief executive officer of Hong Kong's Pacific Century Group. "In our opinion it is not a digital divide but an education divide," he said. "We feel IT is only a conduit to the knowledge based economy. We can use IT to spread basic education to everyone."

The report also noted the need for national economic stability and new sources of funding if entrepreneurship is to flourish, as well as access to information technology for every citizen as a foundation for the information age. In addition it called for the establishment of government policies that encourage competition in telecommunications, the Internet infrastructure area and global electronic commerce.

By deploying technology around the world, poorer nations have a chance to make a leap into the developed world, said WEF members. "We can deploy this technology much faster than industrial technology and we need to remember there still exists an industrial divide that has been in existence for 100 years," said Schwab.

The full text of the statement can be found online at http://www.weforum.org/centres.nsf/Documents/Home+-+Centres+-+Global+Digital+Divide+Initiative+-+Statement . A summary of the report is online at http://www.weforum.org/centres.nsf/Documents/Home+-+Centres+-+Global+Digital+Divide+Initiative+-+Executive+Summary .

The World Economic Forum, in Geneva, can be contacted at +41-22-869-1212 or found online at http://www.weforum.org/.

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