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<nettime> WorldBank Internet plans
Eveline Lubbers on 14 Sep 2000 16:47:13 -0000


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<nettime> WorldBank Internet plans


Date sent:      	Thu, 14 Sep 2000 14:01:25 +0100
To:             	Korinna_Horta {AT} environmentaldefense.org

OPEN LETTER ON WORLD BANK INTERNET PLANS

Below is an open letter to World Bank President Wolfensohn explaining the
concerns of many researchers and NGOs about the Bank's plans to develop a
major (60 million dollars over 3 years) internet initiative, supposedly
involving civil society as a key partner.

The World Bank is planning a major sales pitch for its Gateway plans at
its Prague Annual Meetings starting next week. The Bank's Gateway team is
claiming that just a few European malcontents still have problems with the
plans and so the Bank should move full steam ahead. If civil society
groups worldwide do not express their reservations/opposition clearly now,
the Gateway is likely to eclipse the independent web initiatives many of
us are involved in.

Undoubtedly some would phrase this stronger and some slightly weaker, this
aims to be quite neutrally-phrased to get a good, quick, range of
signatures.

** Please sign by the afternoon of Tuesday 19 September. Send signatures
(with name and affiliated organisation, where appropriate) to:
<bwref {AT} gn.apc.org> Please forward to others who might sign, too. Apologies
if you receive this more than once. The final letter, plus signatories,
will be posted on the Bretton Woods Project website next week and
circulated at the Prague meetings.**

FURTHER INFO/LINKS
For official information about the Gateway plans, see:
www.worldbank.org/gateway
For a civil society discussion on the Gateway (where many of the letter's
points are discussed), see: www.bellanet.org/gdgprinciples Throughout
October the Bank will hold an electronic consultation on the Gateway on:
www.worldbank.org/devforum

Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project, UK 
[The Bretton Woods Project works with NGOs and researchers to monitor the
World Bank and IMF. See: www.brettonwoodsproject.org]


Open joint letter of concern about the Global Development Gateway

19 September 2000

Dear Mr Wolfensohn,

The Bank, under your direction, is developing a major new internet
initiative which aims to become "the premier web entry point for
information about poverty and sustainable development". To achieve this it
would need to include all shades of opinion and be a broad,
multi-stakeholder initiative, including civil society. Many civil society
groups, including the undersigned, have held discussions with the Bank and
among themselves about the Gateway.

We are writing to inform you that many of the major issues we have raised
have not been addressed. It seems, especially from the report "Global
Development Gateway Issues Identified During Consultations" recently
produced by the Bank's Gateway team, that you and the Bank's Board may
have been misinformed about the extent and nature of civil society
concerns and our disappointment in the Bank's response.

These concerns are not only serious in how they relate to the missed
opportunity of the Gateway, but also because they have the potential to
confuse potential funders, people asked to be Topic Guides, site visitors,
and many others. It is not the case that, as hinted in the above report of
the consultations, that these views are only held by opponents of the
World Bank or groups based in Europe. In fact a wide range of NGOs,
academics and also officials are extremely sceptical about the initiative.

Among the key problems identified with the Bank's Gateway plans are:

1) insufficient independence of Gateway governance. 

The Gateway global and national governance structures do not adequately
protect civil society interests. Whilst an independent foundation has been
established, the constitution of the Board and Advisory Committee do not
give grounds for confidence that the Gateway will be truly independent of
the Bank, national governments and big business. Particular concerns are
the role of the Bank in making appointments relating to the Global
Gateway, governments' leading roles in Country Gateways and companies's
ability to buy Gateway Board membership (and "co-branding" opportunities)
with annual payments of a million dollars. Creating a nominally
independent entity has thus not solved the acute accountability issues
around the Gateway, issues which are very sensitive in portal development,
essentially an editorial activity similar to publishing newspapers.

2) alternative design options rejected.

Very early in discussions about the Gateway a number of civil society
groups suggested an alternative design approach which would use the latest
spidering software to allow distributed, user-driven topic aggregation.
This would overcome the difficulties of the chosen Gateway design which
gives power and impossible judgements to individual editors, and empower
groups across the world to post and group information according to their
needs. Yet the Gateway still favours a vertical, edited approach which
will cause many problems of credibility and useability.

3) communication/consultation insufficient. 

Whilst there have been a number of consultation exercises, it appears that
the Bank has overemphasised the production of pilot sites and fundraising
rather than communicating with diverse audiences about the GDG's
intentions and what might best meet their needs. Many important groups
still know nothing about the Gateway and many who do have tabled questions
which have not been answered.

4) overambition and unfair competition;

The Gateway, whilst based on good intentions to increase coordination of
web activity, is too ambitious and cannot meet all of its goals. At the
same time its huge budget (60 million dollars over three years) and
marketing reach are likely to have huge opportunity costs for the many
existing and planned portal ventures in this area. It is not appropriate
for the heavily subsidized Gateway to compete with these (for profit and
non-profit) initiatives, including in many of the "pilot" countries. This
approach clearly contradicts normal World Bank policy advice.

At present, because of the above concerns and others, it is unlikely that
a Civil Society Committee for the Gateway will be formed soon, despite two
months of discussion about it. In fact a large number of civil society
groups are likely to continue with independent initiatives to improve
electronic information coordination rather than join the Gateway.

We ask you to provide full responses to the above points as soon as
possible.

Yours sincerely,

INITIAL SIGNATORIES
Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project, UK

Lawrence Surendra, environmental economist, India, formerly Director,
Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives 

Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute, Uruguay

Mark Lynas, UK Editor, Oneworld.net 

OTHER SIGNATORIES (e-mail name, position and organisation to:
<bwref {AT} gn.apc.org>. Note organisation is for identification purposes only,
not implying an organisational view. Reply by Tues 19th September.)



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