Advances in technology have revolutionized the way people live, learn and work, but these benefits have not spread around the world evenly. A digital divide exists between communities in their access to computers, the Internet, and other technologies. The United Nations is aware of the importance of including technology development as part of a larger effort to bridge this global digital divide. This article looks at how various United Nations agencies use free and open source software to meet the goal of putting technology at the service of people around the world.
The Millennium Development Goals
The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight targets to help end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. The United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force, created in March 2001, has worked to advance the development goals and targets of the UN, in particular those set by the Millennium Declaration. The Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) group replaced UNICTTF, and now has the task of providing an open policy dialogue on the role of information and communication technologies in development.
In their report The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Global Development: Analyses and Policy Recommendations, the Task Force states that information and communication technologies will increasingly become one of the main enablers in the pursuit of poverty alleviation and wealth creation in developed and developing countries alike. It’s easy to overlook the importance of technology in development, though. When people are starving and don’t have access to clean water, does it matter if they have access to the Internet? Technology is not an end in itself in these situations, but it is a tool to achieve wider goals such as eradicating hunger and achieving universal primary education.
To help raise awareness of the potential for free and open source software in this area, various UN organizations and nonprofits have created the FOSS: Policy and Development Implications (FOSS-PDI) initiative. Part of this initiative consists of a mailing list that discusses specific FOSS applications that address the different MDGs, information about how different countries are using open source software, and coordination for events being planned around the world.