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Statement of Mr. Reaz Rahman, Hon'ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Bangladesh Friendship Education Society (BFES), Conference on - Towards Building a Knowledge Society - The Role of NGOs - 16 January 2002.


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Mr. President
Distinguished Member on the Rostrum
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am truly honoured and privileged to be invited to this important International Conference on the topic "Towards Building a Knowledge Society: The Role of NGOs."

I would like to thank the President of the Bangladesh Friendship Education Society and the sponsors for convening this pace-setting and pioneering conference. I am impressed with the most distinguished list of participants and those chairing the six Working Sessions. I believe that the outcome of the conference will create a substantial information/knowledge base whole contribution for further build up will be invaluable. I thank Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelley a close friend and former colleague for his warm personal remarks and excellent introduction. I also thank Mr. Gerolf Weigel and Ms. Rinalia Abdul Rahim for their illuminating opening remarks.

Mr. Chairman,

I belong to that generation of individuals to whom information and communication technology remains both a miracle and a mystery. Indeed, the subject matter of this conference was even to me quite a daunting if not an incomprehensible topic. Perhaps that is why this conference is so relevant.

In the backdrop of my thinking on ICT were certain extremely broad-based and haphazard perceptions. I shall try to outline them only to demonstrate the somewhat unfocused nature of my approach.

There is a broad realization that advances in science and technology have closed the information and technological gap and that economic forces and markets, especially the mobility of labour, capital and business have transcended national frontiers. This is the crux of the globalization syndrome.

The last decade has witnessed new changes in information technology with significant socio-economic impact. Computers, data links, satellite communications 'e-mail, e-commerce, require no frontiers and we cannot close the gates on them. The exchange of information today, is wider, faster, freer with tremendous power to change human affairs.

· Recent developments, particularly in the Internet and world wide web have opened new horizons for accelerating economic growth. IT has become a critical priority for Bangladesh, because we can use it to improve human resource development, reduce poverty income and in time double per capita income as Professor Yunus of Grameen Bank has underscored repeatedly. Targeted sale and export of software can earn huge foreign exchange earnings.

· Keeping pace with developments in information technology is now a necessity for survival in the global economy. It is also a source for large scale employment in domestic and international markets.

· It was considered a vital decentralization tool that cuts across all government agencies and especially the legislature. It can reach out to the rural masses and constituents through web sites. It could cut out the middleman and help in reaching fair prices directly.

· There was anxiety that technically Bangladesh was missing the IT bus and despite hoopla and propaganda hype about IT, the country had no comprehensive national plan or even an integrated IT Development Strategy.

· Among important factors identified towards this i.e. government's role was the practical one of linkage and connectivity. Computers need to be linked up to Internet, local and broader area networks. Lack of telephone connections, bandwidth, control of V-sat and international gateways are obstacles that government must overcome. This is a need for fiber optic submarine cable linkage so that Bangladesh can gain access to the Information Highway. High priority had to be given to various other factors:

i) Bangladesh had to become a partner in the information economy and Internet revolution.

ii) Trained skilled and talented manpower is needed to become part of the information economy i.e. to enhance human capacity.

iii) Consistent pragmatic policies had to be formulated to develop required human resources and infrastructure.

iv) Syllabus and curriculum have to be developed to include computer and English language education from school to university level to provide strong foundation.

v) Technology parks were needed to encourage investors and attract clients.

vi) The private sector and civil society participation had to be galvanized.

vii) It was necessary to declare IT as a thrust sector with special policy initiatives and practical measures.

From these broad generalizations attention was focussed on three crucial elements:

a. The need to create awareness of the huge potential of IT for job creation, human resource development, empowering people and communities, offering remote areas a level of access to information and know-how which could lead to higher income and growth.

b. Contributing to a mind-set - a belief that this potential can become a reality and to foster commitment to that end

c. How to translate all this into reality in a practical step-by-step manner.

A fundamental conclusion is that the globalization of world economy and the revolution in information technology are the motors of the knowledge society. Their most important resources are education and training. This knowledge is likely to transform social structures and totally reshape the world of work. If you want to be able to meet the demands of the future you will have to rely on one decisive factor - lifelong learning.

In turning to the first part of the topic of our Conference, " Towards Building a Knowledge Society" - we are becoming aware that knowledge can be defined as the "capacity to act" - the potential "to start something going".

Thus knowledge in science and technology is nothing other than the ability to act or the creation of new opportunities for action.

The second element is the role of the NGO's - the vital focus is on decentralization - reaching out to the masses and empowering people and communities at the grassroots. As Mr. Weigel underscored the three key links are awareness building, capacity building and institution building.

I am confident that this conference will address the most important question of all - how to turn all this into practical reality.

I wish you all success and look forward to the vital outcome of your deliberations.

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