This is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.
Marsha Guthrie – Information Technology Management Services, Caribbean Development Bank. Leader, Internet Governance Capacity-Building Program, DiploFoundation. Based in St. James, Barbados.
Q: Who are you with and why are you at IGF?
A: I am with an international NGO called the DiploFoundation. They have offices in Malta and Geneva. I am here in the capacity of research supervisor. This year we had a capacity-building program divided into two phases, an introductory phase and a research phase. I supervised two groups: one from the Caribbean and Pacific region, and then the groups were split for the research phase and I had people from other groups under the common theme of e-commerce issues.
Q: How are those e-commerce issues applicable to what is being discussed at this forum?
A: Well of course everybody knows the Internet has this vast mode of potential. Over the past few years e-commerce has skyrocketed in terms of the amount of people who go use the Internet to shop online and do other transactions as well in terms of banking and doing their other financial transactions and so on. So we thought, especially because of security issues, there are things that need to be addressed, looked at, investigated especially where it concerns countries that you’re looking to develop your business capacity in terms of what businesses can achieve. And the Internet, of course, would be an ideal tool to use, but, of course, we needed to look at the issues. What are the pros; the cons? What might be done to facilitate the process? Whether it makes sense for you as a small institution, corporation, or whatever with not much in terms of financial resources, whether it makes sense for you to be involved at all.
Q: What are you finding as you look at these pros and cons?
A: The thing is that the pros outweigh the cons, basically, because you are not looking only at your small population. If your product is a very good product, you have the opportunity to basically showcase your products all over the world wherever people have access to the Internet. That is just one issue and there are so many others and we are planning to publish our findings as well eventually on our website.
Q: How are you suggesting e-commerce be “governed”?
A: Well we didn’t go too much into the specifics in terms of e-commerce being governed. We, more so, focused on what the issues are for developing countries. We didn’t look especially at governing. For the first phase of our Internet governance capacity-building program, those were the issues that were discussed overall in terms of what’s involved in terms of governance and different factors involved not just about e-commerce, which is more of the economic aspects. We looked at cultural issues and other developmental issues, socioeconomic, you know, a mixture. But in terms of overall governance we, I don’t want to use what the groups are saying, I would say for me personally you can’t have any one person or grouping from a particular country. It needs to be more of a consensus, a multi-stakeholder process, which is what this meeting is all about as well.
Q: So it’s important that many stakeholders be involved in the process?
A: Yes. I think that it would be a good place to start. Of course it’s a work in progress because it’s something that’s so new you can’t say this any one thing will work. You never know but at least that’s a good starting point.
Q: What would you say is the biggest issue with e-commerce or the Internet in general?
A: Can I think from a developing-country perspective because that’s where I’m from? I think the biggest issue is about building capacity, building capacity so that people are aware of what is involved, what their role is as well where the Internet is concerned, e-commerce, all these issues. Making more people aware of the vast potential, how it would benefit them, because unless you make them aware of how it benefits them, you’re not going to get people on board.
Q: How do you suggest this information about building capacity be assimilated to developing countries?
A: I think civil society is a great place to start. Definitely, civil society because you have to look at grassroots people – people who are in rural communities and so on – people working with them, these NGOs and so on, other people involved in this capacity. They are perfect and they already have their linkages so you don’t have to do much work from there. Once you get buy-in from them, then your work is a lot easier.
Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of the Internet?
A: My biggest hope, to be honest with you, is that a lot more people, and I mean ordinary citizens, globally, will be able to realize the potential of the Internet and what can be achieved, because it does have the potential for so many things: education, possible forms of health care. So, you know, just the dissemination of information. I think that’s important.
Q: What is your greatest fear for the future of the Internet?
A: My biggest fear is that developing countries will always have to be playing catch-up and that they will never get to the point where they’re not exactly on par with developed countries but, you know, still too far behind to really benefit fully from the Internet.
Q: What one key thing would you ask policy makers to do to ensure a positive future for network technology?
A: Suppose the roles were switched; what would you like to see happen? Think of it that way. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think of it that way.
Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word
A: Enormous. Tremendous.
This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.