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             World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)


                    United Nations


                    Geneva, Switzerland 2003 - Tunis, Tunisia 2005


                Overview by:


          Shaila Rao Mistry

           President of Jayco MMI, Inc.


                WSIS Delegate IFUW

                     Member of United Nations Ethics & Values Caucus

                    Geneva WSIS Prep Com - delegate /Panelist

                     Tunisia WSIS - Delegate/Presenter/ Moderator





What is WSIS


Time frames


The World Summit on Information Society was the culmination of a two year process which began in Geneva 2003 and ended in Tunisia 2005. The purpose was to create an Outcome Document that would serve as the preamble for all 191 participating nations to use as a guideline for writing the laws on Information and Communication Technologies ICT’s. In essence the best way to understand WSlS is to draw an analogy with the ocean ways and later the airways, prior to the advent of regulation of sea and air faring carriers. As Nations we came together to listen, discuss and evaluate problems and associated issues of the internet, cyberspace and Information Communication Technologies and then to come up with a guide of best practices to adopt whilst creating regulations in individual Nation States


Understanding WSIS


Understanding the implications of WSIS is not easy. My attempts to explain it quite often will draw a blank expression even from experienced ICT professionals, who seem to react more to my gender and race rather than the content of my communication. Surprising as it may be, also is the disbelief of the probability of such a monumental attempt by United Nations to draw all peoples together to create a document of consensus regarding Information Technology. The advantage of Information Communications Technology is that it levels the playing field of credibility and offers us all a rare, but badly needed, opportunity to review information from a position of intellectual and ethical competence.


Global Involvement


Picture a Kaleidoscope of nations, cultures and opinions coming together to produce a one size fits all document. Factor in differentials of Political systems ranging from democracies to dictatorships to theocracies. Factor also economic disparity ranging from mega economies such as United States to rapidly expanding economies like India and China and on to island economies and agrarian economies. Compliment the mix with spiritual and cultural beliefs of religions ranging from moderate to extremist and even fundamental and often explosive views. Lastly, the debate becomes more controversial as it moves to the discussion between the haves and have-nots. Not least the gender issue penetrates all of these levels. I also hope to make some personal observations and interactions between the peoples of the world with particular anecdotes on the realities of which factors drive decision making even at such high levels, and draw inferences from the infrastructure which prohibits full participation.


My Contribution to WSIS


Serve as Official Delegate for International Federation of University Women IFUW

·         Organize and Moderate a Panel on ICT‘s and Values Ethics

·         Serve as Member of United Nations Ethics & Values Caucus

·         Present Paper on Youth and Peace

·         Formulate Statement for Civil Society for inclusion in the Final United Nations document.

·         Attend High Level Government Panels & Parallel Events to gather data for future dissemination. 

Please Note:  All papers are available for discussion and further publication.




Genesis of WSIS




In 1998 WSlS germinated as the brainchild of the International Telecommunications Union ITU. In Minneapolis WSIS was created in response to a global need ‘of achieving a consensual body of concepts concerning the policies, legislation networks and services in the area of ICT’s’. With this in mind the Summit was planned in two phases. Dec 2001 the General Assembly of United Nations adopted a resolution calling for the organization WSIS under the aegis of the VW and ITU.


A High level Summit Organization Committee was established under the patronage of Mr. Kofie Anan, Secretary General of United Nations, with the mission of coordinating the new organization. Representation on this committee included heads of secretariats including World Bank, Economic Commissions UNESCO, UNITAR and many other well known organizations.




For the first time in the history of United Nations summits, the Civil Society and the Private sector have been seen as effective partners to the WSIS process and an effective link to government and international organizations. Civil Society in particular was defined specifically to include youth, women, volunteers, media, disabled, academics, scientific researchers and members of technological circles. Civil Society contributed as cultural creators and disseminators, and networks and associations and philanthropic institutions.


Civil Society


For the first time Civil Society actively contributed to a hitherto exclusive governmental debate. Civil Society was able to draw attention to the effect and implications of internet and ICT‘s and the socio-cultural consequences on a global basis. Civil Society highlighted the factors of exclusion and accessibility and cost. Civil Society also pointed out the benefits of making such technologies equitable, and both gender and culture sensitive. Civil Society's other main contribution was to introduce ways of using such technologies to the betterment of human conditions in the fields of Health Education and Peace Making. The Spirit of Civil Society partnership with Governments was truly initiated. Needless to say as a representative of an NGO and a member of Civil Society I liken this to almost the same monumental significance of permitting “non citizens” in ancient Rome participation in the Democratic process.


Private Sector Participation


The Private Sector was considered a full partner in the International Dialogue. In the words of the President of WSIS “governments hitherto know only to negotiate with each other”. Faced with the realities of the monopolized ownership of ICT in a handful  United States Companies plus countless smaller companies throughout the globe, finally there is recognition of the need to establish formal partnerships with  the private sector. With the help of the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors CCBl the private sector participated in providing material conditions and offering universal access to the added value of ICT services. There was also commitment to open accessibility at local levels across the globe and consider issues of cost-effectiveness and cultural sensitivity.


As a Business owner and an interloper from the private sector, it was interesting to observe the wide gulf between the understanding of Governments, the Private Sector and Civil Society. I was able to bridge this gap at the Geneva Prep Com III in Geneva Switzerland Sept 2005 when invited to present a paper on “How the private sector can promote a Culture of Peace”



The Two Phases of WSIS


Phase I Dec 2003 : Geneva


The initial phase held in Geneva for the adoption of a Declaration of Principles and create an executive plan with the view of establishing the Information Society. The objective was clearly to express a political will to take concrete measures to establish the foundations of an Information Society accessible to all, while also taking into consideration the various interests represented. It became clear quite early that our purpose was to establish new partnerships with public and private sector with the objective of narrowing the digital divide on a global basis.


With this in mind several international preparatory meetings were held in 2002 - 2003. On a Regional level the five continents held individual Prepcoms in Africa, Latin America, Asia, West Asia and Arab comities. Thus was the 17 Declarations of Principles and Plan of Action was established


Phase Two Nov 2005 : Tunisia


The Conference in Tunis looked into development problems and the adoption of an additional executive plan of United Nations aegis based on “due Process and a Principle of inclusion of all Nations". In addition to the UN's Task forces on Internet Governances and Final mechanisms a series of thematic meetings were conducted to define the Summit’s approach to various issues including legislation, scientific research, Information, Administration and Trade. Measuring the implications and cyber security of ICT were also regarded as a significant evolution concepts.


In conclusion, there was a significant movement in the position and participation of Civil Society from the Geneva phase to the Tunis phase. Commencing from the status of silent observers with limited opportunity for written statements, to full participation in and verbal intervention and as observers at some of the governmental meetings. It would seem as the process gained momentum it generated increasing hope and optimism for Private Sector and Civil Society delegates. Keeping in mind the United Nations is about Governments it is no less than a small miracle that we the people were permitted participation in the year 2005 in Tunis.


Finishing Visuals: Opening Ceremony in Tunis  


Sixty Presidents and Heads of State were present under one roof. The ambience in Tunis was similar to the Olympics and the preparation can be was likened to that - except that as a military state there were armed security with machine guns at every 500 yards. It’s estimated that 40,000 people attended was Tunisia. The Official delegations represented 174 member States, with some 19,000 from Civil Society, United Nations agencies and private business participants as well as ICT users. Overall 800 organizations came together for the second phase of the United Nations WSIS IN Tunisia. A very small number of women participated in WSIS largely due to the prohibitive conditions of travel and other cultural related factors.    




Understanding the process and the outcome of WSIS is critical in gaining a perspective of the issues of the digital divide which is central to business in the ICT sector. WSIS and ICT discussions are not remote events that affect only large companies, but they also affect business across the board. Decisions and policy made at WSIS will more than likely affect how you do business with overseas suppliers and customers. Global opinion of the United States is that it is the dominant controlling market with little regard to the needs of the smaller nations, or indeed to smaller business and the non private sector. By participation in the dialogue at WSIS, smaller business owners and Civil Society can have an impact in building better trade links with other nation’s. Plenary and follow up to WSIS is in progress  will be held in Athens  2006.



About the Author


Shaila Rao Mistry runs her own Technology company and sits on several boards, the following are a selection of her upcoming involvements. She is happily married with two beautiful children


Commission on Status of Women United Nations New York 60 Session 2006

                Chaired the Caucus on Women and Men in Decision Making:  wrote draft document

                Currently preparing document on themes and issues


World Summit on Information Society United Nations

               Values and Ethics Caucus: Working on plenary-follow-up to WSIS in Athens June 2006


World Urban Forum, United Nations, Vancouver Canada. June 2006

                Official delegate


California Foundation / Women’s Policy Institute Sacramento, California:

               Writing Bill on Trafficking


National association Of Women’s Business Owners

              Public Policy Vice President


Awards: Marco Polo Award : Asian business Association of Orange County

             For Entrepreneurship and promoting diversity and harmony globally


Books : Currently Finishing “Intergenerational and Cross cultural Issues “


Featured in Professional Women’s Magazine 2005


For Further Information Please Contact The Author:

Shaila Rao Mistry

[email protected]

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