Foundation opens door to Net and knowledge

Amid all the talk about bringing computers and Internet access to the digital “have-nots” during the global Net summit that took place in Geneva between Dec. 8 and12, one group was showing participants how it’s already delivering the goods.

In a small booth tucked away in a crammed hall full of other information society organizations, the Development Gateway Foundation, a non-profit group launched in Washington D.C. with seed capital from the World Bank, presented several of the nuts-and-bolts projects it is spearheading to help bridge the so-called digital divide.

Its most recent project is the Government Electronic Network (GovNet), announced Dec. 11 at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). For this project, the foundation has agreed to collaborate with the Italian government and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (U.N. DESA) to implement new e-government systems for Mozambique.

The first stage of the GovNet project involves the deployment of a secure intranet for internal communications and a set of Web portals to deliver public services. Some 21 government departments will receive 800 workstations and training.

“Essentially, we are an enabler,” said Alan Rossi, chief executive officer of the Development Gateway Foundation. “We develop and deploy computer systems to help developing countries establish better communications and gain access to the right kind of knowledge.”

Other ongoing information and communication technologies (ICT) projects of the Gateway Foundation include its Accessible Information on Development Activities (AiDA) database and dgMarket public tendering service.

The database is among the world’s largest online information sources for development projects and activities, according to Rossi. Currently, it contains more than 800 records on ICT-related development projects and over 500 records on how developing countries can leverage knowledge for economic competitiveness.

The online tendering service provides access to more than 30,000 public procurement notices on any given day. The service contributes to local economic development by informing small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) about procurement opportunities worldwide, according to Rossi.

“The dgMarket tendering service offers SMEs a huge opportunity,” he said. “It provides information about public tenders that wasn’t easily accessible to these companies before, if at all.”

In recent months, the foundation has stepped up efforts to introduce so-called country gateways, which are locally-owned and managed portals for disseminating information about ICT development policies, projects and activities.

The gateways are designed to assist in creating and sharing local and global development knowledge and systems, encourage business opportunities and, in general, increase the country’s exposure, Rossi said. Nearly 60 local gateways are now up and running.