Fourth Panel Discussion Questions and Answers
RITA COLWELL Questions
For Dr. Rischard: Given the new directions that you have spelled out, how is the World Bank going to keep abreast of science and technology and tap all special expertise in technologies? Typically, the World Bank has financial expertise and increasingly, it has turned to the environment, but this is going to be a new direction, and along with that, what is the Global Information Infrastructure Commission? How can other organizations be involved?
JEAN FRANCOIS RISCHARD Answers
Technology is going to be one big, important solution to many problems that we are faced with in developing countries, particularly (actually, disproportionately) in favor of regions like Africa, which are very isolated and where one could really do marvelous things in leap- frogging basic education and women's education; I will come back to that later.
The big challenge for us in the Bank is to get our entire staff to think in these terms, to keep itself abreast of what is going on and be able to bring ideas to countries in the right way so that they can start planning for them and incorporating them into their development plans. That is a big job, and that is why I said that it is the sort of job which you have to do in partnership with others.
We started a partnership with the NRC. We now have a similar partnership planned with the European Union scientists through the Brussels Commission. The example of this Information Infrastructure Commission, which is actually an assembly of CEOs and leaders in telecommunications and those areas, with the express purpose of making sure that developing countries do not get left out and do not become information "have-nots" in this whole tremendously exciting development area. We have a lot of things to do.
We are actually not so much a financial institution as a developing service institution. We make loans, but we do spend a lot of time figuring out what is important or what are not priorities. We are studying what works best in education and in agriculture. One of our findings over the last 20 years is that the highest return you can achieve in a developing country is the education of women, particularly of girls at the basic education level. Indeed, it is not a new technology. It is an old, basic, obvious thing to do, yet it has not been done much in many countries. It does produce tremendous byproducts. It not only takes the brunt away from women, who are indeed going for the food and the fuel and water and handling the whole burden of the village generally, but it produces immediate improvements in the whole village productivity. It causes decrease in child mortality. It causes a quick decrease in fertility levels at the same time. The children tend to do much better. These are very important things. These are old technologies, but the new technologies will help a lot in moving these things ahead.
You remember I spoke about the idea of a community learning center, instead of a basic primary school. If you have an old PC and a cellular link, which is not expensive anymore, or is not going to be expensive anymore, you can use that community learning center for hygiene education or women's education after the school is over. You can use it for villager councils, so there are lots of things we can do in that area.
SHIRLEY MALCOM Answers
I want to weigh in on this issue because I agree with you totally about the need for community education and about the potential for a community education center, but I also believe that center must be a part of the vision of the community.
I see too many things imposed other people's visions imposed on these countries. In many places, including in the United States, education is a social activity, and the introduction and imposition of technology, unless done very carefully, will in fact disrupt the social and cultural nature of education. It is a tool; it is not an end. I am afraid that unless we think our way through this, we are going to be mis-investing very seriously scarce resources, and I wonder whether we have really talked to the people that we are trying to assist.
RITA COLWELL Question
The House of Representatives has proposed a $1.7 billion cut in education, which would all but eliminate Goals 2000 and with it the National Standards effort. Then there is the effort by Congress to send education's dollars back to the states. How is this going to affect science and technology?
SHIRLEY MALCOM Answer
We have serious problems. Sending the problems to the states is not going to help. The states and locals were in charge before, and we had the problem. It is not clear to me that there is very much wisdom operating around these cuts. This is perhaps one of the least prudent things that we can do at this particular time, given all of the challenges that we have to face in this country.
RITA COLWELL Question and Answer
A question was brought forward about the spread of disease organisms in fish populations. I did not make it clear that, in the biotechnology applications I described a totally closed system, not the open ranching that is done in harbors and bays, is employed which offers a major advantage to open systems in controlling disease.
RITA COLWELL Question
To Jean Francois: You painted a very rosy picture of the future concerning the impact of increasing communication technology. Are there any downsides?
JEAN FRANCOIS RISCHARD Answer
Yes. The downsides are those Shirley alluded to. I was at an event around the G-7 summit in Brussels about a month ago on information technology. The Europeans were exceedingly worried about everything. In their speeches they were worried about the erosion of their culture through an invasion of soap operas from the United States. They were worried about security of data. They were worried about privacy, and they were worried about mis- investments. They were worried about everything.
Then came the Deputy Executive Vice President of South Africa, Mr. Mbeke, who is a fabulous speaker. Mr. Mbeke spoke very calmly and said he welcomed everything that was coming down the pike. He could see so many things that would help turn South Africa around and make it into a great success. He was not going to be afraid of cultural erosion: He was going to export the South African culture elsewhere. I was very impressed by that speech, because between the recoiling and threat-based reaction that I heard from the Europeans and the opportunities-seeking reaction from Mr. Mbeke, I could tell who the long- run winners were going to be, as well as the long-run losers. So I made a rosy picture.
SHIRLEY MALCOM Answer
Let me say that those of you who know me understand that I am an informed, hopeless optimist and I do not believe that we are without hope. Sometimes when things are darkest, we in fact rise to our greatest moment. I think we have an opportunity here to rise. In many of the countries as well as our own, there are tens of thousands of people engaged in communities in local effort, people from non-governmental organizations, people from aid groups and what have you, groups like the Y and the church groups who are there on the ground, in the villages, with the people that we are talking of trying to assist.
What we must do is work in partnership with them so that they can take this education message and mission, and the science and technology component of it, with them as they go into these kinds of areas. I think that is the possibility that holds out some hope for being able to really rise above the current kinds of situations which can so mire us in despair.
RITA COLWELL Summary
Let us thank the panelists. We obviously could go on for another hour; but we are not allowed to, so thank you very much, both of you.
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