Values and education seen as key to sustainable development

11 December 2001

HLUBOKA NAD VLTAVOU, Czech Republic — While heads of state were meeting at the United Nations Millennium Summit, the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) announced a partnership with an organization founded by a young Baha'i to help people in developing countries make greater use of the Internet.

At a New York press conference 7 September 2000, UNOPS announced the launch of the Digital Service Corps, a private-sector partnership with the nonprofit Global Technology Organization (GTO), whose founder and president is Neysan Rassekh. Digital Service Corps will send volunteers to developing countries and countries in transition, to conduct intensive training programs in the use of the Internet as a community development tool.

Reinhart Helmke, executive director of UNOPS, introduced Mr. Rassekh as a "young social entrepreneur of the dot-com generation" who is bridging two "gaps" through the Digital Service Corps - the generation gap at the United Nations and the digital divide in the developing world.

Now in his twenties, Mr. Rassekh was born in Portland, Oregon. His family left the United States when he was four years old to settle in West Africa, where they helped to strengthen the Baha'i communities in Senegal, the Gambia and Mali. He later attended Maxwell Baha'i School in Canada. Mr. Rassekh holds a bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of Business and a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he focused on the use of technology for development in Africa.

"My generation of Americans grew up taking computers for granted. By the time we got to college, most of us were regularly doing research on the Internet," Mr. Rassekh said.

"To work in development at the grassroots, my family lives in Mali, one of the poorest countries on the planet. I have seen first hand how extreme the digital divide really is. I know there are thousands of people like me who would gladly give four to six weeks of their time to personally contribute to closing that gap. That is why I am sure that GTO's Digital Service Corps will be a success."

UNOPS reported that in May, GTO completed a successful pilot project in Mali. A team of three professors and 30 students from the University of Pennsylvania, armed with refurbished computer equipment and the accessories needed to connect to the Internet, spent four weeks in Mali and trained 120 carefully selected professors, primary- and secondary-school teachers, students and teacher trainers. The team established four computer centers, now operated by the Victory Foundation, a Mali-based organization whose mission is to promote innovation in public education.

The day after the press conference, Mr. Rassekh introduced President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali at a roundtable discussion on public-private partnerships convened by UNOPS and Global Leaders for Tomorrow of the World Economic Forum. At a news conference after the roundtable, the president thanked the Global Technology Organization for its efforts and the impact it had in his country.

Moreover, contacts at the United Nations Millennium Assembly and the State of the World Forum, which was also taking place in New York that week, afforded Mr. Rassekh the opportunity to meet with several heads of state and foreign ministers. Five of them invited Mr. Rassekh to look at implementing GTO projects in their countries in the coming months.