Global diversity at Information Society conference

December 12, 2003
The Baha'i delegation (left to right): Michael Quinn (United States), Bahiyyih Chaffers (Canada), Laina Raveendran Greene (Singapore), Karanja Gakio (Botswana).

GENEVA — The global diversity of the worldwide Baha'i community was showcased at a major United Nations conference on the creation of a global "Information Society."

The Baha'i International Community assembled a delegation of Internet and communications specialists -- who are also Baha'i's -- for the U.N.'s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held from 10-12 December 2003.

The Baha'i delegation included one of the founders of Africa Online, a top-ranked entrepreneur and Internet consultant from Singapore, and a CISCO Systems vice-president who is of Native American origin.

It was headed by Canadian Bahiyyih Chaffers, who was appointed in August as a permanent representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"Baha'is believe that the emergence of a global information society is an aspect of the inevitable coming together of humanity in the construction of a new, just, and peaceful global civilization," said Ms. Chaffers.

"It is important that the growing information society be as inclusive as possible, so that every human being has an opportunity to participate in shaping global society."

Some 54 heads of state, prime ministers, presidents, and vice presidents, along with 83 ministers, came to the WSIS, which drew official delegations from some 176 countries.

Also attending were several thousand representatives of nongovernmental organizations, business groups, the media, and other organizations of civil society.

The summit, called by the U.N. to assess the impact of information and communications technology on human society, ended with the adoption of a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action aimed at building a "people-centered, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society."

"We are going through a historic transformation in the way we live, learn, work, communicate, and do business," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an opening speech to the summit.

"We must do so not passively, but as makers of our own destiny. Technology has produced the information age. Now it is up to all of us to build an information society," Mr. Annan said.

For their part, representatives of the Baha'i International Community -- along with several Baha'i-inspired organizations -- participated in the summit at many levels.

They attended workshops, worked with other civil society organizations on issues before the summit, and presented the results of various Baha'i-inspired projects in the "ICT4D" (Information and Communication Technology for Development) global village that was associated with the WSIS.

Ms. Chaffers, for example, was selected to chair the Ethics and Values Caucus, an ad hoc civil-society group that sought to ensure that moral and ethical values were included in the summit's deliberations. The caucus issued a statement to the summit that said, in part:

"The ethical dimension of the Information Society, where the common good is its driving force, involves the development of a code of practice at the individual, community, national, and international levels, that protects the dignity of every human life.

"This ethical dimension is where the oneness of humanity is recognized and respected and where each human being born into the world is acknowledged as a trust of the whole."

A member of the Baha'i delegation, Karanja Gakio, participated on a round-table discussion of Internet security in developing countries that was held at the ICT4D forum.

A number of Baha'i agencies also participated in various summit activities.

The European Baha'i Business Forum (EBBF) sponsored a workshop at the summit titled "Toward a Knowledge-based, Sustainable World Information Society: The Role of Good Governance and Business."

It featured a panel composed of Dr. Augusto Lopez-Claro, economist and director of the World Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum; Dr. Arthur Lyon-Dahl, president of the International Environment Forum and a former senior advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme; and Dr. Ramin Khadem, chief financial officer of Immarsat, London.