Nr. 17

KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and Transformations of Societies

Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO Deutsch | English

Access to information and knowledge increasingly determines patterns of learning, cultural expression, empowerment and participation, provides opportunities for economic and social development, poverty eradication and fosters peace. Indeed, knowledge has become a principal force of social transformation. Knowledge societies are about capabilities to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate and use information to build and apply knowledge for human development. They require an empowering vision that encompasses plurality, inclusion, solidarity and participation.

The concept of knowledge societies stresses plurality and inclusiveness. It calls for a human-centred development and an empowerment-based approach. It is based on exchange and sharing of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, founded on global solidarity and mutual understanding. It puts the emphasis on what technology can do to improve people’s lives rather than on technology itself. Indeed, the building of knowledge societies opens the way to humanizing the process of globalization. Capitalising on its multidisciplinary character, UNESCO promotes a culture of innovation through knowledge application and sharing.

The notion of knowledge societies is of strategic significance for all countries undergoing globalization. Unless countries pursue quality education for all, unless countries respect cultural diversity, unless countries promote universal access to information and knowledge, and uphold freedom of expression in all spheres, the conditions for economic and social advancement will not be in place. Building knowledge societies means also creating a knowledge base through scientific research and monitoring. Producing reliable scientific data and information and making such information available to the public throughout the world – supported by education, information tools and a host of information resources – is critical, as has been demonstrated most recently with respect to climate change. Special attention needs to be paid to the role of knowledge residing with indigenous people with their inherent respect for Mother Earth. The social sciences have an singularly important role to play in linking geophysical aspects social science aspects and research.

UNESCO has contributed to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In promoting the concept of ‘knowledge societies’ at the two-phase WSIS (Geneva, 2003, and Tunis, 2005), UNESCO has emphasized that the notion of information society – with its implicit emphasis on technology, infrastructures and connectivity – alone does not capture the complexity and the full potential of the information and communication revolution for human development, especially the critical importance of focusing on «content» and «utilization» of the evolving global communication networks which is so much linked to creativity. UNESCO’s concept of knowledge societies is based on four key principles: freedom of expression; universal access to information and knowledge; respect for cultural diversity; and quality education for all.

The 2005 UNESCO World Report Towards Knowledge Societies helped to contextualize further the ‘digital divide’ within the wider ‘knowledge divide’. It seeks to reflect upon and define the foundations on which a global knowledge society could be built that would be a source of development for all.

WSIS set targets and suggested new approaches to harness the potential of information and communication for development at all levels. The WSIS process mobilized new multi-stakeholder approaches and networks with the aim of building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society. The focus on building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication at the country level is firmly anchored in UNESCO’s new Medium-Term Strategy for 2008-2013.

In the implementation process of the WSIS Geneva Action Plan, UNESCO has been assigned specific lead roles, such as for the implementation of concrete Plan activities within the framework of UNESCO’s own programmes in order to operationalize the concept of Knowledge Societies, the facilitation of the coherent implementation of six Action Lines of the Plan requiring multidisciplinary capabilities (access to information and knowledge, e-learning, e-science, media, cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content and ethical dimensions of the information society). The Organization will contribute to the various follow-up and implementation mechanisms, including the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the Global Alliance for ICTs for Development (GAID) and the United Nations inter-agency Group on the Information Society (UNGIS), which UNESCO is chairing for one year since July 2007. UNESCO will continue to play its advocacy role with the various stakeholders – including at the country and regional levels - to mainstream the issue of building knowledge societies and fostering information and communication for development.

These global directions must effectively be translated at the country level, where action must be advanced in line with national priorities, ownership and leadership. Specific guidance in this regard is provided by the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society concerning the implementation of WSIS outcomes, which encourages governments “with the participation of all stakeholders and bearing in mind the importance of an enabling environment, to set up a national implementation mechanism”.

Knowledge is a source of mutual enrichment, effective dialogue between cultures and civilizations – and a catalyst for peace and an ingredient for peaceful and tolerant behavior.

In this spirit, I wish the International Conference on “Knowledge, Creativity and Transformation of Societies” much success.

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