22 June 2004. Shortly before the first PrepCom of WSIS phase two, the international civil society groups and networks are becoming even more active. Three new important caucuses are about to start their work.
At the European/North American WSIS Activists meeting on 13 June in Berlin (see here), Rainer Kuhlen (Nethics, Konstanz/Berlin) gave a presentation on the state of the financing discussion in the WSIS context. This led to some activities - online and offline - to build a more continuous working structure. This is needed considering the summit working group on the digital solidarity fund that will soon be set up. The official activities with regards to the other summit working group on Internet governance already are monitored and influenced by a very active and big civil society caucus. The activities in Berlin are also coordinated with some work done on the financing issue by members of the Swiss NGO coalition on WSIS. They are at the moment being linked up with substantial work on by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), who has commissioned a lengthy report on financing for ICTs from "Global Public Goods" perspective. The report will be published during the first PrepCom of the Tunis phase of the summit that takes place this week. A formal caucus will hopefully be set up during the upcoming PrepCom meeting or shortly after.
Community Telecenters Caucus
Another recent development is the idea of forming a caucus on community telecenters. It started at a WSIS meeting during the annual US community telecenters conference in Seattle that took place on the same weekend as the Berlin meeting. The groups in Berlin and Seattle joined for a virtual conference after their meetings and further explored the idea. As the second phase of the summit will focus much more on implementation, the local and community level will become more important and play at least as big a role as the global policy level, the participants felt.
Andy Carvin <ACarvin(at)edc.org>, who had led the US meeting, volunteered to submit a proposal to the WSIS civil society plenary list. He stated that "many activists felt that we as a community could do more to get our ideas integrated into the WSIS process. Because telecenters play a broad role in their communities, their work includes a variety of themes, including education, content, access, the disabled, gender, etc. This means the work of telecenters is distributed amongst many of our caucuses and working groups, making it more difficult to generate a unified vision of the role of telecenters in the information society." The task of the caucus would be to coordinate these activities better and also link up or even join forces with the community media working group that had been active during the first phase of the WSIS. This request was answered by a number of very supportive replies. More details and the formal launching of this caucus will also be discussed during the PrepCom meeting in Tunisia this week.
Arab Region Caucus
As the second phase of the summit takes place in Tunisia, the Tunisian and general Arab civil society groups are becoming more active and involved now. There had been a significant lack of substantial participation by Arab NGOs during the first phase of WSIS with the Iraq war and other pressing political issues being one explanation. (also see "Absence of Arab Civil Society at WSIS"). The few groups involved had either been part of the African caucus (for North Africa) or the West Asia caucus (for the Middle East). Recently, a number of different groups and activists from that region have expressed the need for forming an Arab Caucus. This has found broad support, which also came from the existing structures like the West Asia Caucus. The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) in Beirut (Lebanon) and a number of other groups have expressed their interest in joining this caucus.
For the moment, Marlyn Tadros <info(at)mengos.net> from the Middle East NGOs Gateway (MENGOS), a project of Virtualactivism.org, is leading these efforts. The Heinrich Böll Foundation is supporting it by financing a series of roundtable events in the region, among them a kick-off event in Cairo on 7 July and bigger meetings in Jordan in September, later in Palestine, and hopefully elsewhere. There is already an Arab Caucus mailing list (http://virtualactivism.net/mailman/listinfo/arabcaucus_virtualactivism.net). Also see the additional information on the WSIS process in Arabic and English that is specifically targeting Arab NGOs on the MENGOS web site.