Thomas Ganswindt is a member of Siemens AG’s Corporate Executive Committee, with special responsibility for the Siemens IC Groups. He is also the CEO of Siemens Communication and a member of the Siemens Managing Board. His previous positions at Siemens include: Head of the Siemens Group Information and Communication Networks (ICN), Group Executive Management of Siemens Transportation Systems and Head of the Signaling and Control Systems Main Line Division, Head of the Signaling and Control Systems Mass Transit Division and Head of the Security Systems Deutsche Bahn AG Subdivision. Mr Ganswindt began his career with Siemens in 1989, at the Automation Group in Berlin and Nuremberg, where he was responsible for Numerical Controllers. He is also the elected Chairman of the D21 Initiative, Germany’s biggest public-private partnership program. Thomas Ganswindt earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering and then spent two years at the renowned Fraunhofer Institute of Production Systems and Design Technology in Berlin.
One third of the world’s population has never made a telephone call. Telephones are scarce where 70 per cent of the world’s poorest live and only 10 per cent of the world speaks English, the language most used on the Internet. In this world, ‘bridging the digital divide’ means more than reducing poverty. It means using ICT to create prosperity and raise the standard of living. ICT can help people participate in the global marketplace, receive healthcare in remote regions and obtain an education.
As I write this article, this summer’s Live 8 concert echoes in the background of my thoughts, and it strikes me as odd that the idea of ‘bridging the digital divide’ remains a controversial goal. Aside from the obvious moral imperative, even in the most pragmatic economic terms, helping to lift our fellow citizens out of abject poverty is a good economic policy. Some of the chief objections to bridging the digital divide are that only the corrupt local leadership profits, that the funds will be inevitably mismanaged and wasted, or that it simply makes no sense to give poor people mobile phones, computers and broadband access. This last argument erroneously implies that, if technology is introduced, it will be at the expense of ‘basic’ needs like fresh water, food, healthcare and education. This is of course short-sighted and passively discriminatory. Even worse, this argument subverts the resolve and dignity that our less fortunate citizens consistently display in the face of almost unimaginable difficulty. José María Figueres Olsen, Chairman of the UN ICT Task Force, recently outlined the expanse of the digital divide in a recent speech to the UN General Assembly. One third of the world’s population has never made a telephone call. Seventy percent of the world’s poorest live in rural and remote areas, where access to ICT, even to a telephone, is often scarce. When access is available, most of the information exchanged over global networks such as the Internet is in English, which less than 10 percent of the world’s population speaks. Bridging the digital divide means more than poverty reduction. It really means ‘prosperity creation’, using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to raise the standards of living. With ICT, the lives of people and their communities can advance to the point where participation in the global marketplace as producers and consumers will replace hand-to-mouth existence. By giving aid directly to small clinics, schools, farms and local business, the economic tide will rise and lift even the smallest boats. ICT is uniquely suited for this strategy. Healthcare in remotest Africa Adequate healthcare is the first step to prosperity creation. Ciaran Ryan of the Center for Digital Government offers a moving portrait of how ICT makes a dramatic impact on the quality and availability of healthcare in the remotest parts of Africa. In Ryan’s article, Wireless is the Best Medicine, a desperate mother brings her sick baby to a rural clinic in South Africa. The closest hospital or telephone is miles away. In the examination room, a nurse positions a Web cam to take clear pictures of the tiny patient. Seconds later, there is an image of the baby on the clinic's computer screen. Using a wireless phone, the nurse calls a doctor at a hospital more than 50 miles away. The doctor views the picture of the baby on his PC. A ‘tele-consultation’ begins, with simultaneous voice and video communication, between the doctor and nurse. The doctor, unsure about the diagnosis, has the nurse take a picture of the baby with a digital camera and emails it to a university hospital that has more comprehensive diagnostic resources. The two doctors consult while the mother waits, but before long, the video image and the information provided by the clinic’s nurse enables the two doctors to complete their diagnosis. They transmit their treatment recommendation to the nurse via wireless telephone. An infant, who might otherwise have been doomed by a simple childhood malady, has survived thanks to ICT access to high quality medical care in a remote part of Africa. Egypt vision for e-learning Egypt’s Ministry of Education recently unveiled its vision of enhancing the educational process using e-learning. They proposed a ‘virtual classroom solution’ using online communications to provide an interactive environment similar to that of a traditional classroom. In the virtual classroom, each student could use the learning materials at his own pace. This flexibility allowed the ministry to generate and distribute a uniform curriculum that also recognized each student’s specific educational needs. During virtual online classroom sessions, young students share information and work on documents together in a live, interactive, environment. Led by an experienced teacher, the sessions typically involve up to 200 students gathered around a number of PC’s, from approximately 10 schools anywhere in Egypt, connected to the virtual classroom session. Today, 50 daily live sessions reach, roughly, 450 participating schools. There are more than 90 e-learning courses for all levels available in the Ministry’s Content Repository. The self-paced courses were developed by the Ministry’s 65 content developers trained in instructional design by Siemens content professionals. GSM narrows the gap in Brazil Technology provided a way to offer a cost effective communications system in an economically divided society. Telemar, a Brazilian carrier, fixed upon GSM technology to bridge the digital divide and provide mobile connectivity throughout Brazil. Telemar commissioned the first GSM mobile network in the country. GSM technology gave Telemar the means to merge service quality with a price that suited the unique social challenges of this market, and at a profit. Indeed, GSM’s unique economies of scale and revenue generation features offered Telemar cost advantages without which the project would not have been possible. Today Brazil has approximately 54 million mobile subscribers, 61 per cent of whom had no previous telephone service – neither fixed line nor mobile. Boosted by migration to GSM, Brazil is forecast to have 100 million subscribers across all social demographics by the year 2008. Currently, the company’s mobile networks are in 450 cities. These are turbulent times, in terms of both global economics and political conflict and most businesses tend to act more conservatively. In fact, the opposite should be true to solve the problems we all face as world citizens. As architects of the ICT that have so dramatically changed the world, our role in the creation of global prosperity is more meaningful and valuable than ever. Indeed, our corporate identity is inextricably linked to our responsibility as citizens in the ‘global village.’ As the Dalai Lama said, ‘responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually’. I believe that ICT lends each individual the power to change the world.