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UN to help developing countries boost IT infrastructure

Bolivia, Tanzania and Mozambique have captured the first three of 12 spots in a United Nations programme aimed at upgrading and building the IT infrastructure in countries that are lagging behind the rest of the world in those areas.

The Global Digital Opportunity Initiative was created by the UN's Development Programme and the Markle Foundation. A further 45 countries are vying for the remaining nine spots in the two-year programme.

"It is a medium-scale initiative. It is designed to have some successes," said Julia Moffett, managing director of the Markle Foundation. There are no plans to expand beyond the initial scope, she said.

The programme will begin with an extensive assessment of each nation's needs. It will not be an out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all solution, Moffett said. The countries that are applying for help are accustomed to making specific requests about what they need to the UN, the World Bank and other organisations, and their requests to the Global Digital Opportunity Initiative have been just as specific, she said.

After the assessment is conducted, a scalable infrastructure plan will be designed and implemented. Once in place, it is expected that other governments and companies will go into each country to provide additional help and funding.

The programme will be closely monitored because it requires UN, governmental, educational, business and non-profit organisations to contribute in order to be a success. Moffett said that bringing together these organisations has its advantages and its challenges.

"These organisations have very different styles and very different speeds," she said. But she added this also allows the project to draw from a variety of experiences and resources to make sure the right plan is brought to bear at the right time.

The programme will be joined by a number of companies offering pro bono services, including, AOL Time Warner, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

Moffett said it was important to draw in as many big-name players as possible to give the effort credibility and to assure people that the funding and the knowledge needed to make the project successful would be there.

What the initiative wants to avoid, for example, is building a telecentre in a rural village that cannot be used by anyone because of cost and incompatibility with other local systems, she said.

Once the project is under way, said Frederick Tispon, the project's director, there will be a need for individuals, as well as for the companies and organisations that have already signed up, to assist.

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