UN's World Summit Awards in Egypt: the e-world at the service of the people

Mary Mourad, Friday 27 Apr 2012

Projects from all over the world showcase creativity in e-lerning, inclusion, environment, and e-government solutions to benefit people, in Cairo from 26 to 29 April

World Summit Award
World Summit Award (Photo: Mary Murad)

The first hours of the World Summit Awards exhibition, on Thursday, received a few interested audience from the exhibitors as well as visitors of the Cairo Information and Communication Technology exhibition that is taking place from 26 to 29 April .

The World Summit Award (WSA), was started as an initiative by the Republic of Austria as a contribution to the United Nations World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). It partners with UN organisations and agencies in the implementation of the Geneva Agenda and the Tunis Action Plan and selects and promotes the world’s best e-Content and innovative web innovation.

The winning projects on exhibit ranged from simple games and entertainment services up to sophisticated services for e-government and private business process simplification.

Among the Arab winners there were exhibitors from Egypt, Lebanon, and UAE, while from other developing countries there were India, Colombia, and Venezuela, and from Europe, Finland, Netherlands and Estonia were present. In the same venue, The Cairo International Convention Center, were running the ICT events in parallel to WSA exhibition.

The attending winners get a chance to interact with one another, and hopefully catch the attention of government officials or other private companies from different countries, as well as get some media exposure.

"Everything is smooth and the organization is very impressive and timely," hails Margus Magi a winner from Estonia. His comment is commun, especially that starting 10am already the events were up and running as per the agenda.  

The Egyptian winner of the WSA award, the Erada team, described their project to the audience: their online portal offers a space where the individuals with special needs can find services, experts and interaction, in addition to doctors or facilities for support or treatment.

Other Egyptian winners of the eMobile and Youth awards were present, including Zabatak, a social network intended for catching corruption or crime through social reporting. Their initiative to report on stolen cars have already succeeded in recovering some 11 stolen cars, and more are on the way.

Other forms of illegal action detected include illegal building on agricultural land and sexual harassment on the streets; some cases of bribe and fraud were also reported, including documents. The idea is to track events as they happen and hopefully manage to stop the crime.

Yet another Egyptian initiative is Kheirna, which started out as a small initiative encouraging Egyptians to volunteer for community work. Soon after the revolution, the energy to give to the community surged, and Kheirna filled the resulting gap, connecting volunteers and resource donors to NGOs or public benefit initiatives. Ahmed Naguib is a member of the team working on the initiative that reached so far 12,000 subscribers and some 30 NGOs supplying opportunities for community interventions.

According to the speech by World Summit Award chairman, professor Peter Bruck, for technology to achieve its goals we need both the tools and the content, and this is where WSA offers ideas and solutions for the ICT sector to reach out and support the whole community and the world.

On the business front, Monaqassat from Lebanon offered a creative and secure solution for small and medium-sized businesses: a space where tenders could be securely and legally handled, where consultants and businesses meet and interact while saving money, time and, most likely, fraud. Rufoof is a winner from the UAE offering the first digital bookstore to serve Arabic readers on mobiles and tablet PCs.

From Estonia, a unique government experience was shared: an online portal that allows businesses to submit their annual reports to the government, sparing everyone months of waiting and piles of physical documentation.

Another e-government solution from the Netherlands allows citizens to be identified to online government services, saving them huge amounts of paperwork and queues to issue IDs or submit taxes.

The projects came from many different parts of the world, offering solutions to diverse problems, yet a lot more is yet to come.

Dorothy Gordon, the Director-General of the Ghana-India Kofi Anan Center of Excellence in ICT told Ahram Online she was impressed by how young Egyptians are using the Internet not only for data sharing but also for inventing solutions. She finds that the gap that needs to be filled centres on the voices of the marginalized – not only those who have access to the Internet, but even those who cannot read or write, like many Africans.

The risk to the future of Internet, in her view, is the possible limitations and censorship laws proposed by countries such as the USA, which could reduce the sharing dramatically.

In response to this point, professor Bruck said that any control on freedoms will result in the evolution of other bodies better able to meet and interact with new rules of their making and greater willingness to share without limits. "When the Internet linked for example libraries together, it was able to overcome not only the walls and distances, but also the institutions. This will continue to happen," he told Ahram Online.

As for the impact of Arab Spring on the award, Bruck thought it is likely to be felt in the WSA Mobile Awards and Youth Awards, coming soon, and also in the upcoming years’ submissions. "Ancient Egyptians used papyrus that was indigenous to the Nile to communicate, and when Europe was cut out of this, it dropped into its dark ages. Egyptians need to discover their new indigenous social network, not using the foreign tools, but inventing their own modes of communication, which are bound to be tailored to the local environment."

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