Keynote Presentation: The Knowledge Revolution: Opportunities and Risks for Developing Countries
PCF1 Keynote Presentation by The Honourable Maurice Strong, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, Chairman, Earth Council at the First Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF1) in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam on 2 March 1999. // The globalization of information has revealed a new spectrum of opportunities for developing countries. As a powerful and reusable resource for development, knowledge is an essential input, catalyst, and product of change. Despite this impressive potential, however, there are many economic, technical and political constraints that prevent the knowledge revolution from realizing its full potential in developing countries. // Increased access to information could exacerbate differences between North and South. The information gap between developed and developing countries could increase, exposing the vulnerability of the South and increasing their dependence on the North. For example, the growing drive to convert knowledge into intellectual property could tend to reduce the total stock of knowledge and restrict access for those who do not have the means to purchase it. The challenge we face is to determine how information technologies can be used to counter these trends and take advantage of new forms of social organization and economic activity resulting from the globalization of information. // Given the important role that developing countries play as custodians of much of the worlds biological life-support system, it is in the developed worlds best interest to ensure that developing countries have access to the resources they need to protect their natural endowment. This means providing the information and technologies they need to do so. But our responsibility goes beyond traditional official development assistance. The indispensable services they provide have always been taken for granted and treated as free goods. We must now begin to place economic value on them if we are to expect developing countries to maintain them largely for the benefit of the rest of the world. Doing so would not only ensure the conservation of these precious resources, but provide an additional source of revenue flow to these countries, allowing them to make the necessary investments to enhance their knowledge capacity. // While the primary responsibility for the future of developing countries, after all, rests with them, these countries deserve and require an international system that is supportive of their efforts to develop along sustainable paths. Given the degree of interdependence that exists between nations today, and the major shift in economic resources and population towards the southern hemisphere, it is clearly within the best interests of developed countries to ensure that developing countries have access to the best state-of-the-art technologies and information so that in the course of their own development they do not add unnecessarily to the pressures on the earths environment and resources.