United Nations ECLAC Information Society Programme & eLAC Action Plans

some background

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) –the Spanish acronym is CEPAL— is part of the UN Secretariat and one of the five Regional Commissions of the United Nations. It aims at contributing to the development of the region, coordinating actions directed towards this end, and reinforcing economic relationships among the countries and with the other nations of the world (see for example the prominent work of Raul Prebisch).

In mid-2000 I found my way from the School of Economics & Business of the University of Chile to Jorge Katz, Director of the micro-economic oriented Division of Production, Productivity and Development at UN ECLAC, who took the idea of using the Internet as a tool for development surprisingly serious (considering the wide-spread doubt about its relevance at these early years of the digital age). He took me under his wings and guided me through my first couple of publications. We we ended up writing two of the first books of the subject in the region together.

At the same time, the governments of Latin American and Caribbean started to negotiate their regional position for the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society. The initial regional position was presented in the Bavaro Declaration (the first draft of this declaration was born on my computer…). Important issues, like the question of who governs the Internet, came to the global agenda through this declaration (the question of "multilateral, transparent and democratic Internet governance" became an ongoing battle of interest between countries).

Growing this incipient working line, we were able to secure some funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, which enabled us to to set up our Observatory for the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean (OSILAC) (total funding US$ 1.5 million, 2003-2010), and from the European Union, under @LIS (total funding US$ 22.5 million, 2004-2013), which enabled us to help countries to set up a regional Action Plan for Information Society development in Latin America and the Caribbean: eLAC. These funds enabled us to create a team of 12 in-house professionals, and some 200 consultants throughout the region, which I had the honor to coordinate under Jorge's successor João Carlos Ferraz.

The first version of the eLAC Action Plan was approved during the preparatory process of the second phase of the World Summit WSIS, in Rio de Janeiro, June 2005. In the meantime, four consecutive versions of the plan exist:

Public and private sector leaders from the highest levels have officially recognized the impacts of the resulting activities in public declarations (see e.g. WSIS 2015 Prize in international and regional cooperation; the Declarations of the XVII Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government; or of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Rio Group). Even 15 years later it seems that countries still remember my catalizing role "con cariño": "eLAC, a mechanism that was curiously promoted by a German linked to UN-ECLAC, who was studying digital strategies that timidly emerged from our countries and the common paths around which to promote regional dialogue to strengthen national policies through integrated approaches and supplemented by the experiences of others…" (08/2015).

As the technical Secretariat of the Action Plan we worked directly with Heads of States (such as President José María Figueres of Costa Rica and President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic shown in the image below), government experts, legislators, diplomats, private sector companies, and civil society organizations in almost all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and a wide variety of international organizations around the globe (incl. ITU, OECD, World Bank, United Nations University, UNCTAD, UNESCO, among others). The team has produced more than 150 publications, several databases, and countless technical assistence missions.

In 2012, the governments of the region created the Subsidiary Body for Science, Innovation and Information and Communications Technologies as part of UN ECLAC. As such, what started out as a bunch loose publications, has grown with the help of donor seed-funding into an institutionalized part of the intergovernmental structure of Latin America and the Caribbean. After over a decade of inspiring collective work that literally involved thousands of people from the most diverse backgrounds, the topic is now here to stay in the region.