Mekong ICT Camp 2017
Siem Reap, 4 to 8 September 2017
Welcome and Keynote Address
Welcome – what an assembly of people from the five Mekong countries: Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia – and also some others. I have the privilege of having visited all of these countries over the years, and so I have also learned some of the different histories from which we come here together.
And here we are: I was asked to be here now and give us some thoughts for the coming days under the heading:
This is the heading of the first of the three program tracks – but it extends to all. Surely we all are here because we were, or we are, involved in innovative practices. Innovation – that is always looking forward, beyond what we had until now and before.
It seems to me that sometimes we easily forget that we have already made tremendous advances on the ways to where we are now. I would like to illustrate this personally, from my own experiences in Cambodia. Let me here describe some of the steps I went through, starting the first Internet service in Cambodia in 1994. There was no plan for “innovative practice” – we just responded to the challenges as they presented themselves to us.
At that time, I worked at the Ministry of Agriculture. A colleague at the Ministry had received an international scholarship – but then came a letter canceling the scholarship: in the data sheet requesting more details, there had been a line asking for his e-mail address. He had just crossed it out: he did not have an e-mail address! But the scholarship program was decentralized – professors and students lived in different countries. So it was clear: No e-mail – no further education!
A friendly member of the teaching staff in this program sent me software on a floppy to set up an e-mail system. I had brought a computer when I came to Cambodia in 1990, and I had also received one of the first 600 telephone lines in Cambodia. It was a simple DOS program – UUCP: UNIX to UNIX Copy Program – that was able to talk to a UNIX server over a phone line. At that time, international telephone connection did cost 5 US Dollars per minute. But we needed to set up many things before communication was possible. There was no regular electricity supply in Phnom Penh; so I bought a Japanese 24 Volt truck battery, charged using a Thai charger when there was electricity. Then – imported from the USA – an inverter changed the 24 Volt DC from the battery to 110 Volt AC, which were transformed by a Vietnamese transformer to 220 Volt AC for the computer. And finally a friend traveled to Singapore to buy a modem.
Innovative practice? We never knew how many problems would show up – but my friend
finally got the scholarship. He became the first person in Cambodia to gain a Master’s Degree from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, in Sustainable Tropical Agriculture. His continuing research earned him ten years later the first Doctorate Degree for a person from Cambodia from the same university. And last year he was invited to join the Ministry of Environment as a Department Director.
But getting e-mail for one person’s scholarship resulted in the establishment of the first ISP in Cambodia: not only ONE, but now MANY people were now able to engage in this new way of communication.
That was the important first steps in the country.
I think the next big step, after 1994, was in 2007. Many of us became aware, working
together, to what kind of a new world this innovative practice had already led us. By that time, many of those who had started to use these newly developed instruments and methods available, started to use them in cooperation with others. The use of the Internet had started to become a social phenomenon.
This T-Shirt which I wear today is part of this history: it was made for a special event In 2007, some people took the initiative to organize the first blogger weekend workshop in Cambodia: ICT was not only about technology, these instruments were seen as a new stepping stone in wide communication – not only in a one-person to one-person way, like the telephone had allowed such person-to-person communication already since 1876.
I was recently reading a bit more about the beginning of the telephone – and it was interesting to see that there too had been innovative efforts. But the original goal had not been to develop a telephone! The telephone was just a kind of unexpected by-product of a completely different intention and effort. This is interesting, because it shows that innovation can lead to quite new developments, which go beyond the ideas that were motivating the innovators. Alexander Graham Bell is considered to be the father of the telephone. In 1874 and 1875, Bell and a friend worked on the ‘harmonic telegraph’ – an effort to transmit different streams of simple data at the same time over one copper wire, using different frequencies for the different data streams. As an unintended side-product of this effort, they discovered that the human voice could be caught in the form of electric impulses. This was considered to be a surprising big success: because Mr. Bell’s father had tried to develop some means to help his mother who was loosing her hearing, and though they had been working to develop the ‘harmonic telegraph’, they just discovered a method to make the human voice louder.
Alexander Graham Bell continued his work for deaf people, establishing the American
Association to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890. – The fact that it now was
also possible to electronically transmit the human voice over long distance – the telephone –
was just a side product, and the great importance of this was only recognized in the following year 1876. Innovative practice – it had led to some originally intended result – to help people with hearing impairments – but the unintended result, the telephone, had world wide consequences.
I mention this link from technological innovation to actions for the benefit of society, because such links keep innovation with its own dynamics: always resulting in more than what had been intended at the beginning.
At the bloggers weekend 2007 in Phnom Penh – where a lot of hardware and software ideas and experiences were exchanged – enthusiasm about the possibilities of blogging was high.
We would be moving beyond the limited public space, defined by the printed media and by
the electronic media of radio and of TV. Now everybody who used a blog, could share her or his ideas widely with the public on the Internet!
Looking back, I found a press report, from which I will quote here, about the 2007 blogger
weekend. The report was published in TechRadar
The source for tech buying advice – www.techradar.com – The latest technology news and
reviews, covering computing, home entertainment systems, gadgets and more I quote this here, again to show that the innovative practice which had led to this blogger weekend workshop, was oriented towards technical computing and gadgets – and the social implications appeared as surprising secondary results. “…a small group formed in 2006 to give workshops on social media. With their efforts, and Cambodia’s King-Father Norodom Sihanouk starting his own blog, the group of 30 soon transformed into thousands. Now, they call themselves ‘Cloggers’ – Cambodian Bloggers.”
“After all the hardship our country has experienced, we’re trying to bring a new era of
innovation…” – “Blogs are helping to break down barriers, get discussions going –
something we need to move forward. It’s the voice of the new generation.”
“They hit another success in September 2007 with the first BarCamp held Phnom
Penh… BarCamp was great for thinking outside the box” – “we got Cambodians to start
speaking their minds in that nontraditional setting, the un-conference.”
“We just blog because we want to talk about our lives and talk with each other.” –
“Cambodia, a conservative society, doesn’t offer opportunities to open up and discuss
your feelings, especially for women. That’s what makes blogs so special here.”
“Men have dominated technology fields, but we’re seeing more and more women
speaking their minds through blogs,” says a woman, a rising voice in Cambodia’s
women’s empowerment movement. “They give us an outlet to gain self-esteem and be
more informed about the world.” – “If everyone keeps silent to intimidation, intimidation
will gain its position.” – “By making our voices heard, we can create change.”
At a certain point during this enthusiastic discussions in the plenary, there was an
intervention from one participant who said: “Don’t forget, we are in Cambodia!”
Without any further explanation, it was clear that there were limits to the prevailing
But innovative practice continued. Technological infrastructure continued to present
Our program for this week also shows hat engaging in innovation in technology leads beyond
– I quote from the program:
Community and Innovation Management
Building Secure Community Information Networks
Internet of Things in Environment and Climate Work
Technology for Good
Technological innovation obviously leads beyond technology, as these items show – and so
we have a whole track with a focus on Governance, where technology is just the assumed
base and background for such themes as:
Working with Community
Digital Media Tools for Development Work
Digital Campaign Design
Organizing Public Hearings
Mapping National & Regional ICT Governance Mechanisms with International
Treaties & Principles
Even technological innovation leads us to affirm our fundamental basis, as it is shown in the last item, referring to International Treaties & Principles, to which our governments have subscribed.
What are some of these?
“The term “human rights” was mentioned several times in the United Nation’s founding
Charter, making the promotion and protection of human rights a key purpose and guiding
principle of organizing the United Nations organization after the end of the Second World War.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly in1968, brought human rights into international law. Since then, the United Nations Organization has been involved in promoting and protecting human rights.
Two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deserve special attention in our
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without
distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or
international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be
independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes
freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
These rights are not legally binding in themselves, but they have been elaborated in
subsequent international Treaties, and Conventions, some in Regional Human Rights
Instruments, some became National Laws, or they were made part of National Constitutions (like in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia of 1994, where the “guarantee of human rights” became part of the Preamble of the Constitution).
In order to make these high ideas practical, their content was spelled out more in detail in
some documents called Conventions – first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, where the member countries are represented by their governments, and then presented to these governments with the expectation, that they would be integrated into national legislation. Especially the following two Conventions are important in a wider context:
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Adopted in 1966, in force since 1976, after it had been ratified by a required number of
The main provisions:
Principle of progressive realisation
Right to social security
Right to family life
Right to an adequate standard of living
Right to health
Right to free education
Right to participation in cultural life
Ratified or acceded at different times by the following countries:
Myanmar 2015 signed, but not ratified
Note: The government of the USA has signed it in 1979 under President Carter, but it was not presented to parliament for ratification, because there were strong objections: the arguments against were that “economic, social, and cultural rights were not really rights but merely desirable social goals and therefore should not be the object of binding treaties.” – signing this Convention would obligate the introduction of policies and laws that were opposed, such as “universal health care.”
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Adopted by the General Assembly in 1966, in force from 1976, after 35 countries had adopted it.
The problem of compliance and observation is being taken up: they can be implemented
gradually, over time, in stages. “The Covenant commits its parties to respect the civil and
political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial.” As of February 2017, the Covenant has 169 parties and six more signatories without ratification.
“This Covenant is monitored by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which reviews regular reports of State parties on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially one year after acceding to the Covenant and then whenever the Committee requests it, (usually every four years).
Ratified or acceded
Myanmar (not signed – not a party)
That is it.
Innovative practice assumes that there is always still uncovered territory to be worked on in future innovative practice.
That is for which we came here – that is what we are going to work on during this week – and then to continue, when we will be again home in our different environments.
But during this week we can build the links to take up the tasks of innovation together, as the invitation for the Mekong ICT Camp 2017 stated that this time it is to focus on cross border collaboration.
Thank you very much.