[Greennet-l] Open letter on World Bank Internet plans

GreenNet User Support support at gn.apc.org
Wed Sep 20 12:43:43 BST 2000

Dear GreenNet Users,
Below is an open joint letter of concern, composed by Alex Wood of the
Bretton Woods Project, UK and Roberto Bissio, Director of the Third World
Institute (Item) Uruguay, regarding the World regarding Bank's plans to
develop a global development 'portal'. We are encouraging people to add
their endorsement, as quickly, and in as many numbers, as possible.

You can also find the letter posted publically, and additional information
about the Bretton Woods Project and ITEM on:
You can endorse the letter by completing the boxes at the end of the
letter, and clicking the 'submit' button, or by emailing your details to
the Bretton Woods Project - bwref at gn.apc.org.

Thanks for your support,
Anna Feldman
for the GreenNet Collective



For a civil society discussion on the Gateway (where many of the letter's
points are discussed), see: www.bellanet.org/gdgprinciples

For articles from the Bretton Woods Update, see:
For official information about the Gateway plans, see:

In October the Bank will hold an electronic consultation on the Gateway on:
Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project, UK
[The Bretton Woods Project works with NGOs and researchers to monitor the
World Bank and IMF. See: www.brettonwoodsproject.org]
Open joint letter of concern about the Global Development Gateway
19 September 2000
Dear Mr Wolfensohn,
The Bank, under your direction, is developing a major new internet
initiative which aims to become "the premier web entry point for
information about poverty and sustainable development". To achieve this it
would need to include all shades of opinion and be a broad,
multi-stakeholder initiative, including civil society. Many civil society
groups, including the undersigned, have held discussions with the Bank and
among themselves about the Gateway.

We are writing to inform you that many of the major issues we have raised
have not been addressed. It seems, especially from the report "Global
Development Gateway Issues Identified During Consultations" recently
produced by the Bank's Gateway team, that you and the Bank's Board may have
been misinformed about the extent and nature of civil society concerns and
our disappointment in the Bank's response.

These concerns are not only serious in how they relate to the missed
opportunity of the Gateway, but also because they have the potential to
confuse potential funders, people asked to be Topic Guides, site visitors,
and many others. It is not the case that, as hinted in the above report of
the consultations, that these views are only held by opponents of the World
Bank or groups based in Europe. In fact a wide range of NGOs, academics and
also officials are extremely sceptical about the initiative.
Among the key problems identified with the Bank's Gateway plans are:
1) insufficient independence of Gateway governance.
The Gateway global and national governance structures do not adequately
protect civil society interests. Whilst an independent foundation has been
established, the constitution of the Board and Advisory Committee do not
give grounds for confidence that the Gateway will be truly independent of
the Bank, national governments and big business. Particular concerns are
the role of the Bank in making appointments relating to the Global Gateway,
governments' leading roles in Country Gateways and companies's ability to
buy Gateway Board membership (and "co-branding" opportunities) with annual
payments of a million dollars. Creating a nominally independent entity has
thus not solved the acute accountability issues around the Gateway, issues
which are very sensitive in portal development, essentially an editorial
activity similar to publishing newspapers.

2) alternative design options rejected.
Very early in discussions about the Gateway a number of civil society
groups suggested an alternative design approach which would use the latest
spidering software to allow distributed, user-driven topic aggregation.
This would overcome the difficulties of the chosen Gateway design which
gives power and impossible judgements to individual editors, and empower
groups across the world to post and group information according to their 
needs. Yet the Gateway still favours a vertical, edited approach which
will cause many problems of credibility and useability.

3) communication/consultation insufficient.
Whilst there have been a number of consultation exercises, it appears that
the Bank has overemphasised the production of pilot sites and fundraising
rather than communicating with diverse audiences about the GDG's intentions
and what might best meet their needs. Many important groups still know
nothing about the Gateway and many who do have tabled questions which have
not been answered.
4) overambition and unfair competition;
The Gateway, whilst based on good intentions to increase coordination of
web activity, is too ambitious and cannot meet all of its goals. At the
same time its huge budget (60 million dollars over three years) and
marketing reach are likely to have huge opportunity costs for the many
existing and planned portal ventures in this area. It is not appropriate
for the heavily subsidized Gateway to compete with these (for profit and
non-profit) initiatives, including in many of the "pilot" countries. This
approach clearly contradicts normal World Bank policy advice.
At present, because of the above concerns and others, it is unlikely that a
Civil Society Committee for the Gateway will be formed soon, despite two
months of discussion about it. In fact a large number of civil society
groups are likely to continue with independent initiatives to improve
electronic information coordination rather than join the Gateway.
We ask you to provide full responses to the above points as soon as
Yours sincerely,
Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project, UK
Lawrence Surendra, environmental economist, India, formerly Director, Asian
Regional Exchange for New Alternatives
Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute, Uruguay
Mark Lynas, UK Editor, Oneworld.net
Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director, APC, South Africa
Karen Banks, Director, GreenNet, UK
Chat Garcia Ramilo, APC Women's Networking Support Programme, Philippines
Moussa Fall, Enda Synfev, Senegal
Tonya Hancherow, Web Networks, Canada
Deborah Farrell, IGC Networks, USA
Peregrine Wood, Ph.D. Candidate, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York
University, Canada 
Sarah Masters, Development Worker, International Cooperation for
Development, Dominican Republic
Liz Probert, Director, GreenNet, UK 
luchie pavia ticzon, feminist activist educator & trainer, las hueseras
atbp, Philippines/USA 

OTHER SIGNATORIES (e-mail name, position and organisation to:
<bwref at gn.apc.org>. Note organisation is for identification purposes only,
not implying an organisational view. Reply by Tues 19th September.)

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