Creating Local ContentApplication & Content Development
Talal Abu-GhazalehSalah Abu-Osbeh
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Our world is in crisis. As always, this crisis is not necessarily apparent to everybody;
those who are doing well may choose to argue over semantics, but poverty and all its
manifestations are endemic on a global basis. At the United Nations Millennium Summit
in 2000 the world’s leaders issued the Millennium Statement, which laid out a broad
range of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at seeking significant
improvements in the lives of millions of poor people by the year 2015.
The United Nations’ Secretary General, Kofi Annan has officially declared the relevance
and importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to this effort and
with the endorsement of the UN General Assembly formed a UN ICT Task Force to lead
work at a global level on deploying ICTs toward development goals. I have been
privileged to participate in the UN ICT TF as co-chairman and as chairman of the
Working Group on Human Resources and Capacity Building.
This interest in the relation of ICTs to human development, particularly human
development as it relates to developing countries and poverty alleviation, surged several
years ago with the growing international attention to the importance of new ICTs such as
the Internet, computers, satellites, mobile communications, etc. Many argued and still
do, that new ICTs are creating such a surge in growth and development that the unequal
distribution of these technologies is creating a “Digital Divide” which threatens to further
entrench the existing inequalities of life and opportunity for people around the world.
This concern is still widespread and with reason, but there is growing consensus that
initial concerns and reactions to the digital divide were somewhat oversimplified. This is
related to the excessive optimism and sometimes unrealistic projections that accompanied
the rise of the Internet and related technologies, which in the capital markets became
known as the ‘Internet Bubble’. As the ‘Internet Bubble’ grew with unrealistic
expectations of the new ICTs, so the solutions to the digital divide were also based on
somewhat unrealistic expectations. Similarly, early approaches to addressing the digital
divide were somewhat simplistic in scope, focusing rather narrowly on the need to
provide computers and Internet connectivity.
The global community has advanced considerably in its understanding and approach and
a broad consensus is growing regarding the need for a sophisticated model of
international cooperation that addresses not only the technology divide but the whole
range of issues that result in inequality of access to, and utilization of, information. The
World Bank is a good example of one such international organization that has refined its
overall strategy regarding development of nations’ information infrastructure. Their new
strategy includes a broadening of scope to cover all information infrastructures, not only
telecommunications, and a focus on issues that affect people’s ability to utilize these
tools. One of the most basic issues is development of human capacity. Key to human
capacity is education and related capabilities.
One of the most basic issues in human capacity is simple literacy, the ability to read and
write one’s language. There are great limitations on the utility of ICTs to individuals
who do not know how to read. Another problem is that even those who know how to
read and write may lack knowledge of how to access, select and utilize information
resources; critical thinking and creativity are important education end products that are
often missing in developing countries. Another important barrier is raised by the fact that
most of the information on the Internet is in English, which while it may be the business
language of the world, is not yet a universal language. One of the greatest barriers to
utilization of the Internet is lack of local content, in people’s own language. And that is
our topic here now.
The need for local content (and content in general) clearly requires a mass effort. But in
developing countries we are still at the point where mass participation in creating local
content has not fully materialized. So it may be constructive to illustrate some examples
of successful efforts. One such is a venture I have been involved in: The Abu-Ghazaleh
Cambridge IT Skills Center.
The Abu-Ghazaleh Cambridge IT Skills Center is located in Amman, Jordan. It
represents the fruits of cooperation between Cambridge International Examinations
(CIE), Talal Abu-Ghazaleh & Co. International, and the Arab Knowledge Management
Society (AKMS). CIE is one of the most respected educational institutions in the world;
their standardized tests play a key role in many nations’ educational infrastructure. Talal
Abu-Ghazaleh & Co. International is the leading group of professional services firms in
the Arab world and one of the leaders from the region in integrating the private sector
into development efforts. AKMS is an Arab NGO working to build the infrastructure for
the Arab world to join the global information society. AGCA was established as a result
of the agreement that was signed on 18/6/2001 between (TAGI), (CIE) and (AKMS) to
deliver Arabic IT training courses through an internet website together with the additional
learning resources. This partnership is representative of current trends in its blend of local
(or regional) and international partners, private sector, NGOs, etc. Another key factor is
the broad participation of other parties in the effort. While the project was begun by the
initiative of TAGI and AKMS and the interest and support of CIE, it has succeeded as
well through the participation of educational organizations across the Arab world who
have signed on to the project. Scalability is one of the key words in development these
days; I think it safe to say that many of us that work in the development field have a
strong sense of the over-whelming challenges we are facing, and scalability refers to the
ability to increase the scope, size and support of successful initiatives.
The Abu-Ghazaleh Cambridge IT Skills Center (AGCA) project offers the internationally
recognized CIE Information Technology Award in the Arabic language. This
internationally accredited program accomplishes a number of important things:
1. It provides local (Arabic) content that makes the Internet more useful and
interesting to millions of Arabic speakers who are not proficient in other
2. It encourages and assists in the development of information technology
skills for Arab people.
3. It offers the accreditation that both employees and employers seek.
4. In the long term, this project in conjunction with other efforts, helps to
make the region more competitive and more attractive to FDI.
The Arabic language is used across the 22 countries of the Arab League and this
represents the target region of the AGCA partnership, which serves over 200 million
Arabic language speakers.
One interesting aspect of the AGCA partnership is how it is being promoted and
expanded across the region. One of the lessons learned over recent years is that the cyber
world and the real world have a symbiotic relationship, and the interaction between them
is essential to the health of both. We have promoted the project on a franchise basis and
this has attracted support from Arab educational institutions across the region.
This is important because our goal is to certify 1 million students in the next 5 years.
Without a flexible, scalable infrastructure to deliver the additional on-the-ground support
that many students may require, we would not be able to meet that goal.
As I review the AGCA partnership, and seek to focus on what is most important about it,
as a model for others to follow in developing local content, I think the key words are
‘initiative,’ ‘cooperation,’ ‘relevance’ and ‘demand’. There is a virtually endless supply
of content available around the world; all it takes is initiative to make that content
available in a language that people may utilize. Cooperation is a key part of making this
happen and is a centerpiece of current global development efforts. The interest in
willingness of CIE to make this available, and of other Arab organizations to support our
initiative was crucial to making it happen. The training offered by CIE, and now
available in Arabic, is clearly relevant to the needs and interests of great numbers of
Arabic speakers. There are many other types of content that need to be made available,
some that are indigenous and others that have more impact when adapted from
international sources. This is ultimately a crucial issue, as demand for the information
and related services is what ensures success. The cost of the AGCA project is
underwritten by the private sector (i.e. TAGI). This also is representative of many
current development oriented efforts and is valuable because the private sector is a good
example of self-sustainability. Supplying information products for which there is a
demand is a basic of market driven sustainable development. We also need to keep in
mind that sometimes demand needs to be developed and in some cases there is a clear
role for multilateral and bilateral funding organizations and charitable foundations to
work hand-in-hand with other interested parties to help to build the infrastructure,
including demand infrastructure that will lead to sustainability.