The Global Development Gateway: The World Bank's Internet "Land-Grab"

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  • Subject: The Global Development Gateway: The World Bank's Internet "Land-Grab"
  • From: Azad RMS <rmsazad at yahoo dot com>
  • Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 09:45:10 -0800 (PST)
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    • from: IMF-WTO-WB-WHO mailing list
      posted on 15 Dec. 2000
      The Global Development Gateway: The World Bank's
      Internet "Land-Grab"
      By Alex Wilks, The Bretton Woods Project
      It is not safe to assume that the World Bank is on the
      defensive. Despite
      the recent protests, official commissions and
      unofficial research pieces
      which have contested the Bank's legitimacy and
      effectiveness James
      Wolfensohn has many new plans for expanding the Bank's
      areas of influence.
      One of the highest items on his agenda is an attempt
      at a major land grab
      on the internet, seeking to build a new $70 million
      supersite - "the
      premier web entry point for information about poverty
      and sustainable
      The Global Development Gateway (GDG) scheme is an
      ambitious attempt to
      gain more control over what analysis and opinions on
      development topics
      are deemed relevant and sound. The site aims to
      provide an overview of key
      policy issues with links to other sites with "good"
      information about
      them. Many grassroots and campaign-oriented sites will
      be weeded out on
      the grounds that they contain unsubstantiated
      opinions, not validated
      research. The site will be heavily marketed to
      officials, journalists,
      students, NGOs and others. Although tightly controlled
      by the Bank at this
      stage, the Gateway will be launched next year as an
      apparently independent
      foundation, giving the appearance of neutrality to
      unsuspecting surfers
      who are unaware of who is behind this apparently
      helpful site.
      The Bank is trying to impress G8 governments and
      others with a cutting
      edge, hi-tech, multi-stakeholder project that will
      deliver knowledge and
      expertise to communities worldwide. The buzzwords
      associated with it are
      "transparency", "interactivity" etc. However, the Bank
      is so clumsy in its
      attempts to bring people into this initiative that it
      has alienated many
      potential partners thus revealing once again its
      top-down approach to
      project planning and its failure to recognize that
      there are many diverse
      and conflicting views on development. This project
      also illustrates the
      Bank's failure to understand that the internet
      encourages horizontal
      networking, multiple opinions and links, rather than
      centralized planning
      and coordination.
      Wolfensohn has asserted that the internet can be a
      confusing, yet very
      powerful medium for people working on international
      issues. Activist
      groups such as Indymedia and Peoples' Global Action
      have demonstrated
      this, leading WTO officials to say that Seattle was
      not lost in the
      negotiating rooms, nor in the streets but on the
      internet. The GDG may
      pose a serious threat to campaign- and policy-oriented
      sites that offer
      information from other sources. Indeed, some sites
      which need a certain
      number of visitors to keep going would be likely to go
      One major criticism is that the Bank is drastically
      overestimating what
      can be achieved in one website - "trying to kill five
      birds with one
      stone." The GDG aims to provide: easy access data
      about aid agency
      projects, a database of organizations working on
      development, an online
      bookstore, nested country websites, and a selection of
      links to analysis
      on over 100 policy topics. The analysis links are
      probably the most
      problematic. The Bank is recruiting editors or Topic
      Guides, who will be
      given the impossible task of trying to examine
      websites across the world
      to see what exists on their issues, then post links to
      whatever reports
      they feel match their "quality" standard.
      Roberto Bissio, Director of Instituto Tercer Mundo
      (Third World Institute)
      in Uruguay has likened the GDG to having the World
      Bank publish newspapers
      in countries where such resources are lacking: "There
      would be public
      outrage if someone proposed it, as the press is
      supposed to be free."
      Attempting to filter development-related information
      to produce a global
      supersite for so many audiences is extremely
      unrealistic. Is it clearly
      not possible or desirable for one person or a small
      team to claim that it
      has produced links and highlights which represent
      views of all
      stakeholders (civil society, governments, official
      agencies, companies
      etc.) on any development topic. This is obvious to
      many people, but has
      been well-expressed by Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive
      Director of the
      Association for Progressive Communications: "The
      Global Gateway will:
      *	de-contextualize the content it disseminates *
      neutralize and
      de-politicize information *	create an illusory
      atmosphere of consensus and
      universality, while proclaiming 'diversity' *	draw
      funding away from local
      information gateway development initiatives
      Most significantly, initiatives like the GDG, no
      matter how inclusive they
      attempt to be, are mediated by the North. It is very
      hard to find the
      boundaries of what constitutes "reasonable opinion"
      within single
      organizations, villages or families, let alone when
      you get to a national
      or international level. The meaning of development and
      many of the Gateway
      topics is itself strongly contested. Development
      includes everything that
      has to do with everyone in the South. On such a
      megasite reports from
      African think-tanks or NGOs are likely to be crowded
      out by major World
      Bank publications on the same issues.
      Many detailed criticisms have been made against the
      Bank's planned
      approach. But the Bank has done little to respond to
      them. Indeed, on 7
      November Wolfensohn personally posted to the
      consultation list-serve that
      he felt the response to the Gateway proposal was good,
      that they are going
      to continue with it and will work with "those leading
      international NGOs
      and community-based organizations that wish to
      experiment with us." This
      was a frank admission that the consultation exercise
      they have been
      conducting was largely a sham and Wolfensohn was using
      his diplomatic
      muscle to marginalise opponents and steamroll groups
      into collaborating
      without questioning the fundamentals of the Bank's
      The World Bank already gets four million page hits per
      month on its main
      website. It recently invested a huge amount of
      resources into a series of
      other internet and distance learning initiatives.
      Combined with the GDG,
      these must be seen as a strategic attempt to capture
      the commanding
      heights of information technology for development. As
      the web is likely to
      grow ever more important as a publishing and
      organizing medium, activists
      would be well-advised to prevent the World Bank
      getting any more powerful
      in this area.
      For more information and future updates visit the
      Bretton Woods Update and, join the 50
      Years Is Enough list-serve, or register your interest
      gdg at brettonwoodsproject dot org .
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