Mary Robinson and ICT for Development

I met this morning with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland,  former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and presently the founder of the Ethical Globalization Initiative in the office of Professor Charles Ogletree.  Professor Ogletree is one of the faculty members who oversee and lead the Berkman Center, famous for lots of things in his own right, including the current Tulsa reparations lawsuit.  Prof. Ogletree had set up this meeting with Mrs. Robinson to discuss Harvard’s role in helping to bridge the digital divide (among other divides).  The three of us talked for an hour or so in Hauser Hall on this sunny Friday.

I was most struck by President Robinson’s comforting mix of a seriousness of purpose and sense of humor.  She is extremely focused on the role of human rights on the global agenda, and is seeking to empower civil society, particularly in Africa, to be more effective and more activist.  She speaks with extraordinary conviction.  Her initiative has going for it a timely idea, powerful partners, and her personal clout (not to mention charm). 

A promising idea that emerged from our discussion: President Robinson described ICTs as an integral part of solving the globalization riddle, but thinks (as I think I do too) that we should start with the uses of technology, not just with the provision of the technology itself.  She is eager to see the ICT for Development movement embracing human rights as part of its set of core principles, and for us to think about how we deploy technology to achieve this crucial social end.

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