The plan of action for building the information society in Western Asia was prepared by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), through its Information and Communication Technology Division as follow-up to the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003.
The plan of action for building the information society in Western Asia, or Regional Plan of Action, takes into consideration the challenges associated with maintaining an integrated and sustainable effort for building the information society in the region and translates these challenges into specific programmes and projects. Implementation of these programmes and projects would require efficient coordination and effective partnership among concerned organizations but would have the benefit of strengthening inter-Arab cooperation in a framework of partnership that embraces all stakeholders.
The collaborative efforts expended at the regional and international levels that resulted in the Regional Plan of Action (RPoA) are listed in chronological order, as follows:
(a) Adoption by the Arab Summit in 2002 of the Arab Information and Communication Technology Strategy;
(b) The Cairo Declaration and the document entitled “Towards an Arab Information Society: A Framework for Collaborative Action” issued by the Pan-Arab Regional Conference on WSIS held in Cairo from 16 to18 June 2003;
(c) Production by ESCWA of the Tentative Plan of Action for Western Asia: Building the Regional Information Society (E/ESCWA/ICTD/2003/12) in November 2003;
(d) The Global Plan of Action resulting from the Geneva phase of WSIS (WSIS-03/GENEVA/DOC/5-E);
(e) Organization by ESCWA of a series of round tables during 2004, in particular the round table on Strategies and Plans of Action for Building the Information Society in Western Asia, held in Beirut, 21-22 June 2004, the objective of which was to reach consensus on a suitable plan of action for building the information society in the region and the relevant national and regional activities. The projects and programmes resulting from the series were used in the development of the RPoA;
(f) Production by the Task Force on Implementation of the Arab Telecommunications and Information Strategy of a list of six government priority projects, based on a scoring process and priorities set by the Council of Arab Telecommunications and Information Ministers and included in the RPoA as priority government projects;
(g) The Second Regional Preparatory Conference for WSIS held in Damascus, 22-23 November 2004 in order to discuss the Proposed Regional Plan of Action for Building the Information Society (E/ESCWA/ICTD/2004/4) resulted in feedback, including the Damascus Call for Partnership, vital for the revision and improvement of the RPoA.
The flexibility and extensibility of the RPoA are articulated through the adoption of a modular scheme based on programmes and projects designed to trigger partnerships in ESCWA member countries and induce the interactive participation of a broad spectrum of stakeholders. As such, the RPoA could evolve to assimilate the future needs of a variety of stakeholders in ESCWA member countries, incorporating new information and communication technology (ICT) innovations and becoming part of the mechanism for the promotion of effective partnerships.
The present document outlines a comprehensive strategic framework that aims to create adequate indigenous capabilities for harnessing information and knowledge, so contributing to building ICT production capabilities and promoting the development of the information society in the region. The proposed strategic framework is based on ten key areas, partnership programmes and regional projects.
The key areas, mainly derived from the Global Plan of Action and designated within the RPoA, address a multitude of issues and constitute the core of the strategic framework are as follows:
(a) Policies and strategies;
(b) ICT infrastructure;
(c) Access to information and knowledge;
(e) Building confidence, trust and security;
(f) Enabling environment;
(g) ICT applications;
(h) Cultural, linguistic and local content;
(j) International and regional cooperation.
Actions in these key areas, which constitute the main pillars for the promotion of a sustainable information society, will ultimately contribute to building the capabilities needed in order to harness ICT for socio-economic development. A set of objectives are identified in each area and associated with a number of high-impact, strategic lines of action selected with a view to regional realities and extending over a period of time to 2015.
Partnership programmes, envisaged as a means of identifying and promoting a number of regional projects, are designed with the aim of instigating fruitful partnerships and securing the necessary resources for the production of tangible incentives for the move towards a regional information and knowledge society. The programmes supplement the areas of the strategic framework with well-defined endeavours in such a way that each programme serves one or more areas.
Programmes are elaborated on the basis of a results-based management approach and are mapped to the areas of the strategic framework. Thus, the core programme description is presented in concise form including the main objective, challenges, implementation strategy, expected accomplishments and indicators of achievement.
Regional projects are the building blocks for developing an integrated information society and aim to deliver realistic solutions for a range of problems over varying time-frames in the process of promoting the information society in the region. The majority of regional projects have national components with specific pilot projects in selected ESCWA member countries. A review of the efforts completed by the Task Force on the Implementation of the Arab Telecommunications and Information Strategy and the resultant list of projects recommended by the Task Force for inclusion in the RPoA are presented as regional priority projects for Arab Governments.
Moreover, the RPoA sets out the criteria for reaching the maturity required in order to implement projects successfully and facilitate the participation of parties interested in proposing and/or implementing projects aimed at developing the information society in the region.
Funds needed to implement the RPoA are addressed at the project level. The estimated costs of regional project proposals varies from tens of thousands to several million US dollars, although the majority of projects are estimated at between US$ 300,000 and US$ 1,000,000. Through project level budgeting, the RPoA prepares for greater transparency and improved accountability in building the regional information society within a framework based on multi-stakeholder partnerships. Contributions to implementation of the proposed regional projects could take forms other than financial inputs, such as in-kind contributions.
A model for partnerships in promoting and building the information society in the region is proposed. The model involves high-impact entrepreneurs, mature national, regional and international firms, governments, universities, investors, donors and international and regional organizations. A number of modalities for implementing the above partnerships are presented, with special emphasis on attracting investors and donors. Furthermore, a partnership scheme is recommended, together with modalities for implementing projects, monitoring progress and evaluating results.
Last but not least, it stands to reason that a plan of action for building the information society in the region would acquire wider support and be of greater benefit if it were to address the needs of all Arab countries rather than being confined to ESCWA member countries. The inclusion of all Arab countries would lead to a more efficient process of developing an information society and would avoid duplication and achieve more effective sharing and allocation of resources. The common language and culture of the Arab countries would bring together a wider range of stakeholders with a shared interest in building a regional information society. The design of the plan of action and the different areas of focus would provide a common denominator for serving ESCWA member countries as well as Arab countries. In view of the above, ESCWA presented the RPoA to the Arab Working Group for WSIS Preparation formed by the Council of Arab Telecommunications and Information Ministers established by the League of Arab States, for consideration in the development of an Arab plan of action for building the information society.
 League of Arab States, resolution 214 of 28 March 2002. Available at: http://www.aticm. org.eg.
 Details of the series are available at: http://www.escwa.org.lb/wsis/.
 Report and recommendations of the third meeting of the Task Force on Implementation of the Arab Telecommunications and Information Strategy (Cairo, 27-29 September 2004) (G15-08/03(04/09)/02 - T(0440).