Capping off an intensive 36 hours of thought-provoking discussions, the inaugural NEST – The Networked Society Forum in Hong Kong, was brought to a fitting conclusion by Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg and President Bill Clinton, together with South Korean Ambassador Young-Shim Dho and Professor Jeffrey Sachs.
True to the spirit of the NEST Forum, Vestberg began the day by stressing the importance of continuing the conversations that began in the Hexagon this weekend. "It is our responsibility to take the lead at this critical point in time," he says. "And all of us here as influencers have a great responsibility to do something about it." When it comes to areas where ICT can truly make a difference, the Forum's theme could just as easily have been anything from healthcare to smart grids or transportation infrastructures -- all of which will increasingly rely on ICT as our networked society evolves. But the theme of learning and education, pointed out Vestberg, stood out as a unique enabler of progress within all industries and social sectors. As many of the participants pointed out in their discussion sessions the previous day, it may also be the one in which collaboration is most urgently needed.
In her brief closing statements, Ambassador Dho expressed enthusiasm towards the participants' eagerness to tackle such an ambitious theme in just two days. "I'm here because the theme is education," she says, emphasizing her own efforts aimed at meaningful collaboration with NEST discussion leaders Jan Eliasson and Jeffrey Sachs on the UN Millennium Development Goals. "We are not talkers. We are doers," says Ambassador Dho, with an emphatic nod toward her fellow MDG Advocates. She also cited a first-hand example from her own life, witnessing how South Korea transformed itself within just a few decades from being a developing country into one of the world's largest economies, thanks in large part to coordinated educational investments.
Achieving this kind of impact, however, is not something that happens overnight. What we need now, President Clinton urged in his keynote speech, is to create new networks of people working together to build a stronger, institutional dynamic. "It’s really important for us to understand that the great genius of the network is that it is a continuously evolving experiment," says President Clinton. "And as long as our goal is to do things smarter, cheaper, and better, we don’t have to be afraid of not having all the answers. We don’t have to be afraid of trying something that doesn’t work."
When it comes to ICT and education, it was in fact this question that became a recurring theme throughout the day: What works? Without economic models to measure educational methods, said Vestberg, it will be nearly impossible to prove their effectiveness and convince a wide range of stakeholders to make the large-scale commitments that are needed. We know, for example, the exact percentage impact that mobile broadband has on GDP. But in order to align the interests of the public and private sectors, he argued, we will need to begin by defining similar educational assessment tools – an effort he said Ericsson is willing to begin tackling. "Together with the Earth Institute, Jeffrey Sachs and other influencers," says Vestberg, "we will see if we can define the impact of ICT on education in a way that is equally clear as our measurements on broadband connected to GDP growth."
This commitment between two leaders in academia and ICT is just one example of the air of openness towards new ideas and initiatives that permeated the air at the inaugural NEST Forum. And judging by the collection of inspirational voices gathered here this weekend, it is certain not to be the last.
As this year's participants exited the NEST Hexagon on pier 6 in Hong Kong Harbor, the thoughts and conversations followed with them. If there is any sign that bold ideas can in fact lead to real solutions within ICT and education, this is surely it.