Volunteers... Paving the Way for the Future

Viola Krebs
12 January 2005

His Excellency Adama Samassekou, former Minister of Education of Mali and president of the preparatory meetings of Phase 1 of the World Summit on the Information Society, is accompanying the CyberVolunteers Program as the president of its Honorary Committee. Recently, he shared his views on volunteerism and the information society.

ICV: What is the role of a volunteer and how is it complementary to the role of other actors working in development, such as consultants for example?

His Excellency Adama Samassekou: Volunteers act in the spirit of a mission, which favors accompanying rather than intervention. A consultant is called on to intervene; the volunteer makes his competences and his know-how available. He shares them with others. By doing so, he commits himself to the environment in which he is operating and serves as a catalyst. The volunteer needs therefore to listen to people and in this way brings a community approach. He comes indeed to learn in order to serve better.

ICV: You often speak about the society of shared knowledge. Can you explain what you mean by that and how it relates to volunteerism?

I speak of a society of shared knowledge, because information only has a value when it is able to achieve something, in fact building knowledge. UNESCO refers to the knowledge society, but we are really in the knowledge society since the beginning of mankind. The added value that is brought by the digital society, in particular the Internet, is the great possibility to share that knowledge in real-time. The new society in construction could be called the information, human communication, shared knowledge society. In fact, for the first time, a farmer from Diré living in the region of Timbuktu in Mali is today potentially able to produce, organize and share knowledge thanks to the net, provided that he has access to infrastructure taking into account his language. He could in this way envision to share his knowledge and know-how with a Swiss farmer from Valais. This is what is fantastic about ICTs! The master of oral communication of the country of Mandé can communicate with afro-multicultural communities in Brazil about the relation between Africa and the Americas from the times of the Malian empire.

A volunteer is familiar with cyber-space and can accompany local farmers to better establish the modalities of transmission of knowledge. The volunteer, being from a different culture, is the accompanying mirror and the mediator between cultures for knowledge sharing. It is here not a question of transfer of existing knowledge, but rather of the co-construction of new knowledge. From this point of view, the volunteer is paving the way for the future, as he dreams of a society, which is better, more equitable and more just.

Volunteerism is one of the spaces to reinvest, in a world where more than ever violence is generalized and scattered, where we see a process of dehumanization of interpersonal relations as well as profit-making, in a context marked by the superpower of money. The sphere of volunteerism is a counterweight to this profit-making environment, because volunteers are committed to building a future which is more human, and characterized by more solidarity.

The volunteer is accompanying and responds to a double-folded need: on one hand, his own desire to discover other horizons and to live with the local communities an enriching experience for himself, on the other hand, the request from local communities to accompany them in their desire to discover innovations. The volunteer participates in a dynamic exchange that exists without him... local actors have not waited for his arrival to get involved in a process of gradual mastering of their environment of what is commonly referred to as development. In this way, he is more likely to be able to make his contribution to the mastering of ICTs by the community.

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