In Global Peace Through The Global University System

2003 Ed. by T. Varis, T. Utsumi, and W. R. Klemm

University of Tampere, Hameenlinna, Finland







Juan Somavia


International Labour Office (ILO)



* This greeting is based on a transcript on Video Intervention, Opening Ceremony, Workshop on "Emerging Electronic Global Distance Learning" at the University of Tampere, Finland (9 to 13 August 1999).



In bravely addressing the two great challenges of the next millennium - new technology and globalization - there are three crucial questions for which we do not yet have all the answers.





What is becoming increasingly clear is that there is nothing pre-determined in this process of change.  There is room for maneuver, and different choices are available that are of particular strategic importance in the design and planning phases.  Development at work and in society is consequently not just the result of uncontrollable forces such as globalization, intensified competition and technical change.  It is, instead, primarily the result of political, economic and social choices.


The original approach to technological innovation, largely built upon technological determinism, short-term returns and downsizing, is progressively giving way to a high-road approach where human capital, imaginative use of technological innovation and new forms of work organization become fully interlocked to transform information into knowledge and then into productivity growth, competitive advantage and better conditions of work and life.


Though the high road is often only a path, especially in developing countries, it is increasingly possible to develop win-win solutions meeting at the same time the needs of the industry, of the workers and of the community at large.


The ILO is looking at these opportunities with great attention and commitment.



Teleworking: Reaching the Critical Mass


After long years of unmet expectations, teleworking is reaching its critical mass.  Nowadays the number of teleworkers exceeds 15 million worldwide.  In the United Kingdom, workers in call centres alone are more than those in the car, steel and coal industries put together.  Experts argue that rather than just a new form of work, teleworking is likely to be the way an increasing majority of people will work in the future.  At the ilo, we have been at the forefront in monitoring these changes with a path-breaking report in 1990, and plan to inaugurate the year 2000 with a new report on the subject.


A mixed blessing, teleworking may increase isolation, marginalization and social dispersion, unprotected jobs; gender disparity; and fragmentation among the workforce.  However, teleworking offers unique opportunities for employment, development and special care of vulnerable groups.


Teleworking can greatly contribute to the development of a new type of entrepreneurship based on creativity, the ability to network, openness to virtual environments and intangible assets, high levels of agility, immediate responsiveness and the continuous accumulation of new knowledge.  This type of entrepreneurship is considered the winning one for modern enterprises and a great facilitator in new jobs creation.


The large majority of information and communication technologies (icts) related occupations are expected to grow rapidly as an effect of further technological advancements.  In the United States, several of the 30 fastest-growing occupations are found in the very rapidly expanding computer and data processing services industry, which is expected to more than double its employment size to 2.5 million workers by 2006.  These are typically teleworking occupations.


Meeting this challenge requires immediate action in the area of education, training and retraining.  It also requires tapping into all available resources and retaining available ones.  Teleworking can play a key role in this respect.  By bringing the work to their workers, rather than the reverse, teleworking organizations gain access to workers anywhere in the world and offering unique opportunities for disadvantages groups/areas.


Teleworking can also foster the development of new work in remote areas.  It can help in attracting and developing work in rural areas.  Telecottages and telecentres are the emerging answer.  Particularly suitable for small communities in isolated areas, telecottages and telecentres have been spreading fast in recent times.


There is a history of attempts to develop telecottages and telecentres in developing countries based on the idea of the direct passage from agriculture to high technology that is of great fascination, but this has proved to be very difficult to apply in the past.


Technological advances now make it increasingly feasible to place a communication point  in isolated villages, which can be run with cheap solar energy and linked by satellite connection and Internet to the entire world.  This would be a place where young people could familiarize themselves with the new information and communication technology; where tele-education and teletraining could take place; where crucial weather forecast for survival and growth could be provided; where telemedicine could be administered; where farmers could gain access to much needed advice and services.


In December 1997, 16 telecentres were collectively inaugurated at a ceremony in the grade school library at Erongaricuaro, state of Michoacan, Mexico.  Many have failed or still struggle to survive.  However successful stories start emerging.  In the bustling town of los Reyes, one of the axes of the booming avocado export market, people will tell you how the telecentre has established its credibility by linking the local avocado producers with potential markets worldwide via Internet.


For people with disabilities, teleworking offers an entire new range of work opportunities.  A new powerful disability strategy is emerging which abandons the traditional idea of rehabilitation as adaptation of the disabled to the traditional workplace and looks, instead, at a new and open workplace where people, both disabled and not, find a real chance to fully express their working abilities and overcome discrimination.  The ilo is actively engaged in knowledge-sharing and global networking in this area.  It is responsible for overall management of infobase, the major database worldwide within the global applied disability research and information network.




Making the Turin Centre a Centre of Excellency


Increasingly, distance learning appears as a privileged tool in enhancing the accessibility to higher level, longer duration and more responsive training activities to meet the growing needs for more shared knowledge.


The international training centre of the ilo in Turin has a long tradition of international and tripartite education.  It is now enriching its traditional role with leading functions in the area of distance learning and training.


Latin America is the first target area.  Current distance learning programmes at the Turin centre include an advanced course on design, management and evaluation of flexible learning systems addressed to Latin American professional trainers and a virtual training programme designed to promote local development and to support people and institutions working in this area.  In the year 2000 a new major telelearning programme on compared industrial relations, initially targeted at labour relations professionals and specialists from Latin American countries, will be launched.


Further initiatives in the area of distant training are envisaged in the near future aiming at developing and implementing distance learning courses in all technical areas of the core mandate of the ilo.  We are committed to making the Turin centre a centre of excellency in this area.



Online Advocacy Against Child Labour


Perhaps the fastest-growing area of technology that increasingly affects the ilo's work is the Internet.  The global online audience is now estimated to be about 200 million people.


As a result of this electronic revolution, the Internet is rapidly growing into a major strategic communications tool for reaching a wide-ranging audience.  Our web site on child labour has been, in the last years, a crucial means of information and dissemination.  This is the most visited ilo technical website.  During the first six months of 1999, the site has received 280,000 hits.


But the ILO is quickly moving beyond this into online advocacy and campaigning.


Our ratification campaign for the new convention on the worst forms of child labour will use the World Wide Web as a means of building awareness and support for this effort.  We are aiming for an interactive website, which will be both the largest centre of online information on child labour and an electronic centre for advocacy.



Looking Forward at Lessons To Be Learned


Learning, especially continuous learning, is the pre-condition to the development of new knowledge, skills and competence in the leading areas of teleworking, teletraining and telecare.  These are high priority areas for the ilo.  We look forward with extreme interest to the results of this conference to help us in the difficult search for the "high road" towards the global aim of securing decent work for people everywhere.





Author Biographical Sketch



Juan Somavia

Director-General, ILO

United Nations, Geneva
Tel: +41.22.799.6026
Fax: +41.22.799.8533






Juan Somavia was elected to serve as the ninth Director-General of the ILO by the Governing Body on 23 March 1998.  His five-year term of office began on 4 March 1999, when he became the first representative from the Southern hemisphere to head the organization.  An attorney by profession, Mr. Somavia has had a long and distinguished career in civil and international affairs,  His wide experience in all areas of public life - as a diplomat and academic - and his involvement in social development, business and civil organizations have all helped shape his vision of the need to secure decent work for women and men throughout the world,  The following is a list of the many positions he held in the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations before joining the ILO:


1990-99: Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations in New York;


1993-94, 1998-99: President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council;


1996-97: Representative of Chile on the United Nations Security Council, including President of the Security Council in April 1996 and October 1997;


1993-95: Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen;


1991-92: Chairman of the Social Committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Council;


1990-91: Chairman of the United Nations Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs;


1970-73: Executive Secretary of the Latin American Free Trade Association in Chile; Ambassador of Chile to the Andean Group; Member and Chairman of the Governing Body of the Andean Group;


1968-70: Ambassador and Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Chile on Economic and Social Affairs, responsible for multilateral issues including the ILO.


Since taking office in 1999, Mr. Somavia has taken up the challenge that the rapidly changing economy presents to the ILO.  In 1999, he submitted his Decent Work Agenda to the International Labour Conference, which was subsequently endorsed by the Governing Body and the Conference.  The work of the Office has been reorganized around four strategic objectives that make it possible to establish targets and indicators to measure progress and provide the basis of accountability.


Mr. Somavia began his career as an academic.  From 1967-68, he was lecturer on economic and social issues for GATT's trade policy courses in Geneva,  In 1971, he was appointed Professor of International Economic and Social Affairs in the Department of Political Sciences at the Catholic University of Chile, where he highlighted the ILO and its tripartite structure as a case study in international cooperation. Between 1976 and 1990, he was Founder, Executive Director and President of the Latin American Institute of Transnational Studies (ILET), during which time he undertook a number of studies on trade union and social movements in Mexico City and Santiago.  From 1996-99, Mr. Somavia was Chairman of the Board of the United Nations Research for Social Development (UNRISD).  Throughout his career, he has written and lectured widely on trade issues and labour and human rights and holds numerous citations and awards for his work in the areas of peace, human rights and social development.


Mr. Somavia participated actively in the restoration of democracy in Chile.  Not only was he President of the International Commission of the Democratic Coalition in Chile but also founder and Secretary-General of the South American Peace Commission (1986-90).  For his contribution to peace and human rights, he was awarded the "Leonides Proano Peace Prize" by the Latin American Human Rights Association.


Mr. Somavia is married to Adriana Santa Cruz and they have two children.