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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Professor Nicholas Ashford, director of MIT's Technology and Law Program, is one of three Americans appointed to the six-person joint Greek-US council charged with implementing the Initiative for Technology Cooperation in the Balkans (ITCB).
Top priorities of the council of academic and business members, which had its inaugural meeting on February 20 in Thessaloniki, Greece, are bilateral efforts to improve the environment, information and communication technology, food processing and agricultural infrastructure in the region, with current emphasis on Albania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslav republics of Macedonia and Romania.
The ITCB will engage private and academic institutions to use technology transfer to help stabilize the region through meeting the essential needs of its people. The council will provide contact between US and Greek institutions and their various Balkan counterparts and will also serve as a forum for new ideas about enhancing the region's technological capabilities.
Greece, although an active member of NATO, chose not to participate in the NATO-led Kosovo campaign. As a result, Greece is in a unique position to assist in building confidence measures with both the Albanian and Slavic peoples to its north.
The council was jointly proposed by President Bill Clinton and Greek Prime Minister Costa Simitis as a result of direct negotiations over the last several years.
Professor Ashford--whose current research interests lie in technology, law and public policy and in globalization, technology and sustainability--emphasized several key points about the ITCB initiative:
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ While the private sector is an indispensable vehicle/instrument for technology transfer to the Balkans, the beneficiaries are the people of the region.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The approach should not be exclusively top-down but must involve the various stakeholders: industry, all levels of government, scientists and academicians, nongovernmental organizations and labor organizations. Getting the different stakeholders to reach consensus in a region where consensus is a foreign concept is no small challenge.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Organizers must be careful not to over-promise specific results (e.g., water purification systems, telephone communications or housing), but should focus on capacity-building and self-reliance that goes beyond individual projects.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Efforts should emphasize technology for sustainable development in three areas: (a) establishment and growth of enterprises and markets, (b) environmental and public health improvements, and (c) labor market creation.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Establishing and strengthening both public and private-sector infrastructure deserves a central focus.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ An important element in the ITCB's ultimate success is education. Greece is in a unique position to help build English-language literacy and to help create institutions that depend on instruction in a variety of fields, using English as a potential unifying factor in the Balkans.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Ultimately, the long-range expansion of the European Union (EU) to include the Balkan countries is in the interests of both the United States and Greece. The ITCB must be coordinated with efforts of the EU and other activities already underway.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ US-Greek and public-private partnerships are crucial, but organizers must realize that the private sector's central concern is security of investment and infrastructure for delivering goods and services.
The first activities of the ITCB will be to conduct a technology needs assessment for the people of the region and a technology audit of firms in the region. A second meeting is anticipated within a month.