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Knowledge-Based Society as a Way to Peace, Stability and Well-Being
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by Vladimir Petrovskiy 10 the future of the Knowledge Society

Vladimir Petrovskiy is former Director-General of the UN in Geneva.

Keynotes at the Summit for the Future 2005

The convening of this Summit by the Club of Amsterdam, the highly respected, independent international think-tank is an important event. The discussion of the Knowledge Society in all aspects by policy makers, high intellectuals and knowledge workers could not take place at a more significant moment. Five years, which have passed since the Lisbon European Council have proclaimed the knowledge based economy as the strategic goal for 20 I 0, give the chance to reflect on the lessons that can be learned from European experience in the global context and contemplate how best to continue to promote the knowledge based society.

In my statement I shall deal with the European approach, the efforts of international organizations and the importance of responsible constitutional democratic governance at all levels for building knowledge society.


Since ancient times learning has been the major objective, pursued by Europeans. Nowadays this objective becomes the top priority not only for governments, but for society as a whole, for the private sector, for the players in the new economy and for each citizen, who, like Socrates, will never cease learning and learning to learn.

On March 23 and 24, 2000, the European Union has set itself a few strategic goals for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. For achieving this goal an overall strategy has been formulated. It aims at:
  • preparing the transition to a knowledge-based economy and society by better policies for the information society and R&D, as well as by stepping up the process of structural reform for competitiveness and innovation and by completing the internal market;
  • modernizing the European social model, investing in people and combating social exclusion;
  • sustaining the healthy economic outlook and favourable growth prospects by applying an appropriate macro-economic policy mix.
This strategy is designed to enable the European Union to regain the conditions for full employment, and to strengthen regional cohesion in the Union. This new European strategic goal has been accepted as an inspiring example by many countries in the world, which are looking for the ways to have peace, stability and well-being in a new world by using fairly the fruits of Globalization, which has brought it to the forefront issues of technology and communication.

Indeed, as the European Council has proclaimed, the shift to the digital knowledge based economy, prompted by new goods and services will be a powerful engine for growth, competitiveness and jobs. In addition, it will be capable of improving citizens’ quality of live and environment, in which we live.

In a new knowledge-based society, promoted by Europeans, businesses and citizens must have access to an inexpensive, world-class communications infrastructure and a wide range of services. Every citizen must be equipped with the skills needed to live and work in this new information society. Different means of access must prevent info-exclusion. The combat against illiteracy must be reinforced. Special attention must be given to disabled people. Information technologies can be used to renew urban and regional development and promote environmentally sound technologies. Content industries create added value by exploiting and networking European cultural diversity. Real efforts must be made by public administrations at all levels to exploit new technologies to make information as accessible as possible.

Of practical attraction for other countries are the efforts to modernize the European model by investing in people and developing an active and dynamic welfare state, which may be crucial for ensuring that the emergence of the knowledge economy does not compound the existing social problems of unemployment, social exclusion and poverty.

There is a real interest in many countries to understand how to offer learning and training opportunities tailored to target groups at different stages of their lives: young people, unemployed adults and those in employment who are at risk of seeing their skills overtaken by rapid change.

The international community needs the European experience in advancing new concrete future objectives of educational system, focusing on common concerns and priorities while respecting national diversity.

As well-educated and skilled people form the basis for the creation, dissemination and effective application of knowledge, a know1edge-based society depends on a comprehensive educational system that embraces the diverse spectrum of a population. Such a system shou1d ensure a growing share of highly skilled specialists in the workforce, while creating favourable conditions for continuous adult and professional education.

The other lesson to be learned is promoting social inc1usion. Europe gives an example how the new knowledge-based society can offer tremendous potential for reducing social exclusion, both by creating the economic conditions for greater prosperity through higher levels of growth and employment, and by opening up new ways of participating in society. The Europeans well understand that at the same time, the knowledge society brings a risk of an ever-widening gap between those who have access to the new knowledge, and those who are excluded. To avoid this risk and maximize this new potential, efforts are made to improve skills, promote wider access to knowledge and opportunity and fight unemployment: the best safeguard against social exclusion is a job. This encourages the flexibility necessary to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of social development and the knowledge-economy.

Last but not least, it is a great interest in a more coherent and systematic approach, which the Europeans advocate, to put decision into practice. A new open method of coordination as the means of spreading best practice and achieving greater convergence towards the main EU goals involves:
  • fixing guidelines for the Union combined with specific timetables for achieving the goals which they set in the short, medium and long terms;
  • establishing, where appropriate, quantitative and qualitative indicators and benchmarks against the best in the world and tailored to the needs of different Member States and sectors as a means of comparing best practice;
  • translating these European guidelines into national and regional policies by setting specific targets and adopting measures, taking into account national and regional differences;
  • periodic monitoring, evaluation and peer review organized as mutual learning processes.
I would like to stress that the European Council makes a special appeal to companies’ corporate sense of social responsibility regarding best practices on lifelong learning, work organisation, equal opportunities, social inclusion and sustainable development.

The European Council also makes clear that achieving the new strategic goal will rely primarily on the private sector, as well as on public-private partnerships. It will depend on mobilizing the resources available on the markets, as well as on efforts by Member States.

With the time passing it becomes quite clear what is needed today is not only knowledge-based economy but rather knowledge-society. As for education in the knowledge-society, it cannot be limited to the information technology and economy. It should include common human values, culture and religion, the policy-making and its implementation.

Looking into the future, we cannot ignore the experience of the past.

In Europe there were always two conflicting approaches to school education: traditional and liberal: The traditional view, school education as a tool for preparing a child for entering adult society as a prepared citizen. The liberal one finds it most important to preserve the child’s nature that is supposedly good and self-sufficient and does not need any interference on the parts of adults. Paradoxically, as we can learn from our life experience, these two approaches to school education intertwine and merge in practice.

Of practical importance is to preserve in the future the famous German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt’s model of the university that unites teaching and research. The university is the unique institution of sciences that combines in itself analysis and synthesis, tradition and change, conservatism and liberalism. Entrepreneurial practices, that direct only at the expedient earning their own money erode not only subtle values of higher education but also weaken the foundations of the democratic society.

I deeply believe that in the new world decisive is not the quantitative factor, the size of the country, of its population, but the quality, which depends upon the level of education and social cohesion.

The European experience presented at the expert level could help the other countries to find the answer to the questions what is to be done and how to promote knowledge-societies, the basis for peace, stability and well being.


The application of the European experience in the building knowledge society in other parts of the world is very much facilitated by the fact that at the turn of the 21st century we face not only the challenges of globalization, but also the change of the civilizational paradigm. The world is becoming the interdependent global society, characterized by intellectualization and globalization of economy, on one side, and cultural differences, on the other.

For the first time in history there are no more debates at the high political level on the meaning of the major goals of the emerging global society.

I have been fortunate to participate in all the UN Summits, in 1960, 1995 and 2000. At the last Summit I was particularly struck by the remarkable convergence of views by all world leaders on the question, what is to be done before the challenges of globalization, leaders agreed on the necessity of actions to maintain peace and security, to provide stability, sustainable development and to protect the human rights. There was a consensus that no individual and no nation must be denied the opportunity to benefit from globalization. Global issues must be managed in a way that ensures an even distribution of costs. Those who benefit the least are entitled to assistance from those who benefit the most.

To build a peaceful, democratic and equitable international order, the leaders of the world have committed themselves to freeing our fellow men and women from the three major scourges:
  1. abject and dehumanizing poverty to which more than 1 billion individuals are currently confined;
  2. violence in all forms: civi1 conflicts and terrorist activities;
  3. danger of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities.
World leaders have unanimously agreed that in order to achieve their goals, they have a collective responsibility to uphold the principle of human dignity, as the major guideline in their approach to all the issues on the global agenda. These words were followed by deeds when a year later in Johannesburg, South Africa, all the UN member-countries adopted the programme of actions. This programme is known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It targets for 2015:
  1. to halve the population of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger;
  2. to ensure that all boys and girls complete primary schools;
  3. to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015;
  4. to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under 5;
  5. reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality rates;
  6. halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIY/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other diseases;
  7. to ensure environmental sustainability;
  8. to develop a global partnership for development.
A global consensus on what the MDG are is not yet translated into a consensus on the priority of threats we are facing today. While some see terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and criminal networks as the biggest threats to security (the so-called “hard threats”), most see civil wars, diseases such as AIDS, poverty and environmental degradation as the key problems, although “soft threats” by comparison. Under these new conditions, the major issue today is how to deal with the hard threat without neglecting all the others. After all, they are interdependent like our world and should be treated comprehensively.

The leaders of Europe, US and Russia rightly speak about strategic security, which in historical discourse means that security should be treated in all aspects.

It would be proper to remind that the concept of security in all its aspects, which has been jointly proposed by Moscow and Washington, was unanimously adopted by the United Nations at the 44th Session of the General Assembly in 1989 (Resolution 44/21). According to this Resolution, security should be dealt with not only in its military dimension but also in a comprehensive multifaceted manner, as the security from violence as well as from hunger, diseases, environmental degradation and any violation of human rights.

The achievement of this aim makes the protection of individual as the top priority in the new world. In other words, the core of the new vision of strategic security is the human security, which should provide positive peace - not only absence of terrorism and wars, but also stability and well-being.

The disagreement on how to cope with the threats we are facing today, has a negative effect on achieving the MDG goals. Eradication of poverty remains the most immediate concern for development initiatives of the New Millennium. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), the number of chronically hungry people shot up in 2004 to nearly 852 millions. This is an increase of 18 million people, including at least 5 million children, who are now dying from hunger each year. At the same time International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that half of the world’s workers or 1.4 billion people earn less than $2 a day, whilst 550 million live on less than $1 a day, the highest numbers ever recorded.

The achievement of MDG, in the words of the UN Secretary General, demands the mobilisation of all creative abilities and invention. The science and technology should play here a decisive role. The UN and its partners should use the best minds, their knowledge, experience and creative energy at the service of the peoples of the world, in order to achieve the goals of Millennium.

The promotion of the knowledge-based society makes it necessary to keep in mind that, though we live in an interdependent and multicultural world, there is a big difference between the countries, not only from the viewpoint of cultures but also of the level of development. Europe belongs to the highly developed countries, but there are also developing countries, countries in transition, underdeveloped countries and ‘failed’ states.

The pattern of knowledge - society cannot be applied automatically all over the world. Take for example countries in transition. The UNDP has just prepared a special report for the Russian Federation “Towards a Knowledge - Based Society”. The reference to this report at our Forum here today. is particularly pertinent, because one of the four common spaces of cooperation between the EU and Russia is the scientific research and education.

According to the UNDP report, the drivers of fundamental change in social capacity reside, first and foremost, in the concept of human development. Effective formation of a new society depends to a large extent on the underpinnings of a knowledge-based economy. Knowledge has already become a significant component of most products and services in the modern world. Intellectual effort, special skills and communication not only create added value, they ensure the competitiveness and economic development of organizations at all levels. A significant share of the value of many products is created at the stage of marketing, sales, research and development (RD), and service, rather than at the stage of material production. Knowledge stimulates the emergence of new types of activity, new production methods and industries; it becomes the driving force in renovating technologies and a key factor of competitiveness and consumer well-being.

Human development, new managerial and marketing technologies, and information systems have become the top investment priorities.

UNDP report underlines that innovation is now an indispensable part of renewal in every sector of the economy. The nature of information and knowledge processing has been also changed. Information and knowledge are transmitted in volumes and at rates previously unthinkable, while the costs of transaction have plummeted. Hardware and software technologies enable the translation of vast quantities of previously inaccessible information into knowledge and added value. Information resources themselves have begun to playa dominant role in the accumulation of social and financial wealth.

The challenge is to induce economic added value based on innovation as opposed to dependence on the exploitation of natural resources. Knowledge is, after all, the most potent renewable resource available to a society. Fiscal, amortization and customs preferences need to be combined with an effective institution for the protection of intellectual property in order to encourage investments in science and technology.

As well-educated and skilled people form the basis for the creation, dissemination and effective application of knowledge, a knowledge-based society depends on a comprehensive educational system that embraces the diverse spectrum of a population. Such a system should ensure a growing share of highly skilled specialists in the workforce, while creating favorable conditions for continuous adult and professional education.

A high level of quality educational attainment across individuals and social groups facilitates greater social cohesion, trust in social institutions, democratic participation, open debate, and appreciation of diversity in gender, ethnicity, religion, and social class.

Proposed by the World Bank measures of institutional knowledge-assessment methodology (KAM) therefore examine “rules of the game”, both formal and informal. They assess the ease of funding innovation projects, the degree to which education and the upgrading of skills are encouraged, how intellectual property rights are observed, etc.

As for Russia, the report recommends substantial changes in the structure of social production, education and the quality and composition of the labor force. The challenge is to induce economic added value based on innovation as opposed to dependence on the exploitation of natural resources. Knowledge is, after all, the most potent renewable resource available to a society. It is also vital to elevate human development as a top priority for Russian society, government and non-government: to breathe new life into the educational system and its network of scientific centers and to considerably improve the institutional conditions for business and entrepreneurship, and to achieve a breakthrough in the use of modem information and communication technologies. Change is needed not only in the sectors directly concerned with the reproduction of knowledge (education, telecommunications, IT, the science and high-technology sectors), but in all branches of production that use innovation, including the “low-technology” sectors. These objectives are predicated on a well-conceived national strategy for structural reforms, and adaptation of the capacities of various sectors for the reproduction of knowledge. Analogous strategies have been developed in many countries, providing a substantial international base of experience upon which Russia can draw.

The UNDP report on the development of human potential in Russia gives a specific example of the UN approach to creation of the knowledge-based society in the countries of transition. Encouraging the knowledge-based society, the reports say “Yes” to the market economy and “No” to the market society.

The reference to the UNDP report shows that the European experience in the promotion of the knowledge-based society should be used together with the recommendations of the UN, UNDP, [LO and other international bodies.


The concept of knowledge society the UN promotes is not limited to access to technology and science. As long as the people all over the world are unable to approach the information critically, as long as they cannot analyze it, sort it and incorporate the elements, which interest them into their existing knowledge base, this information will remain a mass of undefined data. People should master information, rather than information masters them.

That’s why the UNESCO emphasizes that the knowledge-societies “should be conceived as plural, variable and open to democratic choice”. It implies a set of four interlinked principles: freedom of expression, equal access to education; universal access to information, including a strong public domain of information, and the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity.

The responsible constitutional democratic governance at the international, regional and national level is a top priority. The task of such governance is to make the effective decisions and to put them into practice through concrete and systematic approach and to facilitate developing the potential of each individual. The rule of law is the core of responsible governance. This rule starts with the principle, that no one is above the law, and no one should be denied its protection.

The rule of law starts at home. Unfortunately, in too many places it remains elusive. In theory the world is more democratic than ever: 140 out of 191 states now hold multi-party elections. In practice, only 82 countries are fully democratic in guaranteeing human rights with institutions such as free press and independent juridical systems.

With regard to international legal order I wish to remind that an objective proclaimed in the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations is to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.

The utility of law is true only as long as it is implemented and enforced. Without such a commitment of the states the rule of law in international affairs will remain little more than a remote abstraction. The evolution of today’s international political environment justifies the further development of existing international norms and its adaptation to prevailing conditions. The guidelines for these changes are the maintenance of peace and human dignity, the understanding that the only absolute sovereignty today is the sovereignty of the human being.

The respect for the international law in a new world entails an adherence to common human values. The concept of common values is neither insensitive to cultural differences nor disrespectful of religious beliefs and practices. Fostering common values implies the existence of a political environment, which embraces the diversity of views and cultures in society, encourages national fora for debates and consensus building and promotes the important role and responsibility of individuals.

The comprehensive dialogue among civilizations provides a good opportunity to programs directed at the mutual enrichment of historical experience of different civilizations and meeting threats to their stability and well-being.

The legally oriented governance implies transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs.

Such governance also means that the public institutions fulfill their role and undertake to supply their citizens with the services they need. It goes without saying that responsible governance does not tolerate corruption or bribery. It re-invigorates public institutions by making officials accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, a competent, loyal and efficient civil service endowed with ethical standards is neither a luxury, nor a dream. Rather, it is a basic precondition for peace, social and economic development and regional and international cooperation.

Responsible governance cannot achieve success without involving various actors from civil society and the private sector at all levels in its process. The role of the private sector within the context of responsible governance is particularly crucial and especially important. In the global context, it is noteworthy to mention the “Global Compact”, an initiative proposed by the UN Secretary-General, to promote partnership with the corporate sector. Based on universal principles from international human rights, labor law and environmental protection, it is intended to make markets more humane by promoting corporate global responsibility. It attempts to do this by imbuing global corporate actors-and, in so doing, the process of globalization itself-with UN principles and values. In other words, the Global Compact is intended to spread responsible business practices through the adoption of appropriate minimum standards on human rights, employment conditions and the environment.

To quote from the Compact: “A commitment to multilateral engagement and open markets has spurred growth and development in the decades since 1945. But opposition to globalization is rising in many parts of the world, as the ability of markets to meet social expectations and needs is questioned and the spread of market forces outpaces the ability of societies and their political systems to adjust effectively. Safeguarding past achievements and preparing the ground for a new period of prosperity requires urgent action on two fronts: renewing a commitment to openness and inclusion; and finding new ways to embed global market forces in universally shared social values, thereby allowing all countries and cultures a sense of ownership in the global economy”.

Last but not least. Within the context of responsible democratic governance it should be stressed that we live in the time when relations between media freedom and democracy has never been closer. Editorial access to information and rigorous professional standards are especially important for news agencies since they provide the news material and footage for so many other media outlets. This is the message from World Summit of Information.


In conclusion, I would like to stress that the knowledge-based society should be accepted in a broader sense as the political philosophy of a new emerging global society, which advocates the investment in human potential and provides the optimal balance between the new transnational markets, nation-states and different cultures and religions. Of course, there is no ready-made blueprint for all countries.

The creation of the knowledge-based society is a process, which has already started, produced some positive examples and in the long run will bring the peace, stability and well being to all parts of our planet.

Visit also the conference about 'the future of the European Knowledge Society' and the Summit for the Future 2005 plus the sections with books, articles and links.

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