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Today’s Headlines: Eyes on the U.N., GovFresh Awards, Forbes List & WIM StartUp Program for Women In Tech

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

The United Nations has cut its budget only for the second time in the past 50 years. On Saturday, the 193 UN members agreed cut $250 million from next year’s budget and set the 2012-13 budget at 5.15 billion. The global  economic downturn is said to be the reason behind the decision to slash the international body’s budget. This budget cuts comes after a long series of  tense negotiations, with the European and United States in favor a cuts, and developing countries fighting to keep spending levels the same. US Negotiator Joseph Torsella welcomed the new budget and called it:

“a budget for a strengthened, more efficient, and more effective United Nations that saves the American taxpayers millions of dollars and sets the United Nations on the path of real fiscal discipline and continued reform.”

In addition, the United States have been taking a hard line against the UN spending, particularly in regards salary increases for UN staff. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon praised the new accord, “All budget years are tough. But this year was especially difficult.” He vowed for more cuts in the upcoming months, “Governments and people everywhere are struggling.” The cuts to the UN budget will affect missions around the world; the UN peacekeeping budget is separate with a budget of roughly $8 billion a year. 

New York City nabs two 2011 GovFresh awards, including City of the Year award!

The City of New York won two top honors at this year’s GovFresh awards, picking up City of the Year award and Best Use of Social Media. Each year, the GovFresh Awards recognizes  innovative technology projects that foster communications between citizens and local municipalities. Gov Fresh Founder Luke Fretwell cited the City’s two pronged approach of citizen engagement and use of technology as a reason for  their success:

“As a city, New York came at civic innovation from both sides,” Fretwell said. “There was high citizen engagement through app contests, as well as helping redesign the New York website with the Reinvent NYC.”

The City has had a banner year with integrating social media platforms and citizen engagement, with most recently unveilingd NYC Open Data, a repository of over 850 government datasets, and expanded its digital portfolio to include over 200 social media channels with more than 1.5 million followers across City government. In July, the City hosted its first Hackathon, Reinvent NYC.GOV, inviting hackers and members of the design and technology community to “hack” and invent ideas for the City’s website. Additionally, the City oversaw Engage NYC, a social media summit in September, comprised of 100 members from the City government staff, communication staff focused on presentation and training sessions geared to improve and strengthen social media communications between the City and the public. 

Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne spoke about the GovFresh Awards announcement and took pride on the Mayor’s efforts to engage the city digitally and socially.

“We know that New Yorkers who engage with their government through these digital channels will feel empowered and want to get involved even further – that’s the most satisfying part about all of our efforts, and it really speaks to Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to the power of technology and innovation within government.”

MIT to launch free online graded-courses, open to the public 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will launch MITx, a series of online classes that anyone can take for free.Those who get passing marks will get a MITx certificate for a small fee. The new classes are expected to have a slew of content with short interactive videos, discussion forums, and realistic stimulation that could stand in for laboratory experiments. Although the notion of an online course is nothing new, the format of it has changed since its inception. “The offerings are far better than before. “It used to be you would just take a classroom course, shove it on the Web, and hope for the best,’’ said Andrew Ng, a Stanford University computer scientist. “I think of that as the afterthought model for online education.’’ MIT will choose a course to serve a prototype to roll out  this initiative this Spring. Although the courses are free, people will need to pay a small fee for grades and certificates, but MIT provost Rafael Reif says that monetary gain is not the principle driver for this program: “The goal here is to do something good for the world, to reach large numbers of people who can really learn this stuff,’’ said MIT’s provoIf we want to reach large numbers, the fee has to be modest.’’













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