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ISIF Asia 2016 grant recipients announced!

ISIF Asia 2016 Grants

The first CERT in the Pacific, a Peering Strategy for the Pacific, and a mobile app reader to access books in Thailand’s Karen dialects are just some of the initiatives that will receive funding.

This year ISIF Asia will award its largest ever grants pool, across four categories, to support research and development of Internet technologies for the benefit of the Asia Pacific.

APNIC Internet Operations Research Grants

Around AUD 115,000 was awarded to support the following projects:

  • Realistic simulation of uncoded, coded and proxied Internet satellite links with a flexible hardware-based simulator. The University of Auckland, New Zealand. The main focus of this research is to establish realistic satellite simulator of UDP flows. It also automates experiments run on non-coded and coded configurations. The project builds upon a 2014 ISIF Asia grant to improve connectivity in the Pacific islands (see report).
  • Rapid detection of BGP anomalies. Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures (CAIA), Swinburne University of Technology, This research focuses on producing techniques for the real-time detection of different types of BGP anomalies that can be used by an operator. The evaluation of this tool will be carried out with a controlled testbed using BGP Replay Tool (BRT) to emulate past BGP events.
  • A Peering Strategy for the Pacific Islands. Telco2 Limited, New Zealand. This research continues and expands a set of Internet measurements of latency to Pacific Island telecommunications providers from various locations around the world, that when evaluated in conjunction with submarine cable availability, can be used to determine a metric for efficiency of transit that can be considered along with the economic impact of having an efficient transit. The measurements will be made available in real-time via a web interface to help operators, regulators, and funders understand the physical routing of network traffic, availability of content, and benefits of peering to improve availability, reachability and security of the Internet in the Asia Pacific region.

Internet Society Cybersecurity Grant

With the support from the Internet Society, one grant of AUD 56,000 was allocated for this category, plus additional Monitoring , Evaluation and Communications support valued at AUD 2,500 and a travel grant to participate at the Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico where they will be one of the speakers at the workshop “Cybersecurity – Initiatives in and by the Global South“.

  • Developing Tonga National CERT to the Department of Information & ICT under the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Environment, Climate Change, Information, Communication, Disaster Management (MEIDECC), Tonga. The Tonga Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) launched recently, is the first national CERT in the Pacific region. Tonga CERT was launch with a long-term goal to expand its services to the greater Pacific once fully operational. Tonga CERT will conduct incident handling; perform vulnerability handling; and provide security consultation and advice. Read more from Andrew Toimoana, Director of MEIDECC, Tonga.

Community Impact Grant

The AUD 50,000 Community Impact Grant was awarded to:

  • Equal Access to the Information Society in Myanmar, the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, Myanmar. This project focuses on women and youth, and benefits 500 people through 20 libraries across the country. The curriculum, developed specifically for Myanmar, focuses on critical thinking in a digital environment of smartphones and tablets. It develops the skills of young female leaders by providing them with specialized information technology training, leadership and job skills, and opportunities to engage in critical public discussion. Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation will also participate in a three-week mentoring program in Singapore, facilitated by JFDI.Asia, valued at AUD 25,000 plus expenses during their stay.

Technical Innovation Grants

Just over 195,000 AUD was allocated to support five projects under the Technical Innovation category.

  • Khushi Baby, India. This project improves digital medical records for mothers and children by streamlining data collection, improving decision making in the field, aiding in district resource management, and delivering effective dialect-specific voice call reminders to mothers. Khushi Baby will also participate in a three-week mentoring program in Singapore, facilitated by JFDI.Asia, valued at AUD 25,000 plus expenses during their stay.

Four small technical innovation grants of up to AUD 30,000 were awarded to:

  • My Community Reader: a Mobile-First Distributed Translation Tool and Reader for Ethnic Minority Languages. The Asia Foundation, Thailand. This project will build, test, and deploy a tool to translate text into minority languages books, significantly expanding the available online library of digital and printable mother-tongue children’s books. It will also deliver a mobile app so people can search the library and download titles on local Android devices.
  • UAV-Aided Resilient Communications for Post Disaster Applications: Demonstrations and Proofs of Concept. Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. This project will design and demonstrate UAV-borne radio payloads as critical network nodes in the development of a post-disaster resilient, delay tolerant communications system, using both multi-rotor and fixed wing platforms with long range radio payload to demonstrate the concept. The UAV will act as data aggregators and wireless store-and-forward relays for collecting important information and providing connectivity to evacuation centers, ground teams and concerned agencies. Data can be gathered from multiple sources below and delivered to another ground team or to a central station, while it can use the wireless link to broadcast messages to the ground nodes. Relayed information can include survivor profiles, food supply audits, medicine requests, and images of victims. This system will be used to assist response team coordination, hasten rescue efforts, and deliver timely updates, among others.
  • Legalese. Legalese Pte. Ltd. Singapore. This is a web application that will enable the growing Asian population of first-time entrepreneurs and first-time investors to transact seed-stage financing with confidence and without expensive legal fees.  The app educates end-users about entrepreneurial finance, facilitates choosing and configuring investment agreements, manage signatures through to completion, and develops libraries of contract templates for Asian languages and Asian jurisdictions.
  • Deployment of Collaborative Modern HoneyNet to improve Regional Cybersecurity Landscape (CMoHN). Institute of Systems Engineering, Riphah International University, Pakistan. The project will deploy and establish the core skills required to manage and integrate different honeynets and design new honeypots for countering cyber-attacks. The project will connect with other honeynets in the region to form a regional collaborative honeynet network, and promote R&D activities to secure network infrastructure through publications and conducting community awareness seminars.

Seed Alliance completion report 2012-2015 published

Back in 2011, APNIC and LACNIC were interested to join efforts to strengthen their regional programs for Internet development. Both ISIF Asia and FRIDA had many stories to tell and supported many projects since they were established. Although they operated in different ways, there were several areas where collaboration was possible. As they discussed the benefits and challenges of a collaborative partnership, AFRINIC was also considering the possibility to establish its own program, so an idea started to take shape.

APNIC and LACNIC approached their main donor, IDRC, to explore possibilities for support such partnership. A whole year of negotiations, planning and strategizing followed, to align the objectives of these three Regional Internet Registries operating in very diverse regions, but with a common interest to give back to their communities, with those of IDRC. During the IGF 2011 in Nairobi (Kenya), a meeting was planned to discussed a final draft proposal document, cementing the idea of establishing a partnership to support valuable research and development initiatives that showcased innovation and technical knowledge, through Internet technologies, for social and economic development. The Alliance for Internet Development and Digital Innovation was born.

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Laurent Elder from IDRC facilitating the conversation. From left to right: Phet Sayo & Fernando Perini (IDRC); Hisham Ibrahim, Adiel Akplogan & Vymala Thuron (AFRINIC); Paul Wilson & Louise Flynn (APNIC) and Alexandra Dans (LACNIC). Not in the photo, although attended the meeting were Raúl Echeberría (LACNIC) and Sylvia Cadena (APNIC)

 

The Seed Alliance started operating with contributions from all three RIRs and generous support from IDRC, and contributions from regional sponsors. The initiative attracted the interest of other players, looking for a way to talk about innovation, scale and growth on the Internet, from a regional perspective, to support social an economic development. To use technology for good, not necessarily for profit. A year later, the Seed Alliance hosted its first awards ceremony, at the IGF 2012 in Baku (Azerbaijan). By then, Sida, joined the alliance as a new funding partner and thanks to their generous support, the Seed Alliance started a three years program cycle, that concluded last year at the IGF 2015 in Joao Pessoa (Brazil).

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Raúl Echeberría (LACNIC), Paul Wilson (APNIC) and Anne-Rachel Inne (AFRINIC) welcome Jens Karberg (Sida) as a partner of the Seed Alliance at the awards ceremony at the IGF 2012 in Baku
2015 Awards
Seed Alliance partners, sponsors and supporters with FIRE, FRIDA and ISIF Asia awards winners at the awards ceremony 2015

This report, published on the Seed Alliance website, offers an overview of the Seed Alliance’s work completed under the three-year program cycle 2012-2015, funded by Sida and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) which supported a total of 116 projects across 57 economies for around US$ 2.2 million of funding in Grants and Awards throughout Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, helping to strengthen and promote the Information Society within these regions.

From 2012-2015 ISIF Asia was able to support  44 projects across 22 economies in the Asia Pacific region, 22 grants and 22 award winners. Besides direct funding for their projects, ISIF Asia recipients received many mentoring and networking opportunities that increased their knowledge, expanded their network of contacts and provided visibility to their work in a very competitive environment. Our lessons learned, recommendations and challenges are included in the report. As APNIC provided secretariat support to coordinate this three years cycle, we learned a lot about partnerships, about the ingenuity and innovative approaches that are born and bred in our region, about the challenges that the organization we support face. It is a incredibly lucky position to be: to be able to support ideas grow. We continue to do so!

We invite to download the report as well as explore the Seed Alliance website. More information about the report can be found here and the report can be downloaded here.

Internet in Niue: evolution of our First ISIF Asia Award Winner

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Internet Niue will forever be remembered for being the first WiFi country. It’s Free WiFi initiative was a bold move especially on a small remote island in the South Pacific.
Back in the late 1990s, IUSN (Internet Users Society of Niue) a charitable organisation, applied and was later delegated as manager of the Niue .nu ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) by IANA. As part of it’s goodwill offer, IUSN set out to provide free Internet access through an initiative called Internet Niue.  It began it’s limited services with dial-up and by 2003 it had started testing WiFi in downtown Alofi.
On 5 January 2004 Category 5 Cyclone Heta struck Niue with a force that ravaged the tiny island. Part of the capital was completely wiped out by the waves that rose over the 20m upraised coral cliffs.  As a result of this devastation, we had to rebuild our network infrastructure but with better understanding for the forces of nature as well as the environment that our wireless had to go through.
We worked with local organisations known as Village Councils (VC) and used their meeting halls as sites for our access points.  We also partnered with some private sector businesses and home owners to enable the distribution of WiFi to be extended across the narrow villages that followed the main road.  There’s no mountains or hills so we were able to utilise existing towers to install our major backhaul wireless links.  Initially we used empty cat food cans to build our antennaes and these worked well.  But advancements in design and technology including the decrease of prices in equipment have allowed us to extend further.  We now cover 13 of the 14 villages on the island of Niue.
A lot has changed since our first trial links back in 2003 but the vision has remained the same, to provide WiFi to the local communities.  For a long period, the island was able to enjoy free internet but as time passed, we had to adapt the way we operated to be able to cope with changes occurring in the domain name (TLD) world especially with the arrival of new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains).  Our funding is dependent on the sales of the .nu domain names and we have had several years of having the luxury of free services. The main problem with the Free WiFi setup was that over time with the growth of users, the services was degraded.  So a change to the system was needed as we head into the future if we were going to survive.
By the beginning of 2016, plans were activated which allowed us to upgrade our satellite bandwidth with assistance from Speedcast. We started the new venture of charging people and built a system to become a commercial ISP, Kaniu (www.kaniu.nu). We still get subsidised with funding for the satellite bandwidth from IUSN but we’ve had to engage our users and charge them a fee of $50/unlimited per month to cover the local operations.  The uptake has been promising and we aim to continue offering more bandwidth to our users.
But when implementing these changes, the Government of Niue felt that we had violated some Niue Telecommunications laws and regulations and requested us to cease services. We adhered to that directive, even though we believed we had not broken any laws or regulations, and gave notification to our 600+ users as we turned off all our services in March 2016.  Users that benefited from the Internet access provided, voiced their concerns and later on the same evening we received the authorisation to resume our  services much to the delight of our users. We have continued to meet and discuss with the government what their concerns and requirements are as we intend to maintain our operations in Niue, in a small market that is developing.
We have invested a lot of effort and resources so we will continue to do what we do best.
ISIF Award
In 2011, Internet Niue won the ISIF Award for Localisation and Capacity Building. I was invited to Nairobi, Kenya to the IGF (Internet Governance Forum) to receive the Award. It was an amazing experience to meet other award winners and share with them, but there were far greater benefits that grew organically from it.
Personally, I was able to leverage the opportunity of winning the award and be able to participate and contribute to the regional PICISOC, Internet Society, ICANN (APRALO) as well as the Pacific IGF and New Zealand NetHui.  It has been an exciting journey but moreso the recognition for the work of Internet Niue and Rocket Systems both on the island and internationally.  It helped to grow my professional network and enabled my participation and exchange of ideas around the biggest issue in the Pacific Islands, specially for rural and remote locations: connectivity.  We have taken up the opportunity with Kacific’s upcoming service and we’re very excited that their first interim service is active in Vanuatu.  With this kind of an opportunity including the Hawaiki project underway, the future for our Pacific People looks promising and we can finally realise the dream of becoming more engaged in the digital economy.  Even though I still manage our Niue project, I have found more opportunities in the land of the long white clouds, Aotearoa New Zealand.  I am currently involved in the Makanet project that will see the use of the Kacific service to deliver broadband to rural and remote locations in New Zealand.  This will be a major undertaking and the potential to connect the under-served communities of New Zealand is similar to our own Pacific under-served communities.
The ISIF programme has assisted some great projects in the past and I’m sure it will continue to help others grow to greater heights.  So if you’re interested in using this great resource to develop and gain more exposure for your work, please don’t hesitate to apply at https://isif.asia/award
I’ll be happy to connect with anyone who is wanting more information about our ISIF Award experience as well as our ongoing projects in the Pacific.

ISIF Asia Awards 2016: Nominations open until 15 September

At the ISIF Asia secretariat we get very excited this time of the year, when the call for nominations for our annual awards opens. It is a time where we can get to acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions that the Asia Pacific region makes to the future of the Internet. It reflects the name of our blog, Discover, where we seek new and exciting ideas that are changing lives and the way we do things through the power of the Internet.

Internet development innovation in the Asia Pacific cuts across many languages, many cultures and many issues that affect our communities.

Our Technical Innovation Award is looking to recognize those that have found creative ways to connect the unconnected; to lower costs and facilitate maintenance of Internet connections; to power networks using alternative fuels or making power consumption more efficient; to restore networks and Internet services after disasters; to design and develop devices that respond better to the region’s challenging weather patterns; to support specific services across overpopulated cities using IoT devices; to deploy and learn more about IPv6; to protect privacy and offer a safe Internet experience across this diverse and vast region.

Our Community Impact Award is looking to recognize other efforts that might not be so technical in nature, but that are changing the lives of women and girls across the region that are working on ICT, or tools that enhance democracy and transparency through open data and citizens participation, to protect the environment as well as those one developing applications and services that look to empower a community on their decision making, on their quest to overcome poverty.


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On the photo, ISIF Asia 2015 award winners with our partners and sponsors.

Technical innovation at the service of social change is our focus. Each of the awarded initiatives will receive a cash prize of AUD 3,000 plus a travel grant for a representative to attend the awards ceremony at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico in December 2016.

ISIF Asia has being hosting its awards ceremony at the IGF since 2011. The event offers a great opportunity to engage in the discussions about the future of the Internet in a very special space, where governments, academia, private sector, civil society and the technical community get together, with many networking opportunities to expand their professional network and promote their work.

In addition, one of the two projects awarded will receive AUD 1,000 as part of the Community Choice Award, given to the one with the highest number of votes from the community. Voting will be open from 16 September to 5 December 2016.

The awards will be granted to initiatives that have already been implemented or are in the final stages of implementation, and that are aligned with the funding categories and eligibility criteria.

Nominations close on 15 September 2016.

For more information about how to submit your award nomination for an ISIF Asia Award and to learn about previous winners, please visit: https://isif.asia/award

ISIF Asia largest ever grants funding pool: Apply now!

Really excited about the 386,000 reasons we have to celebrate and support Innovation on Internet development in the Asia Pacific. Thanks to the amazing support from APNIC, the Internet Society and the Canadian International Development Research Centre, ISIF Asia is launching today four new categories, with different types of funding support for research, technical innovation, community impact and cybersecurity. These four grants open simultaneously today until 31 May 2016 (midnight UTC).

From different angles and through different mechanisms, this largest ever pool of AUD 386,000 will support initiatives at different stages of development, that are using the Internet for social and economic development in the Asia Pacific. Projects that introduce, improve, and apply Internet technology for the benefit of the Asia Pacific community may be eligible for financial support in the following categories.

Get to know each one of these four categories and do your homework before your submit your application. Each one has a specific purpose and different support packages, because no one size fits all. Every idea needs a

APNIC Internet Operations Research Grants

The aim of the APNIC Internet Operations Research Grants is to support the development of a research community focused on improving the availability, reliability, and security of the Internet in the Asia Pacific.

The grants are open to researchers working on Internet operations, infrastructure and related protocols in areas such as:

– Network measurement and analysis
– IPv6 deployment
– BGP routing
– Network security
– Peering and interconnection

Public or private sector organizations, universities, research and development institutions and non-government organizations will be considered, with members of Network Operator Groups (NOGs), IXPs, root server operators, academics, and post-graduate students particularly encouraged to apply.

Applicants can apply for funding between AUD 5,000 to AUD 45,000 based on research needs, a realistic timeframe, and a detailed budget. AUD 90,000 is available in total to fund successful applications.

Internet Society Cybersecurity Grant

A single grant of AUD 56,000 is available for a project focusing on the resiliency and security of the Internet’s naming and routing functions, through innovative approaches to Domain Name Security Extensions (DNSSEC), RPKI and BGP. These approaches should enhance user confidence in Internet-based services and options for the deployment of secure routing standards.

Strong emphasis is placed on documenting impacts and sharing knowledge through papers, videos, and associated communication materials.

Community Impact Grants

Innovation and development are integral components of these grants, with AUD 60,000 available to fund two new projects and a single grant of AUD 50,000 to scale up an existing solution. The organization selected under the scale-up grant will also receive a capacity building package valued at AUD 10,000.

Areas of focus for this grant include women and girls in IT, enhancing democracy, open data, economic empowerment, poverty alleviation health and education.

Technical Innovation Grants

Innovation and development are integral components of these grants, with AUD 60,000 available to fund two new projects and a single grant of AUD 50,000 to scale up an existing solution. The organization selected under the scale-up grant will also receive a capacity building package valued at AUD 10,000.

Areas of focus include access provision, electricity supplies, devices, Internet of Things (IoT), IPv6, and privacy.

Apply Now

The ISIF Asia grant programs present a great opportunity to secure seed or supporting funds for those who are addressing local and regional issues using Internet technologies in an innovative way, and would not
be made possible without contributions from APNIC, the Internet Society and the Canadian International Development Research Centre.

Please note, all grant allocations are competitive and follow a rigorous selection process.

More information, eligibility criteria for each grant program, and application forms are available on the ISIF Asia website.

Zaya Learning Labs: Putting ICTs in the Classroom

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Neil D’Souza is an Indian engineer and a dreamer. His dream is to help the underprivileged children to receive a quality education.

A Life Commitment to Education

D’Souza’s passion to help the disadvantaged started during his time at Cisco. For four years, he worked there, mostly on mobile Internet and video technologies. During his free time, he would do some volunteering in San Jose, California.

In 2011, he took the leap. He moved to Mongolia and spent a year teaching in rural orphanages. This is where he discovered the learning deficiency that affects most developing countries. His pupils were far below their grade level, lacking basic literary and numerical skills.

D’Souza was aware of the ongoing online education revolution. He knew this could help his students to catch up. But without Internet, they had no chance to ever access the educational resources online. The more time he spent in Mongolia, the more determined he became to tackle this issue.

He was even starting to develop his own solution when he met Soma Vajpayee. Vajpayee was the perfect partner for his project. She had been a Training Manager at Citibank for ten years and, just like D’Souza, she was passionate about using ICTs in the classroom. In 2012, they started Zaya Learning Labs. Their goal was to bring quality education to the bottom of the pyramid, starting in India.

The Indian Crisis Education

For years, India has been confronting an acute learning crisis. Although 96 percent of the children go to school, many do not reach basic literacy by 10. In fact, 60 percent cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

One of the main reasons for the crisis is the lack of trained and motivated teachers. There is an estimated shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters throughout India. Those who actually teach often lack both expertise and pedagogical ability. Since many in low-income private schools get only $100 a month, they also have no motivation. A majority of teachers even skip school at least once a week.

All this adds to the curriculum’s low standards and large classroom sizes. So it is no surprising that the learning outcomes are so poor.

Mixing education and technology

To tackle this issue, D’Souza and Vajpayee created an innovative solution mixing education and a ClassCloud technology.

On the education side, they developed a blended learning model in order to create a student-driven learning environment. The goal is that pupils stop staring out the window and instead engage with the teacher. This is why they divide the students into several groups based on their level. During the day, each group goes through three different learning times. While the schoolmaster teaches the first group, the second one reads or does homework.

Meanwhile, the last group reviews their lessons using a computer or a tablet. It allows them to connect to the ClassCloud. This portable WiFi device contains all the resources for the class. There are lessons, but also instructional videos, educational games, and quizzes.

To truly engage the students, Zaya developed a fun and friendly learning environment. The ClassCloud is also adaptive, so the pupils can learn at their own level and pace. Lessons and assessments are based on each student’s interests and needs, while also taking into account their progress. When they are consistent in finding the right answers, they can move to the next level. But if they aren’t, they spend more time on the topic. The overall goal is to guide them step by step towards their actual grade level.

Once the students complete their assignments, the system generates a personalized analytics report. It is then sent to the teachers as well as the Zaya educational team. It helps them make the right interventions. For instance, it is easier to identify the students who lag behind and have the teachers focus on them.

An Innovative Solution That Makes Students Happy to Study

Zaya’s ClassCloud is a great Edtech solution, as it is particularly adapted to the constraints of developing countries.

  • It is easy to use, even by teachers who have no IT skills
  • It is battery-powered and can run for ten hours without electricity. This is particularly useful in India, where power shortages are frequent.
  • Finally, it works both online and offline. This is another necessary feature in India, as Internet penetration is around 12 percent. While offline, the ClassCloud stores all the data. It syncs it back to the cloud whenever it has connectivity.

No wonder Zaya has become so popular among low-income schools throughout India. Over 100 schools have adopted it, and 30,000 pupils use it on a daily basis. For them, it has changed everything. They are now engaged in their learning and excited to go to class. More importantly, their learning outcomes increase.

Combating Electronic Violence Against Women in the Philippines

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For the past two decades, the rise of ICTs has generated new forms of violence. Such violence happens online or via mobile phones, and women are the first victims. According to UN Women, nearly 75 percent of female Internet users worldwide have been exposed to online threats and harassment.

The Philippines are no exception. Electronic violence against women or eVAW is on the rise, and more and more suffer from it. In Manila, 70% of the complaints about online or mobile abuse come from women.

Definition of eVAW

eVAW refers to any violence against women perpetrated using ICTs. Such violence often causes a lasting mental, emotional or psychological distress.

There are several forms of eVAW:

Electronic Harassment: This is the most common form of eVAW in the Philippines. Most of the time the harassment comes from a former partner who wants to take revenge. It can also come from strangers willing to exert control over their female victim. They send threats or communications with sexual undertones. Or they publish false accusations through blogs, online forums, or via mobile phones.

Cyber Stalking: ICTs have made stalking much easier and more prevalent than before. In the Philippines, this is the second most widespread form of eVAW. Tracking someone’s phone has become quite easy (even without their permission). On a smart phone, it requires an installation of a tracking app, which can be done in five minutes. Even if the person owns a regular cell phone, it is still possible to install a tracker. This puts some women in a precarious situation.

Unauthorized Distribution of Videos and Images: Sex videos and images have been proliferating online. With a smart phone, it is very easy for a man to record intimacy unbeknown to his partner. It is even easier to post these records online to harass, humiliate or bribe a woman. This does not happen to celebrities only.

Cyber Pornography and Prostitution: The Philippines are sometimes considered as a “cyber sex hub.” About 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. It is no surprise that prostitution is flourishing. In 2013, there were about 500,000 prostitutes, mostly women. Some are now forced to engage in cyber sex or pornography in exchange for money. The situation is aggravated by the craze for pornography among Filipinos. The country places 15th in adult website Pornhub’s global traffic on mobile devices. And it ranks 26th when it comes to watching it using a computer.

Laws Aren’t Everything

The Foundation for Media Alternatives is a key player in the battle against eVAW.

Founded in 1987, FMA is a well-established Filipino nongovernment organization. Its goal is to empower the Philippines’ civil society through the media. In the 2000’s, it contributed to opening the access to the Internet. In particular, it developed a free email service for NGOs.

In 2009 FMA decided to commit against the rising eVAW issue in the Philippines by becoming involved in the global initiative “Take Back the Tech! To End Violence Against Women.” At the time, there was a pressing need for more adapted laws. The Philippines were already considering violence against women as a crime, but electronic violence was not targeted as such.

Furthermore, more awareness was required. The victims often had no idea how to deal with these offenses. “Laws […] do not always prove to be effective deterrents in the commission of crimes, explained Lisa Garcia from FMA. The anonymity that the Internet provides emboldens malicious citizens to commit damaging acts without fear of discovery in spite of laws. This means more advocacy and education are needed to address issues of violence and rights abuses through technology.”

Taking Action Against eVAW

That is why FAM’s first priority was to raise awareness about eVAW. It targeted the general public by featuring programs on the radio and television. It also reached representatives of public, academic and civil organizations. In total, FMA has trained more than 1,000 people.

In 2013, FAM took its struggle against eVAW one step further. It reinforced its advocacy action by launching the eVAW Mapping Project. This Ushahidi-based tool aims to collect accurate eVAW data. Women report incidents by SMS or emails, and the software aggregates them into a map. FMA then conducts a trend analysis and data visualization. It eventually shares this data with the authorities and policy makers.

Safer Electronic Spaces for Women

Since 2009, FMA has managed to take the struggle against eVAW in the Philippines one step further. Today, eVAW is recognized as a form of cybercrime and more women are aware of their rights and able to report this violence.

How Can Digital Innovations Improve the Economy of Bangladesh?

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In December 2008, the Government of Bangladesh introduced the vision ‘Digital Bangladesh by 2021’ to leverage the Internet to improve the delivery of its services, particularly among the poor people. A quiet revolution in digitizing its health sector is already under way to strengthen the Health Information System (HIS), which enables real-time monitoring of population health.

The Internet could provide solutions to a number of structural problems besetting Bangladesh’s health sector. For example, the use of ICT to provide remote diagnosis, advice, treatment, and health education could address a major part of the health issues of patients in rural clinics, which are typically the most poorly staffed. Online tools and mobile innovations can improve the operational efficiency and productivity of (rural) health system by enabling more effective service delivery.

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The use of ICT in education has a similar potential to deliver rapid gains in access to education, teacher training, and learning outcomes. As pointed above, web-based school management systems that can support standardization and monitoring of school performance could enable the government to achieve more with their education budgets and providing millions of students with the foundation for a better future.

It is clear that the digital age and its associated variables are continuously getting integrated into our economy and society. Due to the limitations of data, only a snapshot of the impact on education and healthcare of Bangladesh is shown in The Economy of Tomorrow Digital Innovations and Their Implications for the Economy of Bangladesh.

All of the available sources show that to make a dramatic shift in these two sectors, incorporation of digitized materials is one of the most important factors of current time. However, there are many questions regarding the impact of the digital age in the socioeconomic conditions of Bangladesh that still remained unsolved.

For example:

  • How do we quantify the impact that the internet and internet driven business have on a country’s GDP?
  • How does a digitized registration process reduce corruption?
  • What will the legal system of the country look like when digitization will take place there? Is the internet creating a divergence among the different groups of people?
  • How much of labor hours are people wasting doing unproductive works on the internet?
  • For every new digital adoption, someone may be getting a new job, whereas someone, somewhere may be losing his/her job. So what if the rate of losing jobs is far greater than the rate of creating employment opportunities?

The answer to these questions require further research, including reviewing the experiences of other countries where these questions have already been addressed. However, one thing is clear that these topics will dominate the research agendas in the upcoming years and their findings will help Bangladesh to transform into a more balanced, robust and sustainable economic growth.

Fixing Government Data Duplication at DataKind Bangalore

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Voters worldwide seldom interact with their chosen leaders- except around 5-yearly elections. However, the advent of advanced Information and Community Technologies (ICT) might shrink this interval considerably. They may even turn back the clock towards the seminal Athenian model of democratic decision-making: directly by the people rather than their representatives. With some political discretion, today’s online forums can allow for similarly incorporating crowdsourced public opinion into policy design. This could contribute to nationally important initiatives (such as preparing Morocco’s 2011 Draft Constitution or debates on Spain’s Plaza Podemos, Brazil’s E-democracia portal and India’s own mygov.in). Nonetheless, we will concern ourselves with far more universal and local problem-solving at the municipal level.

But just who has access to such platforms? While internet penetration in rural India is rising dramatically, the lion’s share (67%) still resides with urban denizens. Moreover, as highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, India boasted of a quarter of the world’s fastest growing urban zones and 8 qualifying ‘MegaCities’ as per India’s 2011 Census definition. The demands on municipal governments are likely to be considerable, and even more likely to be mediated by internet platforms.

Regardless of this explosion of population and the associated challenges, the structure of municipal bodies has remained unchanged since Lord Ripon’s 1882 Resolution on self-government. Furthermore, as Ramesh Ramnathan of Janaagraha points out, the responsibility for action is de facto scattered across acronyms of acrimonious accusing agencies. For example, Bangalore’s (deep breath advised) BDA, BMRDA, BWWSB, BMTC, KSB, BESCOM together juggle the city’s water, transport, electricity, traffic police and development needs. Many authorities, little authority. Increasingly internet-savvy and increasingly increasing residents. Where can they all turn for help?

Enter DataKind Bangalore Partners.

15-year old Janaagraha has endeavoured to improve the quality of urban life- in terms of infrastructure, services and civic engagement- by coordinating government and citizen-led efforts. Of their various initiatives, the IChangeMyCity portal also earned Discover ISIF Asia’s award under the Rights and People’s Choice categories.

Next up, eGovernments Foundation, brainchild of Nandan Nilekani & Srikanth Nadhamuni (Silicon Valley technologist) has since 2003 sought to transform urban governance across 275 Municipalities with the use of scalable and replicable technology solutions (for Financial Accounting, Property & Professional Taxes, Public Works, etc.) Their Public Grievance and Redressal system for the Municipal Corporation of Chennai- recipient of the 2010 Skoch Award -has fielded over 0.22 million complaints over 6 years.

Though these organizations joined hands with DataKind in two distinct ‘Sprints’, the similarities are remarkable. Both their platforms allow citizens to primarily flag problems (garbage, city lighting, potholes) at the neighbourhood level for resolution by government agencies.

Then again, the differences are noteworthy too. As an advocacy-oriented organization, Janaagraha aimed to understand the factors that led to certain complaints being closed promptly by a third party. eGovernments on the other hand, being within the system, to keep officials and engineers adequately prepared for the business-as-usual and also immediately alert them on anomalies. So both sought predictions around complaints- one on their creation, another on their likelihood of closure.

Clearly, quite a campaign lay ahead. If we forget Ancient Greek democracy and hitch a caravan to China, then Sun Tzu’s wisdom from the Art of War pops in: knowing oneself is the key to victory. Always open to relevant philosophy, the DataKinders looked into their own ranks to assess their strengths. The team assigned for E-Governments coincidentally included Ambassadors (Chapter Leader, Vinod Chandrashekhar) and Data Experts (Samarth Bhargav, Sahil Maheshwari) from the Janaagraha project. The teams were also at different junctures joined by the latter’s Vice President (Manu Srivastava) and two of his interns, plus a multidisciplinary mob of volunteers from backgrounds in business consulting, UX Design, data warehousing, development economics and digital ethnography. Let’s see how they waged war.

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Progress to Date

Back in March 2015, IChangeMyCity’s presented a set of 18,533 complaints carrying rich meta-data on Category, Complainant Details, Comments, etc. You’d assume this level of detail opens doors to appetizing analyses. Perhaps. Unfortunately, the information dwelt in a database of 10 different tables. Sahil Maheshwari- then working as a Product Specialist- busied himself with the onerous task of unraveling the relationships between them, drawing up an ER Diagram and ‘flattening’ records into one combined table. The team then accordingly fished out missing or anomalous values.

Conversely, E-Governments users either report their problems online, through SMS, paper forms or by calling into the special ‘1913’ helpline where operators transcribe complainants’ inputs. With digital data being entered through drop-down menus rather than free text (either directly by users or call centre employees), no major missing data was to be found. Except of course, unresolved cases-a mere 8% of the 0.18 million complaints. Some entries, amounting to 0.8% were exactly identical- clearly a technical glitch. Moreover, all data resided in one table. So in November 2015’s DataJam, this structure allowed the team to plunge immediately to exploratory analysis.

Across the 200 wards of Chennai, 93 kinds of complaints (grouped further into 9 categories) could be assigned to departments at either the City or Zone level. Although the numbers initially seemed staggering, Samartha Bhargav ran basic visualizations in the R Programming language. The result? Another instance of Pareto’s rule: 15 of these complaint types were contributing to 82% of grievances. Several DataKind first-timers like Aditya Garg & Venkat Reddy ran similar analyses for the 10 most given-to-grumbling wards, and found trouble emanating from roughly the same top 5 sources. Apparently, malfunctioning street lights blow everyone’s fuse. These common bugbears intriguingly became less bearable (and more numerous) in the second half of the year, while others related to taxes seemed more even across the year.

Even so, how could there be 10 broken lights in an area with only one on record? So had ten people all indicated the same light? Like with data analysis, learning from Chinese classics (literally) involves reading the fine print. Sun Tzu’s actual words: ‘If you know the enemy AND know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.’ Clearly, this enemy was a lot more complicated than the decoy flanks that DataKinders had speared. Tzu and George Lucas may well have hung out over green tea.

Attack of the Clones .

In usual data science settings, duplicates are often easy to identify and provide little intrinsic value. However, the game changes in the world of crowdsourced data. Especiallydata highlighting the criticality of an issue. So to achieve victory, the team would have to understand and strike at its core- dynamic social feedback. We could assess its importance at four levels.

The first involves messages from the platform itself to indicate that a complaint has been registered and no further inputs are necessary. In its absence, citizens could well create duplicates by hitting the Submit button either accidentally (not knowing if their complaint was logged) or deliberately (hoping that repeating the complaint may lead to quicker action). This is more of a concern for web platforms rather than call centres. By matching against columns involving email, phone and postal contact details and date, time and type of the complaint, DataKind had already been able to quickly hurl out these obvious clones.

The second level of feedback is where the Force truly awakens- from other citizens. The ability to see that other fellow residents have experienced the same concern may prevent its repetition. But this rests on two assumptions. First, that they can view already posted complaints, as exists with IChangeMyCity. They may rally behind this shared cause by ‘upvoting’- an indicator to authorities of its increased importance.

Even if this feature does not exist- as with eGovernments- then all is not lost. High priority might still be inferred by large absolute numbers of complaints. But these would provide an idea of the severity of the problem across the ward (45 pot holes in Adyar) rather than one specific instance of it (that life-threatening one before the flyover). Secondly, if peeved citizens do not put in the effort of checking the roster of existing complaints- as inevitably occurred even with IChangeMyCity- then the Upvotes option alone cannot guarantee being Clone-free.

The third and most obvious feedback comes from authorities via the digital platform- to indicate closure. This is provided by both partners, with IChangeMyCity also appending contact details of which official has been assigned the task.

The fourth and final level- is where a citizen can verify that a complaint marked as ‘closed’ has truly been resolved. After all, accountability forms part of the foundation of democracy. In this manner, the same poorly tended-to complaint could be reopened, rather than filing another one out. This feature currently exists only with IChangeMyCity, which not only allows municipal authorities to mark a complaint as ‘closed’ (as exists with eGoverments), but also allows users to reopen them if unsatisfied.

IChangeMyCity’s resolution rates lie close to 50%- a figure probably reached after allowing for this reopening scenario. eGovernments on the other hand closed a commendable 97%, with up to 13% shut on the same day to an outlier of 1043 (almost 3 years), with the majority (56%) in under 3 days. Mr Srivastava emphasized that these efficiency statistics had improved dramatically in the last 2 years. But as we just explored, perhaps a confounding factor is that multiple duplicate complaints are being closed by engineers who have identified their Clone nature.

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How to Fix It?

Thus, it was the second category- unintended duplication- which bled into the fourth. How could the DataKind team exploit the enemies’ own weakness? They decided to unsheathe their two logical light sabers: text and location. Either one in isolation didn’t necessarily pinpoint a duplicate. But in combination, they could quickly incinerate a Clone’s trooper suit.

Saber A: WHERE was the complaint registered? For IChangeMyCity, one can log in, peer through a map of Bangalore and plant a pin on the spot where you’d like to divert the authority’s attention. Using that pin, analysts can procure exact latitude and longitude coordinates. It’s still entirely possible that different people place the pins some distance apart even when referring to the same issue. But it would seem like a safe bet that two closely located complaints might just be Clones.

EGovernments currently doesn’t use maps, but asks users a fairly detailed, 6-level description of addresses (City, Regions, Zones, Wards, Area, Locality, Street). Such text might help direct an engineer gallivanting outdoors, but not for a computer that speaks code. Attempting to translate the text addresses into associated geocodes, the team split the data into 10 parts and ran Google Maps API with an R Script on each one. Despite their best efforts, accuracy could not be guaranteed. Though eGovernments will soon be introducing such coordinates in future work, geocoding seemed like a closed line of attack.

Saber 2: HOW was the complaint registered. The way people express themselves on a particular local issue may vary, but could feature some words in common. However with E-Governments system, pre-loaded tags from the website were automatically attached to complaints. Result? Nearly 40,000 entries demanding ‘NECESSARY ACTION’ (in capitals, no less) with only minor differences. Others exist, but simply restate the category of complaints. (‘Removal of Garbage’). With so little variability and no hidden clues, this strategy failed too.

However, for IChangeMyCity, citizens are free to fill complaint titles and descriptions as they please. So the DataKind Team broke the text of both the complaint’s title and description into sentences and then into words. Then they ran an unsupervised learning algorithm, which helped generate the Jaccard Index- a measure of how ‘close’ two complaints were in terms of statistical similarity.

But to check this ‘distance’ for N complaints against each other would require N*N operations. Far too long for a dataset of this size. To assist with this more abstract sense of ‘distance’, the team decided to turn to the more intuitive geographical meaning of the term. The clearly listed geocode saber we mentioned above.

The team decided that any two complaints within 250m of each other on a map could be considered as potential duplicates, while the rest could be ignored. Plugging these codes into the MongoDB geospatial index, Samarth ingeniously reduced the computation time for this process from 2 hours to 10 minutes. He also later developed a REST API that could be queried to detect the 10 nearest complaints. Going forward, the team hopes to set a threshold of such ‘similarity’ beyond which a new entry could automatically be flagged as a duplicate, much like answered programming queries on Stack Overflow.

 Onward to De-Duplication Success

At first glance, it may seem like the Attack of the Clones had stamped defeat over the eGovernments project, while IChangeMyCity had dodged the bullet. But let’s not jump to conclusions. The importance of this first battle is relative. Since Janaagraha is focused on closure of a single complaint, it makes sense not to muddy waters by repeating the same theory. EGovernments on the other hand is interested in the total number of complaints likely to arise, not the problems. Also, as we’ll soon see in the next installment, the larger numbers of complaints (including duplicates) would prove crucial in helping generate valid forecasts for the Chennai Municipal Corporation.

So at the end of this first DataJam session, what had the team discovered? On a flight that carried along Sun Tzu, 2 mayors, George Lucas and random Athenians in Business Class, we learnt the philosophical complexities of the idea of ‘duplication’, especially in the contexts of crowdsourcing and democratic processes in strained local governments.

Abhishek Pandit is a Strategy Consultant at ChaseFuture

Google is Bringing Project Loon to Indonesia

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The challenge of providing adequate Internet service in countries with vast populations that are spread out over large geographical areas is a difficult one. Rich and poor countries alike are dealing with this difficult problem. The task of providing access to the Internet infrastructure is compounded in developing countries. Not only do these countries face the burden of delivering broadband services to a large population that is spread over numerous remote islands and is isolated by mountainous terrain, but also even if the geographic conditions were ideal, the Internet infrastructure is typically under developed and insufficient to meet the growing population’s needs.

Satellite Connectivity

In many cases satellites have been utilized to enable developing countries to leapfrog in their Internet infrastructure development. Many developing countries tend to lack much of the traditional terrestrial infrastructure such as cable, fiber and other critical equipment, facilities and resources that have been invested and deployed in the broadband Infrastructure of developed countries over several decades. Satellites provide developing countries with the potential to by pass the expense and resources involved with more typical terrestrial Internet infrastructure development.

However satellite technologies present many disadvantages as well. For example there are line of sight limitations, which makes broadband service over satellites unsuitable for mountainous areas where the rugged terrain gets in the way of the signal. Alternatively the distances that the signal has to travel on satellite systems make them less than ideal for today’s high speed Internet networks.

Project Loon

Google Asia Pacific recently announced a technological solution to the intractable problem of providing Internet access in countries without sufficient existing broadband infrastructure. This technology entitled Project Loon is designed to provide Internet services via high-altitude balloons that act like floating mobile towers in Indonesia. While the planning for Project Loon began over two years ago, it was recently able to announce that Indonesia’s three largest mobile operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – will begin testing balloon-powered internet services.

Indonesia has the geographic and demographic traits that make it an ideal fit for Google’s Project Loon. For example, it has a population of over 250 million that is spread out over 740,000 square miles and more than 17,000 islands. Moreover its mountainous terrain and large swaths of land covered by jungle create the types of limitations to the provision of sufficient broadband access that Project Loon’s technology is specifically engineered to address.

The introduction of this project should pose numerous benefits for Indonesia. In terms of Internet connectivity Indonesia lags behind many developing nations in Asia and around the world. In a recent study conducted by the Internet Society Indonesia ranks 135th in the world with 15.8 percent internet user penetration. This project should help to improve this ranking. Another benefit is that the project would not be dependent on the time consuming and expensive process of allocating spectrum just for Project Loon. The three participating mobile operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – agreed to contribute their own stockpiles of spectrum for this project.

By Siddhartha Menon, a Research Developer and Social Media Strategist