ISIF Asia and the business of scale: 60 teams on JFDI.Asia pre-accelerator course!

“Talent is universal, opportunity is not” said Megan Smith, US Chief Technology Officer and former Google.org vice-president. ISIF Asia is about giving opportunities to those that have the talent, the ideas and the strength to make them happen. But as the path for each one of the ISIF supported projects is different, as their context and the challenges they faced, the opportunities we seek to provide are thought to open new ones, to get out of the comfort zone and try something different, to see if “that” is what it takes for a great idea, to be a reality, that is shared and valued by communities around the Asia Pacific. Is not all about the market, or about been the “next big thing” on the Internet, is about making sure that ideas supported have a better chance to have a positive impact in the real world. It can be a more progressive policy move, an Internet-powered social movement, content or services that fill in a gap, a need. And we want to be there to help them to “get there”!

ISIF Asia former and current funding recipients have fascinating stories to tell about what they have done and what they dream to do, like the ones below:

  • Amakomaya is an Android application developed for rural pregnant women of Nepal. The application provides localized information relating to the prenatal, natal and postnatal periods of pregnancy.
  • Cook Islands Maori Database is an online resource for Maori Words, their English translations with example usage in a sentence in both English and Maori, that offers a platform on which other applications can be built to preserve the language and promote its use. The team developed an android and IOS application, as well as teaching and learning resources for both teachers and student to facilitate integration of the tools into Maori lessons.
  • Sinar’s main objective is to improve governance and encourage greater citizen involvement in the public affairs of the nation by making the Malaysian Government more open, transparent and accountable. They have developed a suite of applications for citizens to get involved.
  • BAPSI has developed solutions to help deaf-blind people access mobile phones as the solutions available for the blind (voice recognition), are of no use for the deaf and vice versa (voice to text conversions).

So, we are very excited to share the good news that thanks to the support from our donors, IDRC and Sida, and in collaboration with JFDI.Asia, it was announced that 60 ISIF Asia supported teams will join the JFDI Discover pre-accelerator program where they will learn to apply the powerful startup tools and techniques taught through the 21-day JFDI Discover pre-accelerator program. The aim is to give them confidence and evidence to answer the key questions that angel investors, accelerators, and government agencies are certain to ask them, such as: “Who is your customer?”, “What problem are you solving for them?” and “Has this team got what it takes to succeed?”. JFDI CEO Hugh Mason said, “Achieving positive impact with a startup is not easy in many parts of Asia. Alongside the impact, we want to help these teams to think about how they can become commercially sustainable to ensure that their good work continues long into the future. There is a lot to learn and share and we have every confidence that long-term collaborations and friendships will grow from this program, creating wealth for the 56 Asia-Pacific economies ISIF Asia covers and beyond.”

We had the opportunity to visit JFDI.Asia a few months ago, as ISIF Asia participated at the ICTD conference. We were invited to attend their Open House and we saw how this is really a “community of people who practice, finance and teach innovation” as they described them selves. We are very happy to have found a partner that believes that “innovation need not be a mystery and entrepreneurship should not be painful or lonely. Both can be learned, working with peers and guided by mentors”. We hope this is the first step to a closer collaboration in the future. As not all ISIF supported projects are start-ups, this course will be offered as a first step to find out if the path of entrepreneurship is one that suits them. More information about the platform is here http://www.jfdi.asia/discover.Once they have completed the pre-accelerator course, they can consider to enroll in the accelerator boot camp http://www.jfdi.asia/accelerate, which is a 100 days commitment. Check the video below for an introduction!

 

How to Build Digital Societies in Asia

digital-asia

The concept of a digital society centres on the interaction between governments, businesses and citizens via digital technologies, accompanied by social and economic benefits around efficiency and productivity gains, as well as the improved well-being and living standards of citizens.

At a more advanced level, citizens living within a digital society are connected to disparate industries, institutions and infrastructures simultaneously over a digital platform, and are able to interact with them in new ways that create value for all the parties involved.

This relies on individual access to digital technologies by citizens and businesses, which enhances convenience, flexibility and user engagement, particularly for personalised solutions, compared with shared access in public outlets such as Internet kiosks.

digital-economies

As outlined in the Building Digital Societies in Asia report from GSMA, digital services have the potential to help solve key challenges faced by Asian countries; many countries are struggling to cope with mounting social and economic challenges occasioned by rapid population growth, lack of access to essential services, inefficient utilisation of available resources, increasing pressure on existing infrastructure and services, and huge humanitarian and economic costs from natural disasters.

Digitisation enhances access to various services for underserved citizens and creates new growth and expansion opportunities for businesses within a digital society. However, the region’s digital society landscape is very diverse, both in the level of connectivity of citizens and in the evolution of digital services.

GSMA have grouped countries in the region into three categories of a digital society – advanced, transition and emerging – to reflect the evolution of digital services. Generally, the highly connected countries have a wider range and higher uptake of digital services, underscoring the need for adequate connectivity for a digital society to function effectively.

A digital society relies on a number of interdependent enablers to function effectively. These are;

  • a critical mass of digitally literate citizens that can access and can afford various services and devices,
  • a variety of relevant content and applications that address local challenges,
  • a robust infrastructure on which digital services can be created, distributed, stored and utilised, and
  • an environment that supports innovation and investment.

Given the importance of connectivity, there is a clear need to make sure that the technology and infrastructure, particularly mobile infrastructure, in a country meets the demands of a digital society. This will be achieved by eliminating barriers to investment around access to spectrum and the imposition of tax. Key stakeholders, including governments and operators, also need to work together on awareness building campaigns for digital services, which should be easy to use and accessible via multiple channels and languages that meet the requirements of local users.

The role of the government in establishing a digital society does not stop at creating an enabling environment. It should also include an assertive push for the digitisation of public services, which touch all individuals and businesses within a country and, therefore, can serve as a catalyst for the uptake and usage of digital services by citizens across different demographics and income levels.

Using the digital society initiatives and/or economic aspirations of six countries in the region – Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand – GSMA highlight the main factors that need to be in place to establish a digital society and the socioeconomic benefits thereof.

Apply Now: 2015 ISIF Asia Awards

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The ISIF Asia Awards seek to acknowledge the important contributions ICT innovators have made with creative solutions to the social and economic development of the Asia Pacific region. The ISIF Asia Awards are granted to initiatives on the last stages of implementation or that have finalized activities already that are aligned with the funding categories and eligibility criteria.

Financial support for up to AUD 3,000 is allocated via a competitive process, plus a travel grant to attend the awards ceremony at a regional or global event chosen by the ISIF Asia secretariat. Innovation and a development focus should be an integral part of all award nominations.

Nominations for the 2015 ISIF Asia awards close 30 June 2015
Nominate your project now!
The funding categories are:

  • Innovation on access provision: Access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) is a prevalent issue in the Asia Pacific region, especially for services that require broadband connectivity. Innovative solutions offering low cost deployment, low power consumption and low maintenance that expanded fixed and mobile access to the internet through new forms of technical and organizational arrangements as well as improved the quality of access based on issues of accessibility, disability and linguistic diversity.
  • Innovation on learning and localization: Capacity building and localization efforts have been key to develop the skills needed to design, maintain, and manage ICT infrastructure and services in local languages, supporting local talent and creating job opportunities in rural or urban marginalized areas. Innovative, open, inclusive and sustainable approaches to learning and localization are key elements to guarantee the quality of access to knowledge needed to offer reliable services and applications.
  • Code for the common good: High mobile penetration in the AP region has been a catalyst in the development of mobile-based services, applications and software solutions. These solutions have been used to support timely and relevant information dissemination on a large scale using a range of network infrastructures through a variety of devices, even where literacy rates are lower. Mobile technologies have enabled communities to increase participation in political processes, coordinate efforts during emergency situations, receive extreme weather alerts, communicate with remote health services, and receive specialized patient referrals, among many other applications.
  • Rights: Strategic use of Internet tools and services to promote freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, security, consumers’ rights, gender equality, new forms of intellectual property in the digital environment, and a wider range of issues related to the Internet and human rights.

In addition to selecting a winner per category, a Community Choice Award will be granted to the best social media campaign (the project with the highest number of votes from the community).

What are you waiting for? Apply today!

Why Should You Care If Your Satellite Link Oscillates?

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As part of a 2014 project supported by ISIF Asia and Internet NZ, we’ve been going to a number of satellite-connected islands in the Pacific on behalf of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) to see whether we could make better use of their satellite links using network-coded TCP. One of the phenomena we came across even before we got to the network coding part seemed a bit of an oddity at first. At second glance offered an opportunity to look and learn.

Let me paint you a scenario: You have a remote Pacific island with a few thousand inhabitants. There’s plenty of demand for Internet, but the place isn’t overly wealthy, so the only affordable way to connect it to the rest of the world is via a geostationary satellite system. Bandwidth on such satellites is very expensive, so our island needs to make do with inward bandwidth in the tens of Mbps – anything more breaks the bank. Both locally and offshore, the satellite link connects to something that can carry hundreds or thousands of Mbps.

Now you talk to plenty of islanders and you get to hear the horror stories of web pages that never load, computers that never see an update, connections that time out, and so on. So if you could eavesdrop on the satellite link, what would you expect to find?

I guess that, like us, you’d expect to find the link hopelessly overloaded, with packets rushing across it nose-to-tail without gaps. You’d expect to see nearly 100% of the link’s capacity in use nearly 100% of the time. So imagine our surprise when we looked at the satellite link utilisation in a couple of locations and found it to be well below 100%. One large island never saw more than 75% even during time periods of just a few seconds, with the average utilisation being around 60%. Another island didn’t tap into more than one sixth of the theoretically available capacity. Looking at the same links, we found that small parts of our data streams were getting wiped ever so often – which is what we would have expected with overloaded links.

Seems weird? Not quite so. The effect is actually quite well described in literature under the heading “queue oscillation”. It’s generally associated with router queues at Internet bottlenecks. So what is it, and why is it happening on geostationary satellite links?

What is queue oscillation?

Let’s use an analogy: Trying to get data from a sender to a receiver through an Internet bottleneck is a bit like trying to pour expensive wine from a barrel into a bottle using a funnel. Think about you & the barrel as the data sender; the bottle is the receiver, and the funnel (at the input of which the wine will bank up) is the satellite ground station where data arrives to be transmitted via the link. The link itself is literally the bottleneck.

The goal of the exercise is to fill the bottle as quickly as possible, while spilling an absolute minimum of the valuable wine. To do so, you’ll want to ensure that the funnel (your queue) is never empty, but also never overflows. Imagine that you do this by yourself and that you get to hold the barrel right above the funnel. Sounds manageable? It probably is (unless you’ve had too much of the wine yourself).

OK, now let’s turn this into a party game – in real life many computers download via a satellite link simultaneously. Moreover, a lot of the data senders aren’t anywhere near the satellite ground station. So imagine that you put the bottle with the funnel under the end of a (clean) downpipe, and you get a few friends with barrels (your broadband senders) to tip the wine into the (clean) gutter on the roof. You watch the funnel’s fill level at ground floor and let your friends know whether to pour more or less in. You’re only allowed two types of feedback: “Wine flowing into bottle!” and “Funnel overflowing!”

Bet that filling the bottle is going to take longer with a lot more spillage this way, even if you’re all completely sober? Why? Because your friends have no control over the wine that’s already in the gutter and the downpipe – it’s this wine that causes the overflows. Similarly, if you run out of wine in the funnel, new liquid takes a while to arrive from above. Your funnel will both be empty and overflow at times.

A geostationary satellite link carrying TCP/IP traffic behaves almost exactly the same: The long feedback loop between TCP sender and receiver makes it extremely difficult to control the data flow rate. The fact that multiple parties are involved just makes it a lot worse. On average, users on the island get the impression that the link is a lot slower – and indeed they can access only a part of the capacity they’re paying for and that is being provisioned to them. With satellite bandwidth retailing for hundreds of dollars per megabit per second per month, that’s a lot of money for nothing.

Who is to blame?

The culprit is quite simply the TCP protocol, which controls data flow across the Internet. More precisely, it’s TCP’s flow control algorithm. This algorithm exists in various interoperable flavours, none of which was designed specifically with shared narrowband geostationary satellite links in mind. So, if you happen to live in the Islands, it’s not your evil local monopoly ISP, nor the price-gouging satellite provider, the government, or the fact that you may consider yourself a developing country.

In TCP’s defence: The problem it would have to solve here is pretty tricky – as you’ll no doubt find out if you try the wine analogy. Even if your friends on the roof are pretty switched on, they’ll still spill plenty of the stuff. Unfortunately, as you’d find out, using a bigger funnel doesn’t help much (it’d still overflow). Explicit congestion notification (ECN) isn’t really workable in this scenario either, and we don’t want to limit the number of simultaneous TCP connections on the link either. So we need a Plan B.

Plan B: Could network coding help?

A solution that we have been experimenting with is the use of network-coded tunnels, a project under the auspices of the Pacific Island Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC), supported by ISIF Asia and Internet NZ. Network coding is a technology fresh out of the labs, and in this case we’ve been using a solution pioneered by colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. and Aalborg University in Denmark. The idea behind network coding is based on systems of linear equations, which you might remember from school, like these:

4x + 2y + 3z = 26
2x + 5y + 2z = 19
3x + 3y + 3z = 24

You might also remember that you can solve such a system (find the values of x, y and z) as long as you have – broadly speaking – at least as many equations as you have variables. In network coding, our original data packets are the variables, but what we actually send through our tunnel are the numbers that make up the equations. At the other end, we get to solve the system and recover the value of the variables. As there’s a risk that some of the equations might get lost enroute, we just send a few extra ones for good measure.

We build our tunnels such that one end is on the “mainland” and the other on the island, which puts the tunnel right across the point at which we lose stuff (spill the wine or lose equations, as you wish). So how does this help with queue oscillation? Simple: Since we generate extra equations, we now have more equations than variables. This means we can afford to lose a few equations in overflowing queues or elsewhere – and still get all of our original data back. TCP simply doesn’t get to see the packet loss, and so doesn’t get frightened into backing off to a crawl.

Does this actually work?

Yes it does. How do we know? We have two indicators: Link utilisation and goodput. In our deployment locations with severe queue oscillation and low link utilisation, we have seen link utilisation increase to previously unobserved levels during tunnelled downloads. The tunnelled connections (when configured with a suitable amount of overhead) provide roughly the same goodput as conventional TCP under non-oscillating low packet loss conditions. Tunnelled goodput exhibits a high degree of stability over time, whereas that of conventional TCP tends to drop mercilessly under queue oscillation.

“So, tell us, how much better are the network-coded tunnels compared to standard TCP?” Let me note here that we can’t create bandwidth, so this question can be largely reformulated as “How bad can it get for standard TCP?” We’ve seen standard TCP utilise between roughly 10% and 90% of the available bandwidth. On the island with 60% average utilisation, we were able to achieve goodput rates across our network-coded TCP tunnel that were up to 10 times higher than those of conventional TCP – during the times when conventional TCP struggled badly. At other times, conventional TCP did just fine and a network-coded tunnel with 20% overhead provided no extra goodput. However, that’s an indication that, strictly speaking, we wouldn’t have needed all the overhead, and a tunnel with less overhead would have performed better at these times.

So the trick to getting this to work well in practice is to get the amount of overhead just right. If we don’t supply enough extra equations, we risk that losses aren’t covered and the encoded TCP connections lose data and slow down. If we supply too many equations, they take up valuable satellite bandwidth. That’s also undesirable. What we really want is just enough of them, so we’re currently discussing with the supplier of the software we’ve been using, Steinwurf ApS of Denmark, to see whether they can add feedback from decoder to encoder for us.

Written by Dr. Ulrich Speidel with support from Etuate Cocker, Péter Vingelmann, Janus Heide, and Muriel Médard. Thanks go to Telecom Cook Islands, Internet Niue, Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation, MIT and, close to home, to the IT operations people at the University of Auckland for putting up with a whole string of extremely unusual requests!

2015 grant recipients announced today

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ISIF Asia is pleased to announce that five projects, including two from the Pacific Islands, will received AUD $30,000 to be implemented during 2015. The projects were selected after a very competitive process, with 166 applications from 23 economies submitted for evaluation. Seventy-three applications passed pre-screening and 32 were shortlisted. The quality of the applications and the technical expertise behind them, made the selection process particularly difficult this year.

In my role as Community Partnerships Specialist at APNIC, I am particularly pleased to see how the program is supporting projects in the Pacific, as improvement of the connectivity in the Pacific is something that has been discussed a lot, but very little practical research to design a strategy to actually make it happened has not been done. These two projects, one working to deploy a network using TV White Spaces in Vanuatu and another one focusing on research to design a peering strategy for the Pacific Islands, have really great potential to influence change in the Pacific, to influence policy, to increase the chances to improve connectivity in the islands, building on the experience gained by their supporting organizations and with strong industry partners.

Is not very often that ISIF Asia has the opportunity to support projects deployment technologies like TV White Spaces in such diverse locations -one in a remote island in the Pacific and the other one in the mountains of the Himalayas-, so we are looking forward to learning more about how these two networks will evolve and what their project teams will teach us, from the high mountains of Nepal to the outer islands of Vanuatu.

The 2015 grant recipients are:

1.  Development of a mobile phone-based telemedicine system with interfaced diagnostic equipment for essential healthcare in rural areas of Low Resource Countries.
Department of Biomedical Physics and Technology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

For Least Developed Countries, qualified doctors for medical care are not available to the majority of the people who live in rural areas. Telemedicine systems offer a solution to this problem. The Department of Biomedical Physics & Technology of Dhaka University, has developed a PC-based telemedicine system with several diagnostic equipment like Stethoscope, ECG, Microscope, X-ray Viewbox, Colposcope, etc., integrated into the system at low cost, either designed and made by the group locally, or improvised from other types of available instruments. Coupled with standard audio-visual technology, these instruments have enhanced the capability of telemedicine for primary healthcare. Now the team plans to convert the existing system into a mobile phone based platform, using Android operating system for which this application is being made.

2. Long-range TVWS link as backbone for remote broadband provision.
Telsat Broadband Ltd, Vanuatu.

The islands of Vanuatu are spread across roughly 900km of ocean from top to bottom; the vast majority of these islands are to the North of the capital of Port Vila, while the islands of Eromango and Tanna to the south are disadvantaged by the expanse of ocean between them and the capital. Recently, in April 2014, Port Vila got a huge bridge across the digital divide with the connection of the first under-sea cable in Vanuatu. Along this connection into Port Vila, many of the islands to the north benefited as well due to the existing terrestrial microwave connection. The islands to the south however have been plagued with poor or no connectivity and still to this day, the even the government’s new iGov microwave network does not reach Eromango or Tanna.  Telsat Broadband is constantly looking for new, innovative and cost-effective ways with which to service rural and disconnected areas of Vanuatu to provide the communities there with access to the Internet and to the world. Through the use of an upcoming technology called TV White Space (TVWS), we are aiming to use the low frequency of this equipment to establish a long-range, stable link across the vast expanse of ocean between Port Vila and Eromango and connect these islands to the new submarine cable in Port Vila.

3. Deployment of a community-based Hybrid Wireless Network Using TV White Space and Wi-Fi Spectrum in Remote Valleys around Manaslu Himalaya.
E-Networking Research and Development, Nepal.

The proposed project is for building a long range hybrid wireless network in the villages near Manaslu Himalaya region of Nepal using Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz) and TV White Space (472 MHz to 698 MHz) spectrum to bring broadband Internet for the villagers. So far E-Networking Research and Development has been using only Wi-Fi frequencies to build wireless network and to bring Internet in the rural areas by building P2P (Point to Point) and P2MP (Point to Multi-Point) wireless links. The reason why ENRD is proposing now to build a hybrid network with the combination of Wi-Fi and TVWS technology is we have assumed that such hybrid network would perform better and would make the network more robust than building the wireless network just by using Wi-Fi bands only. Thus ENRD wants to do a comparative study of Wi-Fi and TV White Space (TVWS) regarding their coverage, throughput, and performance. The reason for not using only the Wi-Fi band is that there are some limitations with only a Wi-Fi network, such as the need for clear line of sight (LOS), potential interference by the forest and cloudy weather, and less coverage. The proposed site is Nubri and Chun valley, located along the route to Manslu Peak (8,156m, or 26,759 ft), which is the 8th highest peak in the world. It takes six days walking to get to the region from the nearest highway. The network will provide Internet services for e-medicine in the community clinics and e-learning in community schools and Buddhist monasteries. It will also help to promote tourism in the region by providing Internet along the trekking trails and lodges by creating hotspots along the six day-long trekking trails. The Internet will also be used for trekkers’ tracking systems for the safety of the trekkers.

4. Improved Carrier Access in Rural Emergencies (ICARE).
Innovadors Lab Pvt Ltd and School of Computer and Information Science, IGNOU. India.

The ICARE project aims to offer timely pick-up and drop-back transportation to rural population in emergencies and adverse health situations for 100,000 rural citizens living in the pilot area of Odisha (India). Rural people often suffer from limited access to transportation to travel to health facilities. ICARE aims to provide more than 80% of rural beneficiaries in the project area with access to a vehicle in less than an hour to travel to health facilities. ICARE hopes to improve access by engaging vehicles available from local people and facilitate coordination through a call centre. ICARE, on the other hand, makes dynamic use of vehicles available in and around rural communities. According to the recent Census of India (2011), rural Odisha has some 75,185 four wheelers in some 8 million households, roughly one vehicle in every 106 households. In rural Odisha, there are 500 – 1,500 households in a village which has a radius of 3 – 8 km. Given this strength, ICARE proposes to engage the vehicle owners willing to volunteer their time and vehicles for a fee for a service. A call centre shall receive calls from health workers and beneficiaries requesting vehicles and the call centre would in turn call the vehicle owners who registered to volunteer their vehicles to check their availability. The call centre would then dispatch the nearest and willing vehicle owner to the provide pick up and drop by service. The vehicle owner can be reimbursed by the facility for transporting pregnant women, through the maternity transport reimbursement scheme of the government. For other health emergencies, beneficiaries or insurers can make the payment.

5. A Peering Strategy for the Pacific Islands.
Network Startup Resource Center, Pacific Islands.

In the last decade, new fibre optic systems have linked islands throughout the Pacific. New Caledonia now connects to Australia. Tonga and Vanuatu each have cables to Fiji. French Polynesia and Samoa link to Hawaii. The Marshal Islands and Federated States of Micronesia now connect to Guam. Each new cable project has helped Pacific Islands connect to the Internet, but not to each other. More often than not, traffic between networks in the Pacific travels via Australia or the United States. This is the case even for networks servicing the same country. Such suboptimal routing results in poor performance and high costs for all parties. Establishing peering exchanges in the Pacific will improve the quality of latency-sensitive applications. Voice and video applications important to education and government will improve. Costs for local carriers and end users will fall. Reliance on multinational telecommunications carriers will lessen. Several projects to establish peering exchanges in the Pacific have faltered, while only one has succeeded. In some cases, telecommunications regulations or monopolies have erected barriers. In other cases terrestrial circuit pricing has made peering a poor financial choice for participants. A lack of understanding of peering by stakeholders is the only barrier in another case. This project seeks to produce a strategy that will get peering back on track in the Pacific. The strategy document will be informed by demand, network topologies, commercial relationships, monopolies, and government policies. It will highlight the potential benefits to all stakeholders, with a particular emphasis on research and education networks. In accessible language and with clear illustrations, the strategy will help stakeholders understand all sides of the arguments around peering, including those of reluctant incumbents. We hope its completion and presentation to the community will lead to new peering initiatives that will be highly beneficial to the Pacific region.

The grants for 2015 have also been sponsored by the Internet Society, the Dot Asia Organization, ICANN and APIA.

ISIF Asia 2014 Annual Summary

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2014 has been a busy year of the ISIF Asia program with awards, grants and capacity building activities been supported around the AP region. Here is a summary of what we have done in 2014.

ISIF Asia Awards 2014

The Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) Awards seek to acknowledge the important contributions ICT innovators have made to their communities, by addressing social and development challenges using the Internet. The Awards recognize projects that have already been implemented, or are in the final stages of implementation, and have been successful in addressing their communities’ needs.

During 2014, 5 awards of AUD 3000 were given to very interesting projects from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines and Vanuatu covering very relevant issues were Internet technologies make a difference for community development, such as educational resources for people with disabilities; accountability and transparency for government; maternal health; access to remote islands and skills development for the poor. 4 award winners were selected out of the 93 nominations received from 16 economies. The Selection Committee approved 34 nominations for full review and opened them up for the community to cast their vote to select the Community Choice Award winner.

  • Rights: Sinar Project, Malaysia
  • Innovation on learning and localization: Accessible reading materials for grades 1-10 students with print disability through DAISY standard, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh
  • Innovation on access provision: e-Action for Universal Healthcare Coverage, ACCESS Health Philippines, Philippines
  • Code for the common good: Connecting remote islands in Vanuatu with LiteGateway Network Access System, Telsat Broadband Limited, Vanuatu
  • Community Choice Award: Sohoj Sonchoy – Easy Savings, Green Networking Research Group, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Besides the cash prize, the award winners were invited to attend the 9th Internet Governance Forum (Istanbul, Turkey. 2-5 September 2014) where the ISIF program organized 2 events (preIGF workshop and awards ceremony) where the award winners had the opportunity to share their experiences, their challenges for the future. The ISIF Asia helped them organized a pack agenda to actively participate and contribute to the discussions about the future of the Internet.

This year it was particularly interesting as the work done to contact session organizers was successful and the award winners were invited to be part of panel discussions as speakers and their comments and views were included in the reports.

Internet Governance Forum participation

As part of the Seed Alliance support, ISIF Asia led the development of a workshop proposal that was accepted by the MAG for inclusion in the official IGF program. A follow-up of the work conducted during the IGF in Bali, the workshop No. 7 “From ideas to solutions: Funding challenges for Internet development” raised the funding challenges that many organizations faced when trying to deploy Internet related projects, and the variety of mechanisms that are now available that require a very rapid adaptation from practitioners in the field to address problems from a business perspective.

Capacity Building Fund

During 2014, ISIF recipients benefited from additional support through the Capacity building fund to promote the results of their ISIF supported projects at international events that have raised their profile which open doors to negotiate additional support for their projects through a stronger and wider network of contacts, as follows:

  • APRICOT – Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies, February 2014 / https://2014.apricot.net. ISIF Asia supported the participation of Sheau Shing Chong, Teddy Mantoro, Tariq Zaman and Khairil Yusof.
  • School on Applications of Open Spectrum and White Spaces Technologies, Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), March 2014 / http://wireless.ictp.it/school_2014/index.html. ISIF Asia in collaboration with ICTP supported the participation of Apinun Tunpan, to share intERlab experience as part of the case studies session.
  • ICANN 49 Singapore, March 2014 / http://singapore49.icann.org/en/schedule-full. Sheau Ching Chong, Teddy Mantoro and Mashiur Rahman where selected as ISIF Asia Ambassadors, sponsored by the ICANN Asia Hub (Singapore).
  • 11th IEEE International Conference HONET. Charlotte, USA. December 2014. http://honet-ict.org. Shamila Keyani from UM Health Trust in Pakistan has been invited to present the results of their ISIF supported project “Hepatitis Surveillance System for rural Pakistan through web and mobile based technologies”.

Most 2013 grants reached completion

During 2014, we have seen the completion of many of the 2013 grant recipients. Projects addressed major societal concerns and demonstrated the transformative role that information and communication technology (ICT) can have in emerging economies. This summary of 2013 grant recipients and their projects are examples of the kind of partnerships that ISIF encourages and supports.

  • The University of Dhaka in Bangladesh has developed a prototype for an automobile-based system that alert distracted drivers to their dangerous conditions. This system employs audio, visual, and medical-grade health sensors to determine the level of distraction a driver is experiencing.
  • In the Philippines, ACCESS Health International has created an integrated maternal and child health care delivery and training program. The interactive Community Heath Team project, or iCHT, is an automated healthcare application that offers access to resources and tele-consultation at the point of care.
  • In Nepal, the Yatigen Group is expanding work on an existing maternal healthcare platform, Amakomaya, to connect rural pregnant women with regional health posts through Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs). The tenets of this Android-based mobile phone application are “connect, inform and monitor.”
  • Another health effort, led by the UM Heath Trust in Mardan, Pakistan, helps Rural Health Workers track outbreaks of Hepatitis A and E, and focuses on providing Hepatitis information to women. This platform uses Google Maps and SMS/MMS for outbreak reporting, and can be used for other disease and emergency management communications.
  • The PIPA project, from the Binus University in Indonesia, a cloud-based application that allows home energy usage data to be collected and monitored by households in order to teach citizens how to increase their energy efficiency. This will not only lower their electrical costs, but create less strain on the expensive and stressed national electrical infrastructure and decrease blackouts.
  • Due to rapid emerging socioeconomic conditions, Myanmar is in dire need of updating its telecommunications infrastructure while creating a technical workforce in country to manage this capacity. The ISIF grant enabled First Myanmar Korea Group Co. Ltd. to translate one of the leading books on wireless networking in the developing world into Myanmar.
  • Facing infrastructure and power concerns like Indonesia and Myanmar, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) have not been able to take advantage of reliable Internet or grid electricity. The PISCES Project brought both electricity and Internet connectivity to schools in FSM, in partnership with the Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations.
  • In Malaysia, a civil service collation called the Sinar Project aims to increase government transparency and accountability, while involving citizens in politics and reporting. The Sinar portfolio of projects emphasizes open data APIs and databases for reporting bribes, infrastructure complaints, and other watchdog activities.
  • A similar watchdog effort is sponsored by the Philippine’s Foundation for Media Alternatives, an organization that strives to raise awareness and motivate policy around electronic violence against women, or eVAW. FMA promotes the use of ICT to advocate for eVAW-realted issues, aggregate eVAW statistics, and allow women to report eVAW incidents via a Ushahidi-based tracking tool.
  • In India, the advocacy organization Point of View (POV) has begun the “Internet Rights Are Women’s Rights” campaign and workshop across five cities to bridge the gap between gender rights and Internet rights advocacy groups.

2014 supported projects are well under way!

The selection for the 2014 grant recipients was also completed and 12 projects have received support. Their progress reports are starting to flow in, and they will reach completion during the first semester of 2015. Here is a sneak peak of their main achievements so far:

  • The project “Improving Internet Connectivity in Pacific Island countries with network coded TCP. Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society” conducted in collaboration between PICISOC and the University of Auckland has started the testing of their solution in New Zealand and a deployment in Niue Island. During the next few months additional deployments will be undertaken to improve connectivity in the Pacific Islands.
  • The Punjabi University, Patiala in India is making remarkable progress on their project to overcome the barriers that Sindhi Arabic and Devnagri scripts posed for researchers. They have completed the transliteration tables for both scripts and millions of words have being input into the database which is now on a beta version.
  • The Cook Islands Maori Database has released an app, website and social media page that has raised attention from the local media and interest from the local government to preserve the language. The project is leaded by the Cook Islands Internet Action Group.
  • CoralWatch is working with their partners in Indonesia on the first version of the app to improve citizen science monitoring of coral reefs in Indonesia. The app will be launched early next year with a follow-up launch in May in Indonesia. The University of Queensland leads the project.
  • The Chiang-Rai MeshTV project, conducted in collaboration between intERLab/AIT, the Mirror Foundation and the THNIC Foundation, has been successfully deployed in this remote village in Thailand. The Chiang-Rai community has now a fully operational mesh network that streams educational videos for learning development over a community wireless network, increasing their access to educational content fit for a low literacy context motivating families to support their kids to keep on their learning path.
  • The Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations (ISITI-CoERI) in Malaysia is tackling the challenge to preserve a code-signed language that the nomadic Penans use to community in the rainforest. Their efforts have allowed to document traditional knowledge from the elders and making it relevant for the younger generations.
  • A scale-up grant allocated to iSolutions in Micronesia, following the deployment of the PISCES project support in 2013 to connect schools to the Internet in Chuuk, is now working to deploy a state wide solar server education hub where the connected schools can access educational content and share communications capabilities, lowering the cost by rationalizing the use of their limited broadband connections and using solar energy.
  • Nazdeek, in collaboration with PAHJRA and ICAAD has introduced a different approach on how to improve maternal health in India. They are using SMS technologies liked to online mapping to increase accountability in delivery of maternal health services. Their approach allows Adivasi tea garden workers in Assam to understand their rights and how to claim the benefits they are entitled to.
  • The ECHO app from eHomemakers in Malaysia received an award in 2012 for their work to support workingwomen in Malaysia to communicate and coordinate better when they work from home. In 2014 they received a scale-up grant replicate their experience in support to Homenet in Indonesia.
  • The University of Engineering and Technology and Vietnam National University are working on better systems for monitoring and early warning of landslides in Vietnam.
  • Operation ASHA successes in India, have inspired this scale-up grant to support the deployment of an application to monitor TB in Cambodia and support the work that healthworkers do to contain the spread of the disease and provide adequate follow-up for patients.
  • BAPSI has started the training and testing the development of Morse code-based applications to provide deaf-blind people with the opportunity to use mobile phones to better communicate with those around them that do not know sign-language.

Site visits

In August, for the first time since the ISIF program was established, we had the opportunity to visit 2 of the 2014 supported projects in India. The visits were not only informative about the challenging contexts that these 2 projects operate but were also inspiring, as what can be achieved when talented and highly committed professionals, put their knowledge and effort to good use, for the benefit of disadvantaged communities.

The first visit was to the tea gardens around Tezpur in Assam, where Adivasi workers are getting a better understanding of their health rights according to the law in India, what to do when their rights have not been respected and the importance of speak-up, to show evidence that there are not isolated cases but a pattern of behavior that is possible to change. A simple string of numbers sent via SMS is converted into a health rights abuse report, once the numbers are decoded on the database and the information is verified. A follow-up call can mean the difference between neglect and the fact that there are organizations that care and there are ways to get help. Communities feel empowered to claim their rights: from the free supply of folic acid and iron, to the subsidies the government has assigned to them to encourage a safer baby delivery in a health facility.

The second visit was to the Helen Keller Institute in Mumbai, where the BAPSI team was running their first training on morse code and focus group with deaf-blind people and support specialists. The challenges that the deaf-blind community face comes accompanied by the lack of devices and tools to properly address their needs, as most of the devices available for blind or deaf people do not provide a good service for the deaf-blind. The isolation they have to over come is a big as the challenges the professionals that work with them and their families have to overcome to be able to communicate simple basic needs and emotions, as well as to transfer knowledge to help them integrate to society. BAPSI is experimenting with a series of software developments that make use of vibration to communicate, exploring opportunities that technology allows today.

Mentoring on evaluation and communication

In March 2014, ISIF Asia in collaboration with the DECI-2 project, announces that three of its 2014 grant recipients were selected to receive additional mentoring in Utilization Focused Evaluation (UFE) and Research Communication.

This partnership aims to find better ways to design and implement both evaluation and communications strategies for Internet Development projects, so that the resources used, the data collected, the analysis done, and the lessons learned better serve the needs of each of the project teams and the implementing organizations selected, instead of answering exclusively to donor-driven requests and rigid evaluation frameworks.

The projects selected are: Maori Database (Cook Islands); Using Mobile Application and Mapping Platform to Increase Accountability in Delivery of Maternal Health Services for Tea Garden Workers in Assam (India) and LTT – Link Tuberculosis with Technology (Cambodia).

The mentoring is helping them to gain a deeper understanding of the work they are undertaking, to more effectively communicate their findings, and most importantly, to appropriate the knowledge traditionally reserved to external evaluators about their project activities.

Mentoring has been provided throughout the lifecycle of the selected projects, using a combination of online tools, coaching, and face-to-face interactions by a team of regional experts from the Asia Pacific region: Dr. Sonal Zaveri, leading the UFE mentoring; and Dr. Vira Ramelan, leading the Research Communication mentoring. Dr. Ricardo Ramirez and Dal Broadhead, provide oversight and support the regional mentors at the international level.

DECI-2 started in July 2012 and is a four-year project, building on lessons learned during DECI-1. Selected partners from the IDRC Information and Networks Program (I&N) will receive mentoring that is targeted and scheduled to match each project’s needs and work plans. The project teams receive mentoring in Utilization Focused Evaluation  (UFE), an approach to evaluation that emphasizes the use of evaluations; and in Research Communication, which will assist teams to develop and implement their communication strategies.

During DECI-2 the mentors will measure the combined effect of UFE and Research Communication to enhance learning culture within projects, with a focus on communication planning, to maximize the reach and use of the research outcomes. For more information about DECI-2, please visit http://evaluationandcommunicationinpractice.ca.

As part of the mentoring program, the project teams were invited to the APNIC38 meeting in Brisbane, for a face-to-face workshop with the mentors and some one-on-one coaching. In addition to this, the mentors visited Assam and Rarotonga, for more one-on-one coaching sessions. For next year, a visit to the project in Cambodia is scheduled.

External evaluation

The ISIF Asia program is currently undergoing an external evaluation process commissioned by IDRC as part of the Seed Alliance activities. A series of interviews and data analysis have been carried out and an evaluation report will be presented to IDRC before the end of the year. We see this as a great opportunity to learn about our work and plan for the future.

The Discovery Asia blog

2014 was also the year to launch the Discover blog, and 50 articles later, this effort to highlight the talent, skills and commitment that the Asia Pacific region has to offer, continues to raise attention to the vibrant community we serve, their needs and their innovative approaches to solve development problems using the Internet for the benefit of their communities. We encourage you to share your stories.

It has been a busy year, and we look forward for new challenges during 2015!

Win $1 Million With Mobile Application for Indian Women, Students, Farmers and Migrant Workers

mobile-devices

A recent McKinsey study found that although internet adoption is showing steady growth in India, only 15% of Indians use the Internet and almost 70% do not understand how the internet can help them.

Internet.org Innovation Challenge: India

Facebook wants more people online and to grow beyond its 100 million Indian users, so its funded a $1 Million Innovation Challenge on Internet.org

Four $250,000 USD Innovation Challenge Awards will be presented to the app, website or service that best meets the needs of Indian women, students, farmers and migrant workers. Each of the Innovation Challenge Award winners will also be eligible to receive a package of tools and services worth up to $60,000 USD from Facebook’s FbStart program.

In addition, two apps, websites or services designed for each of the four specified population categories will receive a $25,000 USD Impact Award prize.

Entry Scoring

Entries will be judged based on these 4 different criteria:

  • Innovation: How original, groundbreaking or creative is the app, website or service?
  • Impact: Will the app, website or service impact numerous lives in meaningful ways?
  • Scalability: Does the app, website or service scale technically? What percentage of the designated population will it reach? Is the content localized? Is multilingual support available?
  • Launch-readiness: How soon will the app, website or service be publicly available, beyond prototypes and limited trials, if it isn’t already? If it’s already publicly available, how stable and consistent is its performance?

So what are you waiting for? Apply today!

Apply Now! ISIF Asia Grants

grants

ISIF Asia provides financial support for projects in the form of “small grants.” Small grants are not repayable as no money or interest must be paid back. Grants allocation is decided through a competitive process following a rigorous selection process. This funding mechanism allows the use of flexible and simple management tools.

apply now

Grants will be provided to project proposals to be implemented in a period of 3 to 12 months for up to AUD 30,000 that are aligned with the funding categories and eligibility criteria. Project proposals should provide clear and concrete information about the proposed initiative so the evaluation committee can properly assess it. Innovation and a development focus should be an integral part of all project proposals received during the application process.

The funding categories are:

  • Innovation on access provision
  • Inovation on learning and localization
  • Code for the common good
  • Rights

Call for applications for 2015 is open until 31 October 2014. After the deadline to submit applications, all received submissions are subject to a process of comprehensive analysis, as described in the Selection process section of this website. Shortlisted candidates will be notified. Once all administrative requirements have been met according to the terms and conditions, an official announcement will be widely distributed.

What are you waiting for? Apply today!

Today, 42 Percent of Internet Users Live in Asia. Tomorrow…

InternetPopulation2011
This map uses 2011 data on Internet users and total population to show us a few interesting data points:

  • 42% of the world’s Internet users live in Asia.
  • China, India, and Japan have more Internet users than Europe and North America combined.
  • China is now home to the world’s largest Internet population.

And here is the statistic that I’d like to focus on: India has less than 20% Internet usage, which means there is massive upside to Internet adoption in the world’s largest democracy. Especially, when you look at how quickly the tools of access are dropping in price and increasing in functionality.

Key: Low-cost Smartphones

While some may still be thinking that laptop or even desktop computers are the routes to Internet access, its really cheap smartphones. Just look at Xiaomi, which is described as the “Apple of China”. They introduced the Redmi 1S in India and sold 80,000 in 8 seconds, with a queue 200,000 long.

XiaomiWhy? Because the Redmi 1S, at INR 5999 (US$99), is 10x less than the cheapest iPhone 6, and Xiaomi doesn’t see itself as a smartphone manufacturer competing against Apple or Samsung. It sees Amazon as its competitor:

“Like Amazon who built Kindle, Fire Phone, and invested in technology to boost its core ecommerce. Similarly, our phones are just a means to an end, and not the end,” says Xiaomi vice-president Hugo Barra.

Xiaomi has realized that 1 billion Indians are a giant market waiting to get online, and they’re laser-focused on making sure Asia will stay and grow as the epicenter of Internet usage globally. Internet that arrives on a mobile phone.

Connecting Dreams of Poor Indians with Apna Tech Trees

india-access

Around 70% of the poor in India are from rural areas where there is a lack of basic social and infrastructure services, such as healthcare, roads, education, and drinking water.

Yet, despite the presence of over 300,000 NGOs, which are working in sectors spanning the gamut from agriculture to minority rights, India’s growth has primarily benefited its urban elite and middle class population who are engaged largely in the fast-growing services sector.

Inclusive, sustainable growth needs to be achieved in order to reduce poverty and other social and economic disparities, and also to sustain long-term economic growth. This is possible only by establishing a strong connection between rural and urban India for equitable social and economic opportunities. Relevant scientific and technological interventions can help in accelerating the process.

Connecting Dreams Foundation Approach

Our experience and extensive fieldwork led us to arrive at the hypotheses that in rural India most of the problems and solutions are within a 10 km radius of each other. That means a challenge in one village has a solution in a neighboring village, and its only due to limitations of transportation, access, appropriate technology, education and social meetings that people don’t share solutions amongst each other.

We believe that the solutions to some of the big challenges in rural India lie within rural India itself and the best we can do is to get the villages connected with each other by providing an appropriate technology – thereby making the villages into village smart grids.

Therefore, we have come up with Apna Tech Tree (ATT). The ATT is a village enterprise with a people centric design – a touch screen PC with broadband and a trusted portal run by local village women groups in partnership with NGO’s.

anapa-tree

ATT enables community centric learning using video conferencing and voice over internet to communicate, share best practices and challenges with people of neighboring villages and with experts in the areas of healthcare, banking and education. You can see a video of ATT in action here.

ATT offers solution that creates connected village or village smart grids. The ATT’s have the capability of speaking – interacting with local grids, experts and also showcasing – broadcasting customized or locally curated content. Currently ATT offers solutions and content in Healthcare, Livelihood and Education sectors where experts in the above fields are connected over video conferencing to the village community once a week and help in them in resolving their key issues.

Just listen to our happy constituents:

Rani Siddhu, Village Citizen: “Even though we can’t read or write, but we can at least listen and learn and this ‘Apna Tech Tree’ has been a big help for people like me and for our children who now use knowledge and information to achieve something better and make a good life.”

Sharmishtha Tyagi, Village Coordinator: “This ‘Apna Tech Tree’ is a boon for the children as well as for the women. Earlier the ladies in the village didn’t know much as we can’t go out of the village but now because of this tree, we can get any information and solve our issue right at our doorstep.”
Rabita, Village Citizen: “Although we are uneducated, we have the will to learn anything that is new. This ‘Apna Tech Tree’ has made us realize the importance of information and its accessibility through which we can improve our and our children’s lives in a simple and easy way.”

You can learn more about Connecting Dreams Foundation (CDF), a non-profit foundation working towards architecting social transformational interventions and campaigns using technology that create positive impact across the globe, online and on Facebook.