2021 ISIF Asia grant recipients announced

A large-scale collaborative project among research networks in the Asia Pacific region to build trust and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) capabilities is among the many Internet development and research projects being funded in the newly announced group of ISIF Asia supported projects.

Other projects include IPv6 training, an extensive honeynet cybersecurity project spanning several economies in Asia, and knowledge sharing between Network Operator Groups (NOGs) and Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).

ISIF Asia received a total of 74 applications for this round of funding, resulting in the biggest group of ISIF Asia grantees ever, with 22 projects covering 16 economies. Some of these projects cover multiple economies. Three economies are receiving funds for the first time: Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Lao PDR.

The grants total USD 1.82 million in funding, and are spread across three categories: Infrastructure (developing the Internet), Inclusion (accessing the Internet) and Knowledge (skills and research about the Internet). Funding for these grants is part of the Asia Pacific Internet Development Trust’s 2021 funding for the APNIC Foundation.

The full list of summaries is included below. Follow links below for easy navigation.

INFRASTRUCTURE

INCLUSION

KNOWLEDGE

Infrastructure

Expand the Central Australian Desert Project to serve the Nitjpurru indigenous community in Pigeon Hole. Distant Curve Remote Area Telecommunications. Australia. USD 150,000.

Nitjpurru is a community in Australia’s Northern Territory of approximately 140 people, 450kms away from the nearest town. Nitjpurru is accessible only by four wheel drive vehicle and access is subject to flooding during the wet season. Telecommunications infrastructure is limited to a single payphone, shared by the entire community.

The Central Australian Desert Project connected the Northern Territory communities of Engawala and Atitjere with an embedded system using solar powered microwave relays. This impact grant will fund the development of a similar system for Nitjpurru. The project will also integrate a framework for supervising various systems needed to run the relays, cost-effectively monitor them, and ensure they are providing the necessary connectivity.

Sustainable smart villages in rural Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea University of Technology. Papua New Guinea. USD 85,000.

Over 80% of Papua New Guinea’s population lives in rural areas. The government is promoting agriculture and education as key aspects of its development goals, but is challenged by limited connectivity caused by unreliable power supply, a lack of appropriate communications technology, and a shortage of skilled people to maintain infrastructure and train users.

This scale-up grant will help develop a ‘smart village’ solution, seeking to address all these challenges, connecting mobile devices to enhance education and provide information in the local language, supported by a reliable power system monitored by sensors and calibrated based on machine learning techniques. Data traffic, together with power consumption data, will be used to develop a business model for scaling the smart village model further.

The project will provide ten community Wi-Fi sites as sustainable services to rural areas, and aims to cultivate partnerships between industry, community, and academic institutions, to develop digital literacy packages as a cost-effective solution to closing the digital divide for diverse user groups in the community.

Field-ready network-coded tunnels for satellite links. The University of Auckland. New Zealand. USD 85,000.

This project aims to widen the circle of people able to deploy titrated coded tunnels, create reference systems on actual satellite links in the field, and demonstrate that this technology brings actual performance benefits to real users.

This project builds on a previous ISIF Asia project which researched how coded tunnels over satellite links can accelerate individual packet flows. The current project will take it out of the lab and show users that the technology is ready for wider deployment.

This scale-up grant involves a partnership with Gravity Internet and Te One School on Chatham Island, with Gravity Internet being familiarized with the new technology. They will work with an engineering link to Chatham Island using a satellite link to connect to the school.

Hybrid LoRa Network for underserved community Internet. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Malaysia. USD 85,000.

The Chini Lake, Pahang area of Malaysia has challenging terrain with thick foliage. These conditions mean that the 500 indigenous Orang Asli residents, spread across six villages, lack access to mobile data coverage.

As a solution, LoRa wireless technology has been proposed. The scale-up grant will help establish a LoRa Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) gateway on a helium balloon, equipped with Mesh LoRa architecture that has text and voice messaging capabilities, as well as a cloud-based data management platform.

This will give local residents access to digital materials through a messaging system, accommodating users of all different literacy levels, as well as water level alerts for mitigation of flooding and drought situations, and an avenue for promoting local products and services through the cloud-based data management platform.

Securing Software Defined Network architectures. The University of Newcastle. Australia. USD 30,000.

This project involves the design and development of techniques for detecting attacks on Software Defined Network (SDN) switches.

SDN has proven useful for handling the growing complexity of networks. It is widely deployed in Enterprise, Cloud, and Internet Service Provider networks. As SDN becomes more common, so do cyberattacks that exploit SDN vulnerabilities. There is a growing need to enhance security in SDN networks. This small grant will implement security techniques to validate against different attacks on SDN switches and develop a Switch Security Application for SDN Controllers for detecting attacks on switches.

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Inclusion

Connectivity Bridges: Reaching remote locations with high-speed Internet services. Rural Broadband — AirJaldi. India. USD 150,000.

Various Internet infrastructure initiatives have deployed technologies across parts of India using both wired and wireless Internet. However, rural areas aren’t easily connected leading to some infrastructure being under-used, particularly large communication towers.

This impact grant will help create a hybrid ‘WiFiber’ system that bridges existing infrastructure and adds capability and coverage to reach users in the mostly rural state of Arunachal Pradesh with fast and affordable Internet services.

Local community-based Internet infrastructure development and Internet utilization in rural Indonesia. Common Room. Indonesia. USD 150,000.

An existing partnership between Common Room, the Association for Progressive Communications, and the UK’s Digital Access Programme has resulted in the development of a School for Community Networking in the Kasepuhan Ciptagelar region of Indonesia.

This impact grant will help the school provide necessary infrastructure for a ‘build out’ to extend Internet deployment and training for indigenous and other rural communities in and around seven locations.

The project will provide towers, wireless equipment, servers, and training. It will also provide support as community-based Internet is rolled out, to help demonstrate ways the Internet can benefit these communities.

Equal access to information society in Myanmar. Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation. Myanmar. USD 150,000.

This project will help the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation combine and scale three programs: Mobile Information Literacy, Tech Age Girls Myanmar, and the Business Startup Development Program.

The Beyond Access project has already equipped 210 libraries around Myanmar with Internet, enabling 360,000 people to use a digital device for the first time. Telco Ooredoo Myanmar will invest in an additional 40 community libraries, mostly in underserved or unserved areas.

This impact grant will focus on equipping thousands of participants — primarily youth and women — at these 40 additional community libraries to develop digital literacy skills.

Broadband for all in Yap. Boom! Inc. Federated States of Micronesia. USD 85,000.

This project will establish an island-wide Fixed Wireless Access broadband network on the island of Yap.

In 2017, Yap to the world via high-speed submarine fibre-optic cable. There is still a lot of work to be done before this improved capacity can be used to provide broadband connectivity to island residents. In a recent proof-of-concept, Boom! was able to provide high speed connectivity to a school in Yap, having obtained the necessary licence and wavelength agreements. This scale-up grant will extend coverage to other parts of Yap.

Bamboo towers for low-cost and sustainable rural Internet connectivity. National Institute of Technology Silchar. India. USD 85,000.

This project is a collaboration among the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay), National Institute of Technology Silchar (NIT Silchar), and Uravu from India. The project will develop and promote low-cost and sustainable bamboo communication towers to expand access to broadband networks in remote and rural areas of India. The scale-up grant will fund the development of detailed instructions on how to construct bamboo towers — including selection of bamboo, treatment, testing of bamboo culms and their joints, structural design considering connectivity requirements and structural specifications, optimization, foundation design, erection of the tower, and its maintenance. Towers will also be constructed to test the proposed methods, and they will be able to be built in any region. Detailed multimedia manuals will also be developed and available on a dedicated website.

OASIS data garden project. SATSOL. Solomon Islands. USD 85,000.

Some communities in the Solomon Islands are faced with the challenges of a lack of electricity for digital devices, and limited means to access money electronically. This means that residents have to travel to a town to access banknotes.

This scale-up grant will fund the development and proof-of-concept testing of a ‘data garden’ that will supply affordable connectivity, power, and a digital payment system.

An OASIS data garden can be easily transported to any remote location in the Solomon Islands via small boat or vehicle, and will operate autonomously. The data garden will support remote villages and communities where it can provide for individuals, households, businesses, schools, and clinics.

Internet connection to four villages in San Isidro. Davao Medical School Foundation (DMSF). The Philippines. USD 30,000.

This small grant project will connect four villages in the San Isidro municipality of Mindanao via Point to Point (P2P) data connections. A P2P connection is a closed network data transport service that traverses the public Internet but is inherently secure with no data encryption needed. A P2P network can also be configured to carry voice, video, Internet, and data services together over the same point to point connection. DMSF will partner with local organizations in each village to develop local capacity for maintenance and security.

Inclusive and efficient access to Internet services and information for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh. Humanity & Inclusion. Bangladesh. USD 30,000.

This project aims to assist people with visual disabilities in Bangladesh, by disseminating standards on accessible web design and screen-reading software.

Around 20% of the population of Bangladesh lives under the poverty line. As Internet adoption rapidly climbs, new opportunities in employment and education are presented via the Internet. However, people with visual disabilities face added challenges in Internet accessibility.

The project, funded with a small grant, will translate visual accessibility standards into the local language and train web developers in these standards. It will also engage in policy dialogue and advocacy for people with disabilities.

Empowering remote agricultural communities in Lao PDR through long-range wide area networks. Makerbox Lao. Lao PDR. USD 30,000.

This project will leverage the possibilities offered by low-power/long-range Internet of Things solutions to bridge the technological and communication divide between urban centres and remote agricultural communities in Lao PDR.

The small grant will help develop a prototype technology that uses long range (LoRa) wireless networking to relay agricultural data (such as soil, weather, and water information) from sensors in remote areas to forecasting experts, then relay that forecast information to farmers in a format that supports their work. The design also considers local conditions such as the absence of power grid connections by developing a solar power support, which LoRa is ideally suited to handle due to its low power consumption.

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Knowledge

Intelligent honeynet threat sharing platform. Swiss German University. Indonesia. USD 150,000.

This project will fully extend the design of the existing Honeynet Threat Sharing Platform [PDF] to provide a broader range of honeypot support, with intelligently categorized and correlated threat data, enabling organizations to share and exchange the threat information with other organizations with a consistent format.

This impact grant will support a partnership between Swiss German University, Badan Siber & Sandi Negara (Indonesia’s National Cyber and Crypto Agency), and the Indonesia Honeynet Project (IHP).

A range of economies are participating in the project, including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, and Viet Nam.

Two previous ISIF Asia grants supported the development of the Honeynet Threat Sharing Platform, to link honeypots together in a Honeynet that collects information on malicious Internet traffic for a public dashboard. To facilitate cooperation among participants, the Cyber Security Community Information Sharing and Analysis Center (CSC-ISAC) was also established.

The project involved four types of honeypot: Cowrie (SSH honeypots), Dionaea (Multi-Service Honeypots), Elastichoney, and Conpots (Industrial Control Honeypots).

Developing a collaborative BGP routing, analyzing and diagnosing platform. Tsinghua University. China. USD 150,000.

This project is a collaboration between National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) and research universities in the Asia Pacific, to build the kind of trust and BGP capabilities among NRENs that the wider BGP-speaking community relies upon. Currently, there is no large-scale cooperative monitoring system for BGP routing and no collaborative system for BGP hijacking and mitigation among Asia Pacific NRENs.

An earlier but ongoing project resulted in the development of a small-scale looking glass platform and BGP routing collection platform. This impact grant will expand the platform to a BGP hijacking detection and mitigation system and foster the emerging NREN network operations and security community. In addition, the team will analyze the robustness of routing in the Asia Pacific region and suggest how to improve the reliability of Internet routing through cooperative interconnections.

The organizations involved include CERNET (China), SingAREN (Singapore), ThaiREN (Thailand), BdREN (Bangladesh), LEARN (Sri Lanka), AfgREN (Afghanistan), MYREN (Malaysia), NREN Nepal (Nepal), APAN-JP (Japan), ERNET (India), DOST-ASTI/PREGINET (Philippines), HARNET/JUCC (Hong Kong), Gottingen University (Germany), Surrey University (UK), and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunication (China).

Bug Zero. SCoRe Lab. Sri Lanka. USD 85,000.

Bug bounties are when organizations offer rewards to those who are the first to report a problem in their software. This helps them stay ahead of emerging security vulnerabilities.

Bug bounty platforms have helped many organizations in advanced economies worldwide but South Asia has been hesitant to embrace them. Equipped with empirical research data on published results, SCoRe Lab has already started a bug bounty platform in Sri Lanka called Bug Zero.

This scale-up grant will help promote bug bounties as an effective tool for organizations, while also promoting them as a good economic opportunity for youth and encourage inclusion in an area that has generally been male-dominated.

Training and knowledge sharing: Network analysis for AI transformation. TeleMARS. Australia. USD 85,000.

Research from a previous ISIF Asia grant demonstrated that Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques can be used to resolve problems when detecting cyberattacks. This scale-up grant will help implement that work on a larger scale. This will involve strengthening knowledge sharing across Network Operator Groups (NOGs) and Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), developing training and mentoring resources, and improving professional capabilities in the areas of diagnosis, monitoring, and analysis of historical datasets.

Webinar series to support IPv6 knowledge transfer. India Internet Engineering Society (IIESoc). India. USD 30,000.

This project will continue a series of webinars that have helped enterprises develop IPv6 skills, supported by ISIF Asia through a 2020 grant.

It can be difficult to encourage enterprises to adopt IPv6. One of the issues is a lack of understanding about the technical aspects of IPv6 among some enterprise technicians. Sometimes, technicians seek training but management does not always see the business case for adoption. This small grant will continue and expand a previous series of webinars supported by ISIF Asia that have helped enterprises develop IPv6 skills, in an effort to combat a cycle of misinformation that makes enterprises hesitant to adopt IPv6.

DIY COW — An inclusive community operated wireless kit for enabling local communications at remote locations. Servelots Infotech. India. USD 30,000.

Using lessons learned during remote mentoring for young women in COVID-19 lockdowns, this project will create a Do It Yourself kit that will allow someone with no Internet access to set up a wireless access point with a local access server.

Establishing network connections in remote communities is difficult and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) don’t always see a commercial case in establishing Internet services in small areas. This project funds the creation of kits that can be immediately deployed to connect these communities without relying on any existing Internet connection.

This small grant will help develop kits that allow for the rapid establishment of a server capable of hosting applications that can immediately be used by the community. The kit contains all the necessary instruction materials to be set up without an Internet connection. It can also be connected to the Internet when and if the Internet gateway becomes available, and the set-up materials can easily be adapted to other languages

Cybersecurity education. Passerelles Numeriques Cambodia. Cambodia. USD 30,000.

This project will create fun and accessible online learning content on security issues faced by the public and organizations while navigating the Internet. Cambodia is rapidly digitizing, due in part to the rapid adoption of smartphones. However, with increased Internet adoption comes an increase in cyber-threats. The Cambodian government is currently in discussions to establish a cyber-crime law.

In the meantime, there is a need for greater cybersecurity awareness. This project is a partnership between NGOs Passerelles Numeriques Cambodia and The Foundry. It will develop simple interactive videos and quizzes to test awareness and develop public knowledge about security threats they can encounter in their daily lives. This project, funded with a small grant, focuses on youth and women facing digital literacy challenges.

Design, development and operation of an SDN-based Internet eXchange playground for networkers. University of Malaya. Malaysia. USD 30,000.

Network operators have access to a variety of technical training programs, some include the use of simulations, which are useful to put theory into practice but can be limited to simple configurations for experiments.

This small grant will help build on existing training programs by developing an ‘Internet Exchange Playground’ with a Kubernetes cluster that can help introduce SDN-based BGP/RPKI/RDAP knowledge. The Kubernetes nodes will be scattered across different economies, allowing participants to experiment with cross-border network topologies. It will allow for use of VXLAN and SDN controllers in a WAN environment.

To enhance access, there will be four on-line training, tutorials and seminars aimed at fostering participation, particularly among women. The project will be fostering participation from Bhutan, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

The APNIC Foundation thanks all applicants for sharing their ideas, the members of the Selection Committees for their hard work, and the Trust for supporting these projects. Technical reports on the projects will be published on the ISIF Asia website as they are completed.

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Rafi can now read on his own

Saifuddin Rafi reading at home using the digital talking books
Saifuddin Rafi reading at home using the digital talking books

Saifuddin Rafi, one of the four million visually impaired people in Bangladesh, is studying in class XI at Patiya Government College in Chittagong. His study started in a specialized school (Government Muradpur School for the Blind) in Chittagong. But, after completing primary level, he got admitted into ‘Union Krishi School and College’ in Patiya nearby his home town. During his secondary education level, in this mainstream school, he did not get textbooks in Braille or accessible audio format. He had to traverse jumpy situations due to absence of accessible study materials.

These difficulties required support from his sister, also a student with her own burden, who assisted him by recording all the books and class notes. The sufferings of his parents were also countless. A child with visual impairment needs extra privileges for continuing education; but the access to study materials required and their affordability is perplexing. Therefore, parents wishing their children to continue their studies face physical, mental and financial stresses.

For Rafi, difficulties to get accessible study materials needed for visually impaired students was a major challenge, and it troubled him and his family till class VIII. While studying in class IX, he received textbooks in audio format. Later he came to know that these were called DAISY-standard digital talking books.

DAISY Multimedia Talking Book
DAISY Multimedia Talking Book

The digital talking books are accessible materials which provide the text in an audio version for all including students with print and learning disabilities. Digital talking books are for everyone who needs accessible information; readers can play the audio and simultaneously display and highlight the corresponding text. It eases the education for the number of visually impaired students in Bangladesh like Rafi.

A team of persons with disabilities developed DAISY standard digital multimedia books, e-books and digital braille books for the primary and secondary levels using open source technology which are freely available for the end user. The project received technical support from DAISY Consortium, Accessible Books Consortium and WIPO, while receiving implementation support from Young Power in Social (YPSA) and overall support from the Service Innovation Fund of the Access to Information (a2i) programme under the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangladesh. The project has converted all primary and secondary education textbooks (grades I through X) into cost effective DAISY digital multimedia format; made it easier to produce braille, text, audio book or e-book as suitable.

These accessible and affordable reading materials brought a momentous shift in Rafi’s learning curve. Through receiving Grade Point Average (GPA) 5, the highest grade obtainable for secondary and higher secondary education system in Bangladesh, in his Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, Rafi has created an example for other visually impaired students who are struggling for their study fighting against their disabilities.

This project has won multiple awards for developing these multimedia talking books, for the expansion of the accessibility of digital publications with innovative models and practices. The most remarkable awards include the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Prize, 2017; the Zero Projects Award on Inclusive Education (2016); the Accessible Books Consortium Award for Accessible Publishing Initiative at the International Excellence Award 2015 held in London Book Fair; etc.

 

 

 

 

Among them the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) Award, 2014 was the first prestigious international recognition for the digital talking book project and greatly inspired the team behind the project. These funds and awards actually made the ground more secure for further efforts and development in creating accessibility for all in
education.

Surely, these appreciations are significant as both stimulus and outcome of the project. Yet, the main purpose of the project was to enable the students and people with various disabilities. So, the outcome should be measured by the aid, reduction of hassle and indicators of success of the beneficiaries. More than 100,000 students with visual disability, print disability and learning disability can now read and listen to their textbooks that significantly improve their learning now.

The Access to Information (a2i) programme is continuously working on accessible education for the visually impaired. Low-cost digital braille display and low-cost DAISY multimedia book players are being developed locally to read these DAISY digital talking books. Bangladesh wants to make people with disabilities resilient rather than ‘assumed liability’ of the society. Ensuring inclusion of all including people with disabilities, especially in education, will aid human-centric and sustainable development of Bangladesh.

The education and life as a whole for Rafi and his family, representative of thousands of beneficiary households, has become much easier these days. Rafi can use either smartphone or computer to access his reading materials.

National Portal Delivers eServices for Bangladesh Citizens

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The Government of Bangladesh has made substantial strides towards achieving its long-term Perspective Plan (2010-2021) by introducing the National Portal, or NP, which is primarily intended to serve as an information dissemination mechanism for the population, especially the underserved.

The National Portal’s journey started in 2007 when the government introduced a central portal by way of a preliminary endeavour. In 2010, a countrywide initiative was undertaken to introduce portals for all of the country’s 64 districts. Based on the lessons learned from these experiences, the ‘Guidelines on Content Preparation’ and ‘Training Guidelines’ on the same subject were prepared to widen the portals’ scope and reach.

Subsequently, some 22,000 government officials were trained on developing and maintaining the Portal, which created an enabling environment to further advance the effort. Finally, in 2013 and 2014, some 25,000+ websites, adhering to a common architecture, design, and structure in terms of their contents, were integrated within the National Portal and introduced in all tiers of public offices (Union Parishad, the lowest tier of local government, Upazila or Sub-district, district, division, directorate and ministries).

In the new National Portal, citizens are finding a convenient channel for obtaining information from public offices at lower cost and with less hassle. The Portal is also mobile-friendly, thereby ensuring greater access to information since the country enjoys over 70 per cent mobile penetration, with over 80 per cent of Internet access happening over mobile phones. Citizens who are unable to access the websites directly can go to the nearest digital centre, of which there are some 5000+ countrywide.

It is worth noting here that there are complementary initiatives in progress to upgrade the Portal further so that it can host all electronic versions of government services. Mobile applications are also being developed to make it easily accessible to persons with disabilities.

At present, some 100+ services (selected on the basis of importance and public demand), including online passport applications and electricity bill payments, have already been incorporated, and more services will soon be fully automated and provided via the Portal further to a mandatory government directive that will shortly be coming into effect.

Complied from WSIS Stocktaking: Success Stories 2015

An Integrated ICT Approach to Solve Agriculture Challenges in Bangladesh

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In last two and a half years mPower Social Enterprises Ltd has been working with Dhaka Ahsania Mission and Care Bangladesh to implement an USAID awarded five years ‘Ag Extension Project’ which aims to strengthen the agriculture extension system of Bangladesh.

Being a technical partner of this project, mPower is focusing on some of the key challenges in the present agricultural eco-system and trying to develop some integrated ICT based solution to cater these challenges.

Challenges in present Ag Ecosystem of Bangladesh

  1. Limited access to extension agent: One of the primary challenges of the agricultural ecosystem in Bangladesh is the absence or limited presence of expert consultation in rural vicinities. Although there are almost 14 000 government field extension officers, each extension agent has to assist more than 2 000 farm families in his area. Given the working hours, the logistical constrains, the geographical context and the available resources, it’s a mammoth task for each extension agent to provide adequate support to all the assigned farmers. As a result, farmers are forced to take advice from people who are not experts and are prone to be misled or exploited, which hampers the overall productivity of the country and negatively affects farmers’ livelihoods. In addition, female farmers are often left out of the traditional extension system: because of gender barriers, many times female farmers do not interact with male extension agent.
  2. The challenge of keeping up-to-date the Knowledge base of extension agents: Like many other domains, agricultural knowledge becomes outdated quite qulckly and it is often hard to regularly train extension agents working in the field with up-to-date information. Moreover, currently there is no specific mechanism in place to regularly train extension agents after a certain interval in a proper learning environment. In addition, in the field extension agents are not equipped with any sort of tool or materials that can be used to improve their service delivery.
  3. Decision-makers have limited tools to collect real time information from the field when taking timely decisions: Extension agents in the field collect and prepare a massive amount of ground level data, such as crop statistics and visit log, which is vital for managers and decision makers in order to plan future activities. Currently data collection is done through a traditional paper-based system, and therefore aggregating all the data collected requires a big amount of staff time. Hence, when it comes to management level, which is far from the ground, it often takes more than fifteen days to elaborate data from the fields, and this means that decision makers have very little time to send out meaningful and effective instructions in emergency situations such as floods and other natural hazards.

To solve these three specific issue, mPower has developed in integrated ICT approach which includes a big amount of mobile and web apps, multimedia content for mobile phones, and even community radio programs.

To solve the very first issue, the lack of extension agents, mPower has developed a community based, infomediary driven approach.

In each of the farmer group, the community selects an ‘ICT Leader’, a member of their community who owns a smartphone. These ICT leaders are trained by the project and they are provided with a mobile application named ‘Farmer Query System’.

When farmers in the community face a particular agriculture challenge, through this app the ICT Leaders send the details of this problem to a call center where expert agriculturists respond to the query through a phone call, becoming a virtual extension agent. Currently the infomediary are not paid by the project and not given any phones. The social incentive of using this system to solve other farmer’s problem actually motivates them to do this work.

Though, we are also trying out various revenue models so to give as well a financial incentive to the infomediary. Moreover, female farmers are also more prone to get reliable and certified agricultural information as the person who is sending the query on her behalf is community member himself.

Agriculture Knowledge Bank, an online repository of agricultural content which can also be accessed through mobile app, has been developed in collaboration with various government research institutes and extension department of Bangladesh in order to solve the challenge of updating the extension agent with most recent knowledge.

Many research agencies in Bangladesh produce a lot of content which is stored in their own website. Existing rural telecenters, innovative farmers or extension agent who tries to use ICT or mobile web to extract information from web, often face a hard time because for a single piece of information they often have to roam through multiple government websites. Hence this knowledge portal, which is also linked with learning tools and powers the various diagnostic tool, aids extension agents to learn more about each of the topics with updated information.

To automate the reporting and data collection process of extension department which is challenge three, mPower, in collaboration with extension department of Bangladesh, has developed three mobile application which automate their scheduling process, statistics collection and problem tracking, with the positive result of eliminating a lot of paperwork.

This data are being automatically aggregated in real time, and managers sitting remotely can see the view in a web dashboard and can give timely and meaningful forward instructions.

Results and Learning

  • Up to these point, so far 93 users are using these applications and so far 4 970 agro advisory service are being provided.
  • Farmers are in general very receptive to the recommendations they have been getting from this ICT based system. So far 96.4% of farmers responded that they are happy with the recommendations received, and they have applied practices . To find out adoption and impact more, mPower is working with a team of researchers from iCHASS,
  • So far 10.04% female farmers got agro recommendation through this systems which is a vast number, considering in traditional system the number is very poor
  • Some of the e-Administrative application which are targeted to government extension agent are yet to show significant impact as it’s tough to train field extension officers with a new ICT based tool and replace the old paper based method
  • Finding out female infomediary seems to be a challenge due to gender barrier and project is working with INGENAES to develop a strategy to tackle this issue
  • Involving community people increases ‘trust’ of the recommendation
  • Apart from social value, to find out sustainability some revenue based model is required for the infomediary

Thank you for taking some time to read through this blog post. Please feel free to share and circulate this message. We look forward to hear your feedback and comments!

Sadman Sadek currently working with mPower Social Enterprises Ltd. as Technical Coordinator in Bangladesh

Apply Now for 2015 eNGO Challenge

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The 2015 eNGO Challenge Award aspires to create an ecosystem by recognizing and honouring NGOs which are using Information Communication Technology (ICT) and digital media tools for good governance and practices that are benefiting societies and communities at large. It is a joint initiative of Public Interest Registry (PIR) and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF).

The eNGO Challenge is open in six categories for best use of ICT, mobile, digital media & new or social media by an NGO for:

    • Best Use of Website & Internal Tools (Website):website
      This category focuses on NGOs that are using website to showcase their activities, projects and local content to get networking and support from funding agencies. This category also welcomes NGOs that create awareness on certain issues through campaigning.

 

  • Best Use of Mobile content & Apps (Mobile):mobile
    This category focuses on NGOs that have used mobile tools/Apps for their internal &external communication to drive social change. For example,an NGOis eligible to apply under this category that uses connectivity through mobile phones, sms, video calling or any other means to engage and empower communities at large.

 

 

  • Best Use of e-Commerce (e-Commerce):ecommerce
    This category focuses on NGOs who have used ICT and digital media tools such as e-Commerce, mobile phones, online shopping and social media networkssuch as Facebook & Twitter to promote their business meant for the benefit of a community. For example, an NGO is eligible to apply under this category that usesa website or social media networks for the promotion and trading of products for the benefit of a community.

 

 

  • Best Use of Software Automation & Networking (Tools):tools
    This category focuses on NGOs that use digital media tools for improving and enhancing their organizational efficiency by using networking and software tools such as Wi-Fi, Skype, Tally etc. For example,an NGO is eligible to apply under this category thatuses video-conferencing technology to connect with their regional partners or does staff capacity building program with various ICT tools.

 

 

  • Best Use of social Media (Social Media): Slocial Media
    The category focuses on NGOs that use social media as a tool to get solutions for and from the communities. For example, an NGOis eligible to apply under this category that uses Facebook and twitter to engage communities or inform them about issues.

 

 

  • Best use of e-Content (incl. Audio / Visual / Radio): econtent
    The category focuses on NGOs that empower people to use video or radio to help communities raise their voice for their problems. For example,an NGO is eligible to apply under this category that facilitates people to record video or participate through community radio to share messages or register complains or highlight social issues.

 

The eNGO Challenge Award is open to any registered NGO from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. There are no charges applicable for the eNGO Challenge Award Nomination process.

Your NGO should fulfill the conditions of being an active & ICT based organization. Interested entities can take part in eNGO Challenge by either applying online or contacting expert panel for the nomination process through [email protected]

Amader Daktar: Improving Rural Health Care via Telemedicine

mHealth-telemedicine

There is one doctor per 5,000 people in Bangladesh, but doctors are not evenly distributed within the population, which means that for the majority of rural Bangladeshi, doctors are a rarity. So how can rural people have access to quality medical care?

Doctor in a Tab

Enter mPower Social Enterprises and their Amader Daktar “doctor in a tab” solution that aims to improve rural health care and reduce the number of people whose illnesses are aggravated by a lack of, or delay in, proper diagnosis and treatment. The service currently has 200 locations in Bangladesh and has served over 1,200 clients to date.

Amader Daktar is a tablet PCs and a custom-made app that allows rural healthcare practitioners to act as a telemedicine assistant. The tablet allows an rural medical professional to register patients and pass on vital medical information over mobile internet, which can then be viewed on a web portal by a remote doctor.

The doctor can then initiate a video call to talk to the frontline healthcare worker and the patient sitting in any village bazaar (with access to mobile internet). In the best case scenario, the doctor can then create and send a prescription over the internet to the healthcare worker who can then print it out at his end and hand it over to the patient.

In cases where remote consultations are insufficient, the doctor can advise the patient on the next course of action and recommend nearby facilities that can provide the necessary services.

Expansion into Myanmar

mPower Social Enterprises recently won the $10,000 USAID Mobiles for Development Award and will  expand its Amader Daktar service into Myanmar in partnership with mobile network operator, Telenor, in order to reach rural populations where health care services are difficult to access.

The Telecentre Movement in Bangladesh: Ups and Downs From 1987 to Present

bangladesh-telecentre

Telecentres are known to ICT4D professional as a popular ICT4D initiative to bridge digital divides and build an information society, one aspect of the WISIS 2003/2005 agenda. Being influenced by the WISIS Geneva and Tunisia summit, International donors prioritised telecentre projects in South Asian and African countries. As a result, the telecentre movement was at its peak during last decade in Bangladesh, however telecentres started in Bangladesh in 1987.

Because of my involvement with the telecentre movement in South Asian and African countries during that period, I am in a position to reflect their history and impact. In this post, I am describing the ups and downs of the telecentre movement in Bangladesh from my own experience.

Inception of telecentres in Bangladesh

In 1987, Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) launched Gonokendra (people’s centres), which is considered as the first generation telecentre in Bangladesh. The services of Gonokendra includes facilities to read newspapers, exchange experiences, learn from success stories, get information about innovations to improve livelihoods, etc. using mainly hard copy materials as only 5% of them had computers, none of which had internet connectivity.

After several years, in 2001, organisations like Amader Gram and Relief International started their telecentre projects. With other factors, availability of GSM based internet connectivity (GPRS, EDGE), played a significant role in boosting telecentres during 2005. After 2005 several organisations including corporate organisations like Grameen Phone started telecentres for their commitments to society.

Telecentre as a movement in Bangladesh

Telecentre.org supported the inception of the telecentre movement in Bangladesh which was started with ‘Building Telecentre Family in Bangladesh: A Workshop for the Social Entrepreneurs and Practitioners’ held in Rangpur Bangladesh during August 27-29, 2006.

I am fortunate to have first-hand experience of the workshop where participating organisations in Bangladesh decided to consider telecentre as a movement to fight against poverty and carry it forward. Telecentre.org provided support to learn from the experience in India, Sri Lanka and Uganda to ensure sustainability of the movement.

Birth of Bangladesh Telecentre Network (BTN)

After much though about the modalities to make the initiative sustainable, the momentum created in Rangpur continued with the financial support of telecentre.org to develop a network organisation for telecentre activist in Bangladesh. As an ICT4D professional, I was proud to lead the development of the website, mission2011.net.bd and tools like GIS Based National Telecentre Database and Telecentre Reference Desk which was aiming to help BTN members.

Unfortunately, the member organisations were not encouraged enough to take over those tools after the network start-up funding from telectetre.org ended.

Mission 2011: Pledge to establish 40000 telecentre by 2011

Inspired by the ‘Mission 2007’ of India, BTN declared an ambitious ‘Mission 2011’ to establish 40,000 telecentres in Bangladesh by the 40th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh adding up the commitments for new telecentres of the members. Gradually, BTN started to realise that it is impossible to reach the target. Despite of efforts to convince people BTN could not stop some of the critics. Unfortunately, like many other development projects BTN’s influence becomes weaker with the phase out of donor funds.

I had access to the complete list of telecentres in Bangladesh as the Bangladesh country manager of the Global Impact Studies. According to my analysis Mission 2011 was able to achieve less than 10% of its target, however my colleagues claim that it played an important role to include telecentre as an agenda in the Digital Bangladesh declaration of the Government of Bangladesh.

Government take over telecentres and scale them up

The Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the Government of Bangladesh took over the idea. As a result, on November 2010, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh inaugurated one Union Information and Service Centres (UISC) in each Union Parisad (4,501 telecentres in total). However, all of them were not operational at the beginning.

Recently, Bengali newspapers published several articles criticising the quality of UISC services. During my visit to Rangpur and Barisal region in November 2013, I found that among 60 farmers I talked to, only three know about the centres and one used their services. The farmer seems not so happy, but he mentioned it is better to have something than nothing.

Sustainability of Bangladeshi Telecentre

As we know, the sustainability of telecentre is a widely debated issue. A significant number of ICT4D professional and academics claims telecentres are not sustainable. However, there is another group who claims some of the telecentres are sustainable. The case of Bangladesh is not an exception.

As the Bangladesh country manager of the Global Impact Studies, Survey my observation is, on an average only 5 people visits a telecentre each day which is not enough to earn enough revenue for sustainability. However, there may be some exceptional cases.

Will Wikipedia Zero Inspire Local Language Content?

wiki-zero

The Wikimedia Foundation has launched Wikipedia Zero in Bangladesh, India Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand over the last two years. Wikipedia Zero is a “zero-rate” program that allows users to browse Wikipedia entries on their mobile phones for free thanks to a partnership between Wikimedia and the mobile carrier.

Wikimedia’s goal is to enable access to free knowledge for every single person on the planet, leveraging the ubiquity of the mobile phone. However, that information currently exists mainly in English. There are just 109,404 posts in Hindi for the 295 million native Hindi speakers, while the 365 million English speakers get 4,413,036 Wikipedia articles (and counting) to learn from.

And while I enjoy the benefits of English language domination on the public Internet, I feel we should pause a moment and think a bit about the pros and cons of yet another bastion of English being offered as a gift to the world.

Might it be better if Wikipedia Zero came with social cues and gamification that inspired more Hindi posts? Its not like the Indian government’s Vikaspedia will succeed by itself.

We need to recognize and empower all languages equally, so that the Internet can truly reflect the diversity that is our reality. We need a Wikipedia Plus that adds local knowledge, not just disseminates others’ distant information.

3 Tangible Outcomes from Digital Bangladesh: An Inspiration for South Asia

digital-bangladesh

In 2008, the government of Bangladesh announced a ‘Vision 2021’ pledge is to improve the quality of life and quality of governance, and achieve mid-income country status by the year 2021, on the golden jubilee of the nation.

The vision was widely appreciated because of its intention to ensure inclusive innovation. The government of Bangladesh is in a process of developing a ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021’ to operationalize the vision throughout the country.

Digital Bangladesh

One aspect of Vision 2021 is Digital Bangladesh, a pledge to use modern technology to impact every aspect of public and private life by 2021. Digital Bangladesh is being implemented by the Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the government of Bangladesh, and they have developed ‘the Strategic Priorities of Digital Bangladesh’ in January 2011, three years after the Vision 2021 declaration.

The strategic priorities of Digital Bangladesh are:

  1. Human resource development
  2. Connecting citizens
  3. Digital government for pro-poor service delivery
  4. ICT in business

Now considering where the Bangladesh government is starting from, and potential impeding factors like lack of skills, infrastructure, integration among interventions and political unrest in the country, the Digital Bangladesh goal of a discrimination, corruption, poverty and hunger free happy, prosperous and educated mid-income country driven by ICTs by 2021, is quite ambitious.

There is no quick solution to these issues, and doing anything on a national scale is very complex and depends on many factors, however, we are hopeful because Bangladesh has achieved most of the targets under MDG goals well before the deadline, and Digital Bangladesh has already achieved three major impacts:

New Technologies

To create enabling environment the government has formed several policies like

  1. National ICT policy 2009
  2. Right to Information Act 2009
  3. Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act, 2009
  4. Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority Act, 2010
  5. International Long Distance Telecommunications Services Policy (ILDTS)
  6. Telecommunications Act, 2010
  7. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board Act, 2009
  8. Broadband Policy, 2009
  9. Pornography Act, 2011
  10. Rural Connectivity Policy 2010
  11. Format of the Public Private Partnership Policy

The enabling policies made it possible for corporate sector to reach the bottom of the pyramid and as a result mobile subscription, Internet subscription, and use of ICTs in every step of life had a tremendous increase.

In addition, we’ve seen a welcomed increase in new technologies. Previously, WiMAX, VOIP, 3G and Community Radio were illegal in Bangladesh. As a result of Digital Bangladesh, WiMax technology was legalised in 2009. VOIP was legalised in early 2010, and the Government has issued licenses for community radio starting in December 2010.  The 3G technology providers have received licence to start operation from October 2013.

New Programs

To reach the last mile the government has established 4,501 Information Service Centres at each Union Parishad, the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh, and e-Service Centres in each office of the 64 Deputy Commissioners, the District level administrative units in Bangladesh.

The e-Service centres provide access to agriculture, health, education, social safety net, legal aid, disaster management and enforcement of law related services. InfoKosh has-been introduced at the national level to make available livelihood content. As many as 220 organisations and about 50,000 information articles have been uploaded on this website by May, 2011.

Digital Bangladesh has resulted the e-services including:

In addition, actions are underway to prepare a National E-Governance Architecture (NEA) to implement ICT projects in public offices.

The government has introduced e-GP (Electronic Government Procurement) system in public procurement to introduce digital system. The digital land management system has been introduced in order to make land administration and management transparent and accountable.

The government is in a process of establishment of multimedia classroom in all educational institutions to sensitise the teachers for developing digital content. To date, 3,172 Computer Labs and 80 Smart Class Rooms have been set up in different educational institutions across the country. As many as 325 textbooks of Primary, Secondary, Madrasa and Technical Education Board have adopted e-Book versions, which can be accessed from www.ebook.gov.bd.

New Mind-set

As you can see, the hype around Digital Bangladesh has already caused several changes in Bangladesh. Most significantly, I would say, is the mind-set of government officials.

As an ICT4D professional, I used to experience difficulties explaining how technology could be used for social and economic development, but now almost everyone have an understanding about ICTs and their impact. Maybe the understanding is not 100% accurate, but the important thing is now the government and social sectors welcome ICTs.

We may have a long way to go, but the process of digital government has started in Bangladesh.