This is my first visit to IGF and I was excited looking at the diverse agenda of IGF even before arriving to Paris. I have attended several workshops and panels which are relevant to our works in Myanmar.
I attended “Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion (s)” which is under the theme of digital inclusion and accessibility. Moderator is from University of Pennsylvania Law. Discussion were made around UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and very interesting to learn one SDG can be linked to one another. This high level discussion are useful for me especially when we write proposals for government and UN affiliated organizations. I was able to discuss about our Beyond Access Myanmar project in Myanmar where community partnership is very strong for sustainable development. Many participants agree the importance of community libraries in playing training of digital literacy. University of Pennsylvania Law is conducting a project called “One World, One Internet” and they interviewed me after the panel. I was able to explain about the reason of my visit and our current gender innovation project in Myanmar and the award that ISIF gave to our foundation.
I am also very interested to learn that motorbikes are used as hotspot providers in India. In Philippine, Unilever partners with Telco to create an innovative way of providing connectivity by allowing 20 minutes free unlimited data for every purchase of their product. These creative way or “thinking outside the box” models really interest me. At the same time, challenges are still present. For example, in Nigeria, some health workers think internet disrupt their works and they are worried about losing their jobs.
I joined the “Gender Issues and Democratic Participation: reclaiming ICT for a Humane World” panel. Panellists are from India, Pakistan, France CSO and companies like Facebook. I was able to learn quite a diverse group of discussion. However, challenges are quite similar to what we have been facing in Myanmar as well. For example, women are given less priority in access to mobile phones and parents restrict the learning of digital and online tools for their daughters in India. These happens mainly in most vulnerable remote area of the country. Other challenges like cyberbullying, lack of digital literacy among young women give vulnerability for them in the online environment. Internet is full of challenges and also opportunities are present. Therefore, many agree that digital literacy is very important to give to young women and peer to peer learning works in many country. This is exactly what our Tech Age Girls Myanmar project is doing.
I also joined “Has it become Luxury to Disconnect?” discussion. I was a bit sceptical about the title initially but when I attended it, I fully understand the topic. The main topic is about how privacy risk are present in this 21st century. In this modern world, it is hard for people to stay away from internet. All our data are collected by Telco. What do they do about these data? Are they safe or not? According to one Indian panellist, the safest way is to keep data in their respective country. It is especially for sensitive government data. At the same time, many agree that education and training on privacy in online environment has to be given to students. Many bad experiences happened as people put a lot of their private lives on social media. They can backslash one day when they get old. I was able to discuss that we have developed a curriculum called Mobile Information Literacy which is mobile based digital literacy training and one module is on privacy, security and netiquette in online environment. Many agree that mobile based training are very much productive as devices like laptops are expensive for rural communities.
I also joined “EU Delegation to IGF and Youth IGF Movement” and it is very interesting as EU delegation are mostly old politicians and many discussants are young tech savvy people. In other words, EU delegation agrees that many of older generation think internet is a very special thing and would like to handle very carefully and slowly. However, technology is changing very fast and legal sector is hard to cope with the momentum of the technology changes. Cyberlaw and other legal policy relating to ICT is always behind. It is quite similar to country like Myanmar too. For example, cookies, cache shall be cleansed (like washing clothes) every 5 days and browser shall be updated often. Lacking to do so will give vulnerability for your device to be attached by virus and malwares. These things have to be taught in schools. I noticed that a lot of discussion always come back to education of digital literacy at schools. This is something which we are trying hard to teach to teachers at schools in Myanmar how to stay safely online. In this digital age, students shall be taught not only basic ICT skills such as Microsoft Office but also they need to learn how to become a good digital citizen (netizen). Important point is random teaching of digital literacy will have little effect as things are growing very fast and need to tech like school on daily basis. At the same time, media literacy trainings are also very important as there are so many misinformation and disinformation present on daily basis.
During the opening ceremony of IGF, speech from UN Secretary General is very powerful. He wanted to see more stakeholders in IGF such as including philosophers and anthropologists in the development of AI. He also emphasizes on promoting missing voices especially marginalized people such as women, elders and disabled persons. Finally, he encouraged this forum shall produce actionable plans which need to turn risk into opportunities. French President Macron speech was also very inspirational on how regulators and privacy enthusiasts are playing hard games in the online environment. But, France and EU would like to do midway (not like California style nor Chinese style). These are valuable messages for country like Myanmar too.
On Day 2, I attended “Internet and Jobs” which is organized by Internet Society and it was very insightful. Panellists are from ILO, Brazil University and University of Portugal. Nowadays, people are worrying about losing their jobs due to development in AI. However, many jobs which we have never expected before are opening doors for youths. For example, data analyst jobs sector alone will create 80,000 more jobs. Therefore, I recalled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that people will be doing different kind of jobs. Types of jobs will vary from developed countries and developing countries. Due to presence of more percentage of younger generation in job force in developing countries (like our country), youths will work new forms of jobs. However, developed nations will be having survival mode as they have more percentage of old aged people in the future.
However, at present, youths are suffering from retrench in case of crisis. Therefore, youths need to get digital literacy in order to prepare for 21st century job force. In the future, many of us will be working online from home. Therefore, most of us will loss our cultural norms like loosing family time. We all have to prepare them for the future. Youth involvement in Singapore is inspirational. Youths launched Singapore Youth Council which volunteers to help digital literacy to elderly people. This movement give not only skill for elders but also give social bonding between youths and elders. Myanmar shall be adopting this campaign as many elders are facing problems with digital tools nowadays.
I am able to visit most of the booths at the IGF Village and met with may interesting companies, universities and civil society organizations. I met with one organization called AccessNow which has developed game for youth to understand security measures of their own devices. Moreover, I met with Relex Life company which has interest to invest in Myanmar. I also visited UNESCO digital preservation unit at the basement of IGF and I was very impressed with digitalization efforts made by UNESCO on thousands of documents and files. Since our foundation is active in digital preservation of old palm leaves and paper manuscripts, I was able to learn a lot from UNESCO technical expert there.
I was so excited to accept the award for “Gender Empowerment and Innovation Award” from ISIF. I now understand SeedAlliance clearly and its affiliates to give numerous awards around the world to organizations like us. It was such a honour to accept this prestigious award for Asia.
On the last day, I was able to attend “Investment strategies to scale community networks” panel which was organized by APNIC. It is very interesting to learn that how funders would like to support. Carolina said that any innovation both hardware, software, strong business model and enabling local content are key areas of support. All the panellists agree to have strong community network is key in success. Jane Coffin from Internet Society said that
“In community networks, much of the work is human engineering. Installing the equipment is the easy work “. I fully supported her and gave our Myanmar experience of having strong community library networks and main reason is human factor. We need to have dedicated, committed librarians who are willing to work for their own community. We also need to give ownership to them. Many discussants agree this model. Jane Coffin kindly told me after the panel that she would connect me to her colleagues in Southeast Asia. I was also able to greet Carolina who has vision for strong community network.
I also attended “Public Access in libraries: a policy toolkit for public access” panel which was organized by IFLA. All the panellists are eager to discuss how to be sustainable for public libraries. A panellist from Georgia said that 10 years ago, people think that libraries are no longer needed as everything will go online. However, access to internet alone is not enough as people need to learn how to go online and search for information and libraries become the best place for training these things. In other words, a lot of digital literacy training are taking place in public libraries. I was able to discuss about our experience in Myanmar. In order to be sustainable libraries, one of the key elements to create ownership. We have to create ownership to community libraries. I gave one example of one of the community libraries that we supported in Myanmar. We supported free internet, 4 tablets and training to the librarian. The cost for the tablets was only about USD 500. Librarian invited students from nearby school and many kids always come to their library. Then, community people found out and they invested for a separate room for ICT training and they were able to fund by themselves for computers as well. After the panel, IFLA panellist asked me to contribute an article about how to get sustainable model for public libraries based on our Myanmar experience. I had agreed to write one article for IFLA newsletter.
I was able to attend “Accessibility and Disability” discussion. Even though there are limited number of participants, this is very insightful how much challenges disabled people faced even in this modern world. They even discussed how difficult to attend the IGF. The reason of attending the session was to learn how our Myanmar library network can help disabled people by mean of technology. I was fortunate to meet with Professor Derrick Cogburn who is chairing the Disability Initiatives and he is willing to collaborate with our foundation.
In summary, IGF has given me a great deal of exposure about our works, new contacts and a lot of learning experience for me. The followings are my “Take Home” messages.
- IGF has enlightened me in many new topics such as blockchain technology and this gives me a new perspective of technology in this digital world. I have to say this is educational and inspirational trip for me.
- I am glad to learn that there are many common challenges in even the developed world on gender inequality and happy to learn how we can overcome them. Gender inequality is one of the hot topics at IGF and hence I have more energy to strengthen our Tech Age Girls Myanmar initiative.
- IGF has given me getting new contacts who are interested to collaborate with us.
- Role of community libraries and community centres approach is on the right track and this is exactly what we are doing. We have to plan ahead how we can expand sustainably beyond our current 150 library networks. Moreover, we are able to get access to IFLA’s toolkit for public libraries which they are going to launch soon.
- There are many lessons learned as I am able to apply and disseminate in our current mobile information literacy curriculum.
- I am more prepared by learning the current trends of sponsoring from donor communities.
Therefore, I would like to thank ISIF and APNIC to give a chance of offering the award and have a chance to visit IGF. This is a real honour for us and this recognition is meant to our foundation a lot. We really appreciate your support and efforts to make our works visible to the world. Thank you very much.