Tech Age Girls Myanmar at 13th Internet Governance Forum

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.


Interview by One World, One Internet

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.


Connecting Next Billion Panel”

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.


Gender Panel

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.


Internet and Jobs for Youths Panel

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.


Digital preservation room at UNESCO

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.


Gender Empowerment and Innovation Award to Dr. Thant Thaw Kaung from Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation


Awards Recipients around the World

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.


Investment strategies to scale 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. IGF has given me getting new contacts who are interested to collaborate with us.
  4. 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.
  5. There are many lessons learned as I am able to apply and disseminate in our current mobile information literacy curriculum.
  6. 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.

Congratulations to the ISIF Asia Grants and Awards winners for 2018

This year ISIF Asia will award USD 210,000 to 10 organizations in the Asia Pacific to support research and development of Internet technologies for the benefit of the region. This year’s funding round marks our 10th anniversary of operation in the Asia Pacific.

We received 236 applications in total for the four funding categories that were announced earlier this year. The applications came from 28 economies across the region. We were very excited to see that around 60% of the applications received were submitted for our new “Gender Empowerment and Innovation” category. It was also very encouraging to receive applications from economies that have never applied for our funding before. Similarly, the application process reflected a variety of stakeholders working towards the development of the Internet. We see those as great indicators about the relevance of ISIF Asia as a mechanism to support the development of the Internet across the region.

The funding will be distributed among organizations representing a wide variety of stakeholders: Government (1), Civil Society (3), Private Sector (2), Social Enterprise (1), and Academia (3) as well as very interesting geographical spread across 9 economies: Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, The Philippines, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Awards

The ISIF Asia 2018 Award winners will each receive USD 3,500 plus a travel grant to the 2018 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that will be held in Paris, France from 12 to 14 November 2018. Their work will be featured as part of the Seed Alliance Awards ceremony, which will be held on 13 November 2018.

“The 2018 ISIF Asia Award winners are truly innovative initiatives, where access to Internet technologies with a social purpose, clearly show a positive impact to improve the lives of people in the communities they serve in the Philippines and Myanmar. Their experiences and knowledge help overcome the challenges that the developing world faces,” Duncan Macintosh, APNIC Foundation CEO said.

Award winners

Community Networks

  • Community Cellular Networks in Rural Aurora, University of the Philippines – Diliman, The Philippines.

In partnership with a local telecom, the team has developed and deployed a GSM Community Cellular Network in rural Philippines to bridge ‘last mile’ connectivity issues in isolated and relatively poor communities. As of 2017, they have also begun deploying them in partnership with local NGOs, primarily cooperatives, to provide basic cellular services to subscribers.

Gender Empowerment and Innovation

  • Tech Age Girls Myanmar, Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, Myanmar.

This initiative has successfully supported female community leaders (aged between 16-20) through the ‘Tech Age Girls’ program from community libraries that have been playing a key role in digital inclusion and gender equality in Myanmar. The finalists are selected to implement their own community projects ideas to support their communities.

Grants

As Head of Programs for the APNIC Foundation, I am really impressed by the proposals selected for the ISIF Asia 2018 Grants and how they highlight the main technical, operational and development issues that concern the Asia Pacific Internet community. I am confident the outcomes of their work will continue to support an open, stable, and secure Internet that serves the needs of the people in our region. The APNIC Foundation is particularly glad to see how the distribution of funds reflect regional and stakeholder diversity and the clear links that every project has to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Grant winners

Network Operations Research

  • Measuring and Detecting Network Interference in Southeast Asia, Sinar Project, Malaysia. Grant award: USD 20,000.

This network measurement research aims to show current and past Internet censorship and network interference in media, political criticism, religion, gender and social media networks in South East Asian economies using network monitoring nodes around the region. There will also be a pilot gender gap social audit conducted for a marginalized urban community in Malaysia to research and measure non-technical gaps in Internet access such as affordability, Internet literacy, knowledge or rights, and accessibility and availability of gender-related content.

  • Establishment of a Carrier Neutral Software-Defined Internet Exchange (IXP) Point and Training Programs for Capacity Building in Managing IXPs, Lahore University of Management Sciences – LUMS, Pakistan. Grant award: USD 30,000.

This project aims to deploy a Software-Defined IXP and training programs for IXP development in Pakistan to assist operators to enable new applications such as application-specific testing, traffic redirection through middleboxes, and inbound traffic engineering. While the project centres on a Pakistan IXP, it will eventually be made available to other least developed economies in the region. Another benefit of the project will see costs associated with IXPs reduced via automatic configuration management and dynamic policy assignment.

Community Networks

  • Community LTE in Papua, Yayasan Noken Baliem Mandiri, Indonesia. Grant award: USD 23,000.

This project seeks to deploy the first locally-owned and operated handset to support LTE networks in the world to rural Papua, Indonesia, using low-cost eNodeBs and a custom developed enhanced packet core. YNBM was granted a special experimental cellular license to explore this new rural access technology in Indonesia by the Indonesian Telecom Ministry.

  • Connecting the Unserved – Bhutan’s First Trial with TV White Space Technology, NANO, Bhutan. Grant award: USD 30,000.

Given Bhutan’s challenging physical environment and Internet connectivity issues, this project aims to explore the feasibility and suitability of TV white space technology as an alternative broadband option to unserved areas in the economy.

Cybersecurity

  • RPKI Monitor and Visualizer for Detecting and Alerting for RPKI Errors, ZDNS Labs, China. Grant award: USD 30,000.

This project will implement a RPKI security mechanism to offer a distributed, stakeholder-based counter to the power imbalances arising from RPKI’s hierarchical system. The proposed mechanism detects adverse actions in the RPKI and alerts resource holders to these actions that adversely affect their holding, so that errors can be quickly fixed. The mechanism also enables each ISP to decide whether to accept or defer accepting PRKI database changes that appear to be adverse.

  • A novel graph analytics theory model to mitigate IoT botnets attacks for big data, Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM), Malaysia. Grant award: USD 13,000.

This research aims to use the Graph Analytics Theory model to analyse the behaviour of IoT botnets using a reverse engineering approach to distinguish IoT botnets from raw infection codes and develop a new Graph Analytics Theory model for detecting IoT botnet attacks. The expected outcome of the research is to be able to remove and quarantine the suspicious codes as well as be able to detect behaviour changes in IoT devices.

Gender Empowerment and Innovation

  • NextGen Girls – Internet Security Ambassadors Project, Shilpa Sayura Foundation, Sri Lanka. Grant award: USD 30,000.

This project aims to upscale the ISOC 25 Under 25 Award winner, ‘Respect Girls on Internet’, by developing a network of university and high school girls studying ICT. The goal is to develop females to pursue emerging IoT security careers to help build a safer and secure IoT environment for women, including training 40 female university students to become Internet Security Educators.

  • Increasing the Safe Use of Internet by Women and Girls, Child Helpline Cambodia, Cambodia. Grant award: USD 22,000.

This is a project to strengthen the capabilities of 16 existing helpline ambassadors on the safe use of the Internet and how to report online abuse to Child helpline Cambodia. The 16 ambassadors will organize five pilot ‘echo awareness’ sessions on the safe use of the Internet for girls and women in their communities. The project will also support: free helpline telephones; an online question and answer platform, with information on the safe use of the Internet and gender equality; response to reports of online abuse; and refer victims to psycho-social support services.

The APNIC Foundation and ISIF Asia thanks all the applicants for sharing their ideas with us, the Selection Committee members for their hard work to arrive to this great outcome, and to APNIC, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Internet Society for their generous funding contributions for 2018.

Equal Access to the Information Society in Myanmar

ISIF Asia 2016 Grant recipient, Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF) implemented a project to provide equal access to the information society in Myanmar.

Project team
Project team

The project team identified that the general population at Myanmar will benefit from increased access to digital, information literacy, and critical thinking skills. Therefore, efforts were undertaken by MBAPF to equip Myanmar’s citizenry, especially women, with the knowledge, skills, confidence, and other abilities to shape a democratic, trustworthy, and vibrant local information society.

Their work with the ISIF Asia grant during 2017, builds on the experience gained with their work with IREX on the Tech Age Girls program, which covered other economies besides Myanmar.

Since then, MBAFP has been developing the skills of young female leaders by providing them with specialized information technology training, leadership and job skills, and opportunities to engage in critical public discussion.

During the course of the ISIF Asia funded project, MBAFP worked with 20 libraries established across the country and 588 participants attended training sessions, running two programs: the Mobile Information Literacy (MIL) and Tech Aged Girls (TAG).

MIL shared the information literacy with trainees to learn how to find and evaluate the quality and credibility of online information, understand how to create and share online information effectively, and participate safely and securely.

TAG worked with a selected group of Myanmar young women without other access to technology training in IT and leadership skills, improved their job skills and helped them become role models for youth in their communities.

The technical report elaborates all the project implementation and outcomes https://application.isif.asia/theme/default/files/ISIFAsia_2016_SmallGrants_TechReport_MBAPF-TAG-MIL_Myanmar_vFinal.pdf

ISIF Asia really appreciates to their wonderful work, a remarkable example of what can be achieved where community impact is at the heart of what you do.

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.

Respect Myanmar Diversity: Use Unicode Fonts

unicode-myanmar

Burmese is the dominant language of Myanmar, but its had a long and winding journey in the digital realm, and now there is a tension between two competing systems to represent it online.

Unlike Latin script or pictograph scripts like Chinese, Burmese doesn’t use spaces between words and generally doesn’t fit into nice, tidy blocks that are easy for computers to render on a screen.

Almost all languages have fonts that adhere to the Unicode standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text. In Myanmar the development of Unicode compliance had a very slow start, and until recently, there wasn’t a strong Unicode standard.

To help Myanmar enter the digital age, a group of individuals produced the Zawgyi font to represent Burmese script. Most of the tech elite learned to type using Zawgyi, and like the American Qwerty system, the network effects – from keyboards to typing classes – has made Zawgyi the most widely used font. However, its popularity doesn’t mean Zawgyi is the best font to use.

Technologically, Zawgyi is a nightmare for backend software development, as it requires extensive customization to present the font correctly. The font itself also needs to be installed on computers or mobile phones, which can be a technical hurtle for novice users.

But culturally, there is an even greater imperative to use Unicode instead of Zawgyi. Zawgyi is useless for typing other ethnic Myanmar languages that use Burmese script, like Sanksrit, Shan, and Mon. Myanmar already has a rocky history (past and present) with ethnic minorities, and we should not use any digital tool that excludes them or presents a barrier to their digital voice.

Unicode fonts support 11 languages that use the Myanmar script, including Burmese, Pali, Sanskrit, Mon, Shan, Kayah, Rumai Palaung, and four Karen languages. Unicode is now standard on Android devices, which are and will be the most popular way to get online in Myanmar, and over 30% of Myanmar government websites use Unicode.

So it is time for all of us to use Unicode fonts to communicate in Myanmar, so we can truly communicate with everyone.

Myanmar Will Be the First Smartphone Only Country

Today, Myanmar has the same mobile phone usage as North Korea, Eritrea, and Cuba – less than 10% – with only the urban elite owning smartphones, and mobile networks limited in scope and functionality. Yet technology restrictions are ending, and three mobile operators are racing to roll out services to 60 million across the country.

Ooredoo aims to have 3G coverage for 50% of the population by year’s end, with Telenor and Myanmar Post and Telecom with their own ambitious targets. By the end of 2015, most of Myanmar’s population will live within range of a 3G or better mobile network system.

The people of Myanmar will not be connecting to this network with basic or feature phones for three reasons:

1. Smartphones are cheapWhile new iPhones are still several hundred dollars, there is an explosion of cheap Android handsets available in Myanmar already. $50USD can buy a Karbonn Smart A50S, Spice Smart Flo Edge from India or one of many no-name Chinese-made phones. And that’s today.

With the $25 Firefox phone coming out soon, we’ll see even cheaper, full-featured smartphones flooding the low-end market. By the end of 2015, expect smartphone prices even in developed markets dropping to sub-$100 prices.

2. Burmese are savvy

Mobile phones are also more than just a communications device; they are an aspirational status symbol. And Myanmar is not some remote backwater. Wedged between India and Thailand, with trade and cultural links to both, Burmese are quick to pick up innovations and aspire to join the ranks of Southeast Asia’s elite countries. They are not going to be satisfied with feature phones. Only smartphones will matter.

In fact, looking around Yangon today, I haven’t seen a single feature phone. Even the bus drivers and market sellers have smartphones of some type. They may be used or cheap Chinese knock-offs, but they are not basic phones. Offical surveys say that Android smartphones are 95% of the Burmese market already.

3. Services will be smart

Talking with Ooredoo and Telenor, they are focused purely on smartphone applications for their networks, as is the nascent technology start-up sector. None are looking at feature phone applications nor are they considering SMS text messages or even USSD as their communication system.

Even the international NGOs are moving quickly to develop smartphone applications for their constituencies. And once mobile money becomes widespread, they will even move “cash” payments from physical to virtual currencies.

What does this mean for you? First, adjust your perception of what a developing country looks like. The 60 million people of Myanmar are rushing into the future, practically overnight, and they will have the same technology in their hands as you do.

Next, realize that there will be big money to be made in multiple little niches. With almost 60 million people coming online, there will be massive opportunity to satisfy consumer and business needs – both obvious ones we are familiar with in other countries, and those unique to Myanmar.

Finally, what are you waiting for? The people of Myanmar are not waiting for you.