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.

ISIF Asia Award Winners for 2015 announced and Community Choice Award open

The Awards recognize initiatives from organizations that have already been implemented, or are in the final stages of implementation, and have been successful in addressing their communities’ needs.

During the 2015 call for nominations, four award winners were selected out of the 78 nominations received across four categories, covering 12 economies in the Asia Pacific. Proposals from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand were assessed by the Selection Committee.

The commitment and continuous support from the Selection Committee to choose the best projects is key to provide legitimacy to this award. We thank Phet Sayo (IDRC), Gaurab Raj Upadhaya (APNIC EC), Rajnesh Singh (Internet Society), Edmon Chung (Dot Asia Organization), George Michaelson (APNIC staff), and David Rowe (ROWETEL, former ISIF Asia grant recipient) for their time, their comments and their eye for detail.

Each winner has received a cash prize of AUD 3,000 to support their work and a travel grant for a project representative to participate at the 10th Internet Governance Forum (Joao Pessoa, Brazil – November 2015) to participate at the awards ceremony, showcase their project, make new professional contacts, and participate in discussions about the future of the Internet.

This year was particularly interesting to receive an application from China, for the very first time since the inception of the ISIF Asia program.

31 applications were accepted for the selection process and are publicly available for anyone interested to learn more about the ingenuity and practical approaches that originate from our region. 16 applications were selected as finalists.

53% for nominations came from private sector and social enterprises, 24% from non-profits, 13% from the academic sector and 10% from government agencies.

The category that received more applications was Innovation on learning and localization with 38%, followed by Code for the common good with 28%, Rights 24% and Innovation on access provision 9%.

86% of the nominated projects are lead by men, only 14% lead by women.

One winner was awarded for each category, three from non-profits and one from private sector and three projects will be represented by women at the Awards Ceremony.

One of the four award winners will receive the Community Choice Award, an additional AUD 1000 for the project with more online votes from the community. The online vote opened on 9 September until 9 November. The winner of the Community Choice Award will be announced at the Awards ceremony. Cast your vote and support the winners!

DocHers  Batik Fractal  Jaroka  I change my city

Awards winners were selected in four categories, as follows:

  • Innovation on access provision: doctHERs – Pakistan, NAYA JEEVAN. doctHERs is a novel healthcare marketplace that connects home-restricted female doctors to millions of underserved patients in real-time while leveraging technology. doctHERs circumvents socio-cultural barriers that restrict women to their homes, while correcting two market failures: access to quality healthcare and women’s inclusion in the workforce. doctHERs leapfrogs traditional market approaches to healthcare delivery and drives innovative, sytems change.
  • Code for the common good: Batik Fractal – Indonesia, Piksel Indonesia Company. Piksel Indonesia is creative social enterprise founded in 2007 and registered as legal entity in 2009. Piksel Indonesia is the creator of Batik Fractal and jBatik Software. Through a yearlong research about batik and science, we then developed a modeling software application to create batik design generatively and presented the innovation in 10th Generative Art International Conference in Milan Italy. In 2008, this innovation funded by Business Innovation Fund SENADA USAID and created jBatik v.1 and focus to empower batik artisans in Bandung. Since that time, Piksel Indonesia is working to empower batik and craft artisans in all Indonesia especially in Java and Bali. Currently, we have trained around 1400 artisans to use jBatik software. The training was firstly organized by the local government in each rural area and villages where batik artisans usually live. As an innovation, the use of the software into traditional art needs intensive training and continued the effort. Through several training levels in mastering the use of jBatik software, the artisans can incorporate technology to develop their traditional craft work. The artisans are not only now have access to affordable technology and use the technology to develop their batik, but also have been proven to contribute to increase productivity, bring more sales and increase their profit which lead to improved income.
  • Innovation on learning and localization: Jaroka Mobile Based Tele-Healthcare – Pakistan, UM Healthcare Trust. We aim to devise newer and effective ways for bringing a rapid change in healthcare domain for rural communities. We have launched Jaroka to lower the cost of delivering care dramatically by leveraging ICT to deliver the scarcest resource, medical expertise, remotely. Jaroka Tele-Healthcare model utilizes internet and mobile platform to extend tele-healthcare services in rural Pakistan. This includes voice, Short Text Messaging (SMS),Multimedia Messaging (MMS),GPRS/Edge and VSAT to quickly and efficiently extend medical advice to Rural Health Workers (RHWs) in the field by connecting them to our network of specialists in cities and abroad. This model also includes Pakistan’s First Health Map through which the latest and live healthcare information is shared with relevant stakeholder across Pakistan to improve the healthcare in Pakistan.Through this project over 130,000 has been provided treated at hospitals and in fields.
  • Rights: I Change My City – India, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy. Ichangemycity.com is a hyper-local social change network that has created communities of citizens in Bengaluru, keen on solving city centric problems and has resolved around 10,000 complaints by connecting them to various government agencies. The site has tried to help solve issues ranging from garbage collection, poor street lighting, potholes and security related issue in the suburbs. It has also provided citizens with useful information on how much funds have been allocated to wards and constituencies and how the same has been uitilised. The unique power of ichangemycity.com is that it networks people locally to address issues of common concerns. It connects people on-line to bring them together off-line for civic engagement on the ground. The multiplicity of various government departments and the paperwork involved acts as a deterrent for many individuals to connect with civic agencies. Ichangemycity.com tries to address this problem by being a seamless bridge between government and citizens. Ichangemycity.com works on the 4C mantra- Complaint, Community, Connect, and Content.

Apply Now for 2015 eNGO Challenge

eNGO-Slider-04_V2

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 engochallenge@gmail.com

Fighting Hepatitis in Rural Pakistan with Tele-Healthcare

healthmap

Viral hepatitis is the main cause of liver infection worldwide. In Pakistan outbreaks are frequent, and 7.4 percent of the population is infected with Hepatitis A and E. Many live in rural regions where there is no clean water and sanitation. In 2014, the Umrana Mumtaz Healthcare Trust decided it was time to tackle the issue, and this is a good news for the most disadvantaged!

A woman’s dream

One night in 2003, Mrs Umrana Mumtaz had a dream. She was dying from cancer, and yet, she dreamed of opening a small healthcare facility in rural Pakistan. She told her dream to her husband Ali. And since they had some money left despite her medical treatment, he swore to have her dream come true.

At the time, Mumtaz was working for the Ministry of Commerce and he had no experience in healthcare. But he is a man of action and he had been doing some social work for a long time. He decided to build a two-story hospital in the rural outskirts of Mardan in Northwest Pakistan. In the region, there were only two public hospitals, and they were located in the urban district. Most patients had to walk several hours to get treatment, whose quality was very poor. As a result, the local maternal mortality rate was high.

Telemedicine

Soon the UM Healthcare Hospital would welcome a hundred patients a day. For the doctors, it was overwhelming, as they had to treat an incredible variety of diseases. However well qualified they were, they did not have the required knowledge to treat them all.

Mumtaz thought ICTs could solve this issue. So he turned to his son Atif, who at the time had already started a few high-tech companies. With Stanford University, Atif developed Jaroka Tele-healthcare, the first telemedicine solution in Pakistan. Whenever the doctors faced a complex case, they could seek for advice from qualified specialists all around the world. They would email them the patient’s electronic medical record as well as the relevant photos and videos. This would allow the specialist to assess the situation and advise on the best procedures. For the patients, it meant they would get the best possible care, and the cost was minimal.

Sociocultural barriers

Jaroka also allowed the doctors to circumvent the local conservative culture. In the region of Madran it is considered shameful for a woman to see a male doctor. Well aware of the situation, Ali Mumtaz had hired a female physician, but she had to step down, leaving the job to the two male medical practitioners. So women became reluctant to come; they would also refuse to undress. Of course, this made examinations quite difficult.

This conservative culture is widespread in Pakistan. This is why in 1994 Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto launched the Lady Health Workers (LHWs) program. The goal was to ensure women have access to primary healthcare services. Today there are 110,000 LHWs across Pakistan, and over 70 percent of Pakistani rely on them for their medical needs.

Ali Mumtaz decided to use the Jaroka platform to connect the local LHWs with the doctors at the UM Healthcare Hospital. They distributed mobile phones to those operating in the region of Madran. When they had a doubt or did not know how to treat a patient, they would easily contact the doctors, so they could give them advice. Today 53 percent of the UM Healthcare Hospital’s patients are treated by Lady Health Workers using Jaroka.

The dream has gone beyond expectations

In only one decade, the dream of Mrs Umrana Mumtaz has come true, probably beyond her own expectations. Overall the UM Healthcare Hospital has provided medical treatment to over 200,000 patients, 90 percent of whom live beyond the poverty line. More recently, it has been tackling another critical public health issue: the prevalence of viral hepatitis in the region of Madran. For instance, at the UM Healthcare Hospital more than 20 percent of the patients suffer from Hepatitis A or E.

To try to eradicate the virus, Mumtaz and his team have been leveraging on the Jaroka setup. The Lady Health Workers raise awareness in the villages; they are also responsible for recording all the hepatitis cases they encounter. The data are then agglomerated in real time, allowing the UM Healthcare doctors to identify and prevent imminent outbreaks.

And since early detection is the key to complete recovery, it means that they are saving a lot of lives!

Pakistani Farmers Need Better Agriculture Content to Increase Productivity with ICTs

farmer

Pakistan’s agriculture sector employs over 40% of the population and contributes to 21% of the GDP. Other sectors are directly dependent, with the textile industry including raw cotton, contributing 11% of the GDP. Despite this importance, the sector has been struggling due to underdevelopment. Land rights and irrigation issues are clear policy and community issues. However, proper soil maintenance and low crop yields can be solved through working with farmers.

What are the main challenges that farmers face?

Crop yields have been low with stagnant growth since 1999. Pakistan’s production is 40% behind its neighboring countries. The harvest often goes to waste due to weak storage and transportation methods. Farmers are competing with large-scale agribusinesses that have access to resources, education and information. While extension programs send workers to educate farmers, most farmers view the programs as ineffective in disseminating information. The extension workers are often poorly trained and it is expensive for the workers to access many villages.

What current solutions are available?

USAID has partnered with Telenor, a telecom service provider, to provide mobile banking, information on weather and market prices to 1,700 farmers. mAgricorner is one of the first mobile apps focused on Pakistani farmers. It provides market prices, farm advisory and trading. 4 out of 5 telecom providers in Punjab have agriculture services using interactive voice response (IVR). Also the government began using satellite imagery to predict crop yields in the upcoming seasons.

What are the attitudes toward technology solutions?

A research study by CABI surveyed farmers in Punjab Province, one of the most fertile and populated regions in Pakistan. The farmers proved most interested in receiving voice calls and text messaging. Despite the stereotypes of most farmers, they are eager for more experimentation with ICT and agriculture.

What are the concerns moving forward?

A main issue is quality of content. Many farmers haven’t used the existing tools because the content quality is low. They often find the information too general and not relevant to their region and type of farm. Also, there is low market penetration of such tools even in Punjab. Although the government is launching satellite data initiative, the focus is to prevent food shortage through better import estimates not increasing crop yields. While there is significant research being done by the government and NGOs, there needs to be stronger focus on ensuring that research is utilized to increase agricultural productivity.

Angelina Nonye-John is a researcher and writer with Mansa Colabs

Jaroka is Expanding Healthcare Access in Pakistan with ICT

healthmap

For a nation whose healthcare system is chronically underfunded, Pakistan is all too familiar with disaster. In 2005, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake ravaged the country, killing over 79,000 people. In 2010, heavy monsoon rains triggered massive flooding which destroyed almost 2 million homes, yet Pakistan’s health expenditure that year was just 1% of its GDP. There simply aren’t enough medical personnel in Pakistan to meet demand during times of peace, let alone emergency situations. There are some estimates that up 70% of Pakistanis don’t see a doctor in their entire lifetime.

Jaroka Tele-healthcare

The UM Healthcare Trust, a hospital facility located in rural Mardan, has developed an mHealth system intended to connect rural Pakistanis with the both the daily and disaster healthcare that they need. The system, called Jaroka Tele-healthcare, was developed in tandem with Stanford University. Jaroka directly connects healthcare providers at the Mardan facility to specialists in Pakistan’s urban centers, as well as the United States. This connection allows for specialist review of complex cases without forcing the patient to travel.

Jaroka incorporates an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) into the UM Healthcare Trust system. The EMR allows all medical information, including all records, vital signs, prescriptions, and lab reports to be stored and managed online. These records can be readily accessed when consulting a specialist, or by a healthcare worker in the field.

Lady Health Workers

While there are very few trained doctors and nurses in Pakistan, there are over 110,000 Lady Health Workers (LHWs). LHWs are trained to provide preventative and curative health services to their neighbors, while using their peer status to navigate local customs and languages effectively. Utilizing Jaroka’s SMS enabled features, the LHWs can add new patients to the system, update disease records, search for patients via unique ID’s, retrieve patient history, and access a dictionary of terms. Prior to Jaroka, these capabilities were restricted to the hospital.

Quality care provided by LHWs reduces one of the largest barriers in the Pakistani healthcare system: cost. There is no national health insurance in Pakistan, and 78% of the population pay for their own medical expenses. With over half of Pakistan’s population living under the poverty line, low cost (or free) care provided by LHWs is the only option available. The tools Jaroka provides, used in combination with LHWs peer status, allow them to be efficient intermediaries between the community and the traditional healthcare system.

These intermediaries are even more critical during times of disaster, when the disconnect between hospitals and rural Pakistanis is magnified. One of Jaroka’s key features is a GIS mapping system which allows doctors to track the spread and incidence of diseases in real time. The disease data is received from LHWs in the field who send SMS updates for patients into the Jaroka Electronic Medical Record. From there it is uploaded into a Google Map, allowing real-time tracking. In a disaster scenario, this tool allows doctors to direct resources to areas with the most critical demand.

The Future

The value of Jaroka’s regional disease monitoring capability carries directly over into daily healthcare practice. Pakistan is currently battling a Polio crisis, and ranks fifth in the world for Tuberculosis disease burden. Jaroka provides the UM Health System with the capability to monitor disease trends in the Mardan region, and allocate resources to prevent outbreaks from turning into epidemics.

While Jaroka is currently only deployed in Pakistan’s rural Mardan region, the UM Healthcare Trust is working with the National Rural Development Program to extend mHealth platform throughout the Punjab province. To date, over 200,000 people have received care through Jaroka and the UM Healthcare Trust system.

The UM Healthcare Trust publishes their regional disease trends monthly via Twitter (@Jaroka).

Breaking the Learning Barriers for Deaf Children in Pakistan

This story started forty years ago. In 1975, young Michael Geary caught meningitis. He survived the disease, but lost his hearing for ever.

“We started working with deaf children”

The toddler’s parents were social workers in Manila, Philippines. “Because of Michael’s handicap we started working with deaf children to learn to help him,” explained his father Richard. With his wife, he launched a “small informal club for deaf teenagers, which we called Deaf Reach.” As it soon became popular, the Gearys started offering sign language education.

Ten years later, colleagues invited them to replicate their model in New Delhi. “In about two years, said Richard, we had 519 teenagers, from different parts of the country who were part of the club. We provided a forum where they could meet, learn English and different life skills, and we also assisted them in getting employment.”

In 1989, though, the Gearys had to leave the country for administrative reasons. “We went to visit a friend who was living in Karachi.” As they could not renew their visas to India, they decided to settle in Pakistan and start the Deaf Reach program one more time.

Being deaf in Pakistan

Hearing disorders are a major public health issue in Pakistan. Today, 5 percent of the population has some form of hearing loss; and 1.5 million children are profoundly deaf.

For these youngsters, life is tough. Too often, their parents believe they are cursed or mentally retarded. And because the majority do not know how to use sign language, they cannot communicate with their kids as much as they should.

In this context, it is not surprising that many hearing impaired children only develop basic language ability. Even the 10,000 deaf students lack communication skills, as the schools do not adapt to their special needs. Sadly, these learning impediments have lifelong consequences, and most of these children will not be able to reach their full potential.

That’s why, in 1989, the Gearys started by helping the deaf youth to gain life skills and get a job. One day, though, the couple was donated “two rooms in a building.” It encouraged them to open a small classroom. “We taught 15 primary-level deaf children, including Michael, from the slum areas of Karachi, said Richard. That grew slowly until we started a formal school in Karachi in 2007.” Since then, the Gearys have opened five other schools and empowered 1,200 deaf students, many of whom come from poor families.

Enriching the Pakistan Sign Language

One of the problems the Gearys have encountered is the scant educational materials for the deaf. The current Pakistani sign language covers daily life activities, but many academic words have no sign-equivalent.

To rectify this major issue, the Gearys took an ambitious, but judicious step. They decided to enrich the Pakistan sign language (PSL) by creating new signs in both the academic and professional fields. That’s how they started working on a PSL Visual Dictionary. They have already referenced or elaborated 5,000 words, but they thrive to include at least 10,000 terms in the lexicon.

And since the dictionary consists of online videos, it makes the learning process easier and more effective. Indeed, each word is signed by an actor, illustrated by a picture, and translated into English and Urdu. Of course, the PSL dictionary is designed to support the deaf in their studies, but it also enables their parents to finally learn how to sign and better communicate with their children.

Yes, they can!

In less than a decade, the Deaf Reach Schools have changed the deaf students’ lives for the best! Amanat, for instance, was five years old when he enrolled in the school of Karachi. “His parents were at their wits’ end as he was a very hyperactive child and they assumed him to be mentally handicapped, said Richard. He is now one of the school’s best students.”

But the Gearys are particularly proud of having contributed to enhance the employability of their students. Of course, many graduates become teachers in the Deaf Reach Schools, and they are among the best ones. But a fair number — 400 in 2013 — have found a job in a private company. In Karachi, five alumni run a KFC restaurant; others work as cooks at the Sheraton Hotel. Even a clothing design company, Artistic Milliners, has recruited 20 students.

These are a few success stories, but they all show that the Gearys have been right all these years. The deaf can not only integrate the labor market; they can also make a positive contribution to the community!

DoctHERS-in-the-House: Improving health care for low-income women in Pakistan

Dr Sara Khurram is a young doctor from Karachi. In 2012, she got pregnant, and this led her to quit her residency and stop her medical career.

Sara’s story is common among Pakistani female doctors. While 80 percent of medical school graduates are women, only 25 percent ever practice medicine. Pakistan being a conservative country, many have to stop working once they get married or start having babies. That’s how an estimated 9,000 trained female physicians end up staying at home.

Pakistan’s medical crisis

This home restriction phenomenon puts an additional pressure on Pakistan’s collapsing medical system. With only 0.74 doctors for 1,000 people, active physicians are overwhelmed, and of course, this has a negative impact on the population’s well-being.

Pakistan is still struggling with poliomyelitis as well as with a high rate of stillbirth and tuberculosis cases. Moreover, the examples of malpractice and medical negligence are numerous. In Lahore, for instance, a toddler with a small burn on her hand passed away after a doctor injected her with too much anesthesia. A teenager had his appendix removed when in fact he was suffering from colon cancer. And every day, newborns with jaundice symptoms are misdiagnosed, making them either deaf or brain-damaged.

The main victims of this predicament are the 56 million Pakistani who earn less than three dollars per day. Whenever they get sick, they are left with three choices: get no treatment, go to an insalubrious public hospital, or visit the often unskilled local doctor. For pregnant women living in poverty, the situation is even more dramatic, as many refuse to be examined by a male doctor. Therefore, 95 percent cannot access quality health care; and in the countryside, 1 in 5 mothers dies every day, because she delivers at home, in an unsafe environment.

Bridging the gap between female doctors and female patients

While expecting her baby, Dr Sara Khurram had to spend most of her time on bed rest, and she was doing a lot of thinking. In particular, she thought about her own situation and the current medical crisis.

One day, she came up with a clever idea to circumvent Pakistan’s main socio-cultural barriers: she would open a telemedicine clinic! Thus, female physicians could stay at home, and yet, provide poor women with primary and OB/GYN cares. To lower the risk of misdiagnosis and enhance the human interaction, the young woman decided to rely on Lady Health Workers.

In Pakistan, there are about 90,000 of these community-based women, and they play a key role in preventive health care. Dr Khurram, therefore, thought she could hire some of them and train them further to assist the physicians.During an ante-natal visit, for instance, the nurse would conduct the patient’s examination, and since the entire consultation would be video-conferenced, the doctor would not only supervise her assistant. She would also see in real time what appears on the monitor, and thus, give accurate medical counsel.

At the time, considering opening a virtual clinic was a bold idea. For sure, telemedicine had been spreading across the world for a while. But it was far from having reached Pakistan, and it is well known that many people in the country are wary of ICTs. On the other hand, mobile penetration was already high (85 percent), and Dr Khurram believed mobile and video consultations were workable in most regions.

“On the seventh day, one patient came in”

It did not take long for the young woman to take the leap and give her ‘DoctHERS-in-the-House’ project a try. To test its feasibility and sustainability, she decided to start a pilot in Naya Jeevan‘s health center of Sultanabad, a conservative slum of 250,000 people in Karachi.

In May 2013, everything was ready, and Dr Khurram could open her virtual clinic, the first telemedicine facility in Pakistan. “For six days, she said, not even one patient came in; […] but on the seventh day, one patient came in.” Since then, the clinic has always been full, encouraging the young woman to hire more doctors and replicate her model throughout Pakistan.

It has turned out that video-conferencing is not an obstacle for the female patients. In fact, since DoctHERS-in-the-House started, women have been thrilled by this new type of consultation. For sure, they are happy to pay 50 percent less than they would do for an in-person visit. But what satisfies them the most is the good quality of the care they receive. In Sultanabad only, DoctHERS-in-the-House have provided 500 women with ante- and post-natal care. For 14 percent, they anticipated medical complications and sent their patients to a hospital, where they could get a safe delivery.

And this has certainly saved a few lives!

Odd Jobber: Connecting Lahore’s Rickshaws with Mobile

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Lahore, a bustling metropolis of over 9 million people, is nestled just inside Pakistan’s Eastern border with India. For Lahore’s unskilled laborers, finding work on a consistent basis can pose a daily challenge. Often times that challenge has nothing to do with desire, ability, or work ethic, but simply a lack of available work. Despite boasting one of Pakistan’s stronger regional economies, hundreds of thousands of people in Lahore live well below the poverty line. Pakistan, as a nation, ranks 177th out of 228 with a GDP per capita of only $3,100 per person per year.

Ideacentricity, a tech-startup located in Lahore’s impressive Arfa Software Technology Park, has created an SMS based marketplace called Odd Jobber to help directly connect this workforce with the consumers who need their services. Ideacentricity’s founder Adnan Khawaja describes the Odd Jobber platform as a combination of oDesk for odd jobs and Uber for rickshaws.

Currently, Odd Jobber is primarily focusing on their rickshaw capacity. The average rickshaw driver in Lahore, of which there are over 120,000, spends a large part of their day actively searching for fares. During this period the rickshaw drivers aren’t generating any revenue, and are expending cash on fuel and other costs. This is period of inactivity is what Odd Jobber is designed to alleviate.

Consumers have three ways to interact with Odd Jobber. They can call, send an SMS to 8001 with a pick- and drop-off address, or book online here. Once the request has been submitted, an SMS in Urdu goes out to rickshaw drivers who are close by, and they respond via SMS with a bid. The consumer chooses their preferred bid, which will soon be accompanied by driver rating, and the rickshaw should be on-site within 10 minutes. The Odd Jobber interface empowers drivers with direct access to customers, enabling them to generate revenue for the entirety of their shift.

Utilizing an SMS based platform instead of smartphone technology (think Über) is critical to the potential success of Odd Jobber. The mobile penetration rate in Pakistan is approaching 80%, while only 7-10% of the population have a smartphone. Ideacentricity is working to incorporate a rapidly expanding mobile-banking service called easypaisa (Telenor) into the Odd Jobber platform. This will facilitate easy transaction flow, and allow consumers to pre-pay for services.

Ideacentricity is attempting to expand Odd Jobber organically within Lahore. On their website, the company is encouraging consumers to request areas in which they’d like service. Expanding in this manner ensures that they are offering services in high-traffic areas, leading to optimal utilization of the rickshaw driver’s time.

This efficiency also carries over into the Odd Jobber business model. While Odd Jobber was launched with the goal of creating positive impact for Pakistan’s unskilled labor force, Ideacentricity is a for-profit company. On every ride they organize, or job they coordinate, Odd Jobber charges an 8% fee. The fee is added in addition to the bid that the rickshaw driver places, and is carried over to the consumer, allowing the driver to take home the entirety of their bid. Khawaja estimates that within 3 years, Odd Jobber will provide 40,000 rickshaw drivers with a combined additional income of $86 million (5:30 mark in linked video). For a workforce averaging $5-$7 a day, that increase is significant.

If you are in the Washington, D.C. area and want to learn more about Odd Jobber, Adnan Khawaja will be giving a talk with Uber president Travis Kalanick at the Annual Fulbright Conference and Prize Ceremony on October 17.

You can also check out Odd Jobber on Facebook.

Can E-learning Solve the Education Crisis in Pakistan?

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In Pakistan, school is compulsory for every child between 5 and 16. In reality, the law is not enforced, and the country will not meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015.

Pakistan’s Education Crisis

Over the past decade, education has been a low priority for the Pakistani governments; and economic poverty, natural disasters and religious extremism have further worsened the situation. With 5.5 million out-of-school children, Pakistan has the second worst performance in the world when it comes to enrollment (after Nigeria). Of course, disadvantaged girls are first to drop out: in 2013, 66 percent did not receive any education at all…

For children enrolled in government schools, the prospects for the future are almost as bleak. Public education is in a disastrous state, and student achievement is outrageously low. 36 percent of the 10-year-old pupils cannot read a sentence in English, which they are supposed to learn at 7; and, in the underdeveloped Balochistan province, only 45 percent of the primary school graduates can solve a two-digit subtraction.

The Whole System is in Danger of Collapse

Pakistan is confronting an acute education crisis, and the whole system is to blame. The curriculum does not meet international standards; and the lack of investment is blatant at both the federal and state levels. In 2013, total allocations for education amounted to just 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP. This was the lowest rate in South Asia, and only seven other countries put less money in their education system.

In practical terms, this means that the teachers are not paid enough, neither are they well-trained. It is not surprising, then, that Pakistan has to deal with a massive shortage of teaching staff. To make the public education system work, there should be at least 100,000 extra instructors…

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Britannica SmartMath

Bilal Shahid is a Director at Tech Implement, an innovative IT company founded in 2005 in Lahore. For this e-learning specialist, the country’s education crisis is a shame because it affects the least fortunate — those who cannot afford to go to private school.

In 2012, he decided to take action and approached the CARE Foundation, the largest education NGO in the country. Shahid intended to carry out an experiment to improve the children’s skills in mathematics. The Tech Implement team would take the Encyclopedia Britannica’s e-learning tool called SmartMath, map it to the Pakistani syllabus and use it to train the students.

Displaying the questions as a game with stars to reward every right answer, this tool is especially appealing to the youth. Furthermore, SmartMath is adaptive and driven by the students’ actual progress. When they are consistent at answering questions correctly, they move to the next level. But if they don’t reach the proficiency target, they spend more time on the topic. SmartMath can even suggest remediation.

Leaning Against the Wind

In 2012, Shahid’s idea to bring an e-learning tool to the classroom was bold, as many people in Pakistan were still wary of ICTs. But the CARE Foundation that manages 225 public schools throughout the country welcomed the initiative. In August 2012, they started a pilot in five Lahore schools; by April 2013, they had expanded the project to 23 other institutions.

However, the teachers were not thrilled. They did not take e-learning seriously and were concerned that SmartMath would replace them in the future. Tech Implement spent a lot of time explaining that the tool was actually designed to assist them in their teaching practice. It took a while, but eventually everyone agreed to play the game. And, once the schools’ computer labs were properly equipped, the project could begin.

Or so they thought…

“They Were Scared of Holding the Mouse”

The beneficiary students were aged 8 to 13, and they all came from low-income families. With no computer at home, they had no idea how to use it. Some were even scared of holding the mouse! Again, Shahid and his team put the project on hold, this time to train 2,500 children in the basics of computer literacy.

Soon, the students were able to take their hour-long SmartMath session. And it was only a matter of weeks before they showed significant improvements. By the end of the academic year, they scored 8.73 in math, whereas other students got an average of 4.25. Moreover, the majority passed their final exam!

After two years of experimentation, SmartMath has therefore proven to be a viable solution to Pakistan’s learning crisis. And today, Tech Implement wants to scale up the project and train 15,000 additional students by 2015!

What do you think? Could e-learning solutions really help enhance students’ performances in a country like Pakistan? Are they sustainable in the long run?