2016 FIRE Award winner Caleb Ndaka travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico, to attend the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to attend the Seed Alliance Award Ceremony and to promote his project, Kid’s Comp Camp, to a global audience. In this blog post, he shares his experience.
Guadalajara Here We Come
I remember this random afternoon when an email came into my inbox. It read: ‘We are happy to announce that the project “Kids Comp Camp” from Kenya has been selected as a winner of the FIRE Africa Awards 2016’. The next thing was to forward to the team beginning with a line ‘Wow, Is this for real?’ It was truly an unexpected joy.
Preparing travel documents went quite well. Oh, I remember travelling via road a night before my Mexican visa interview from one of our program's events held 350 km away from Nairobi in Vihiga County, only to show up in the embassy and realize I had forgotten my passport at home. Thankfully, the officer was kind enough to let me collect it and present it after the interview.
The initial travel itinerary was pretty cool: 30 hours of travel via London and Chicago. Then I failed to get my transit visa for the UK and the US and so there came the alternative itinerary: 40 plus hours via Johannesburg, Frankfurt and Mexico City. When I checked in at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the officer looked at my itinerary and said ‘This routing has issues, let me talk to my boss’. At the top of my mind I thinking perhaps it was bad weather or a terror attack. My colleague Didas joined me a few minutes afterwards. I gained more confidence knowing I wasn’t the only affected party. When we met the manager, he was like ‘Why are you zigzagging the world?’. He took a piece of paper and started drawing our transits points, asking why go south (Jo'burg) then north (Frankfurt) then go south (Mexico). After a short conversation, he allowed us to board the plane.
The trip was good. We safely landed at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and rested a bit in the transit hotel only to show up at the boarding gate for our next flight to Frankfurt and find the flight attendants screaming ‘5 hours delay!’. I regretted that we had checked out of the hotel because we could have slept for 4 more hours. Gladly this meant less layover time in Frankfurt. After a short layover in Frankfurt, we got on board the plane to Mexico City. We safely landed and checked into Mexico and was given the Mexican domestic receipt with the orders 'If you lose it, come back with 42 dollars'. We found our luggage well intact. The final short flight to Guadalajara was delayed for about an hour or so. When we landed at Guadalajara we were received by a smiling taxi driver who drove us to our hotel, the NH Collection Providencia. Our home for the week. Time check, it was 2am on Tuesday 6th December. I checked the program and it read, the day’s activities began at 7 am so I literary took a power nap for only 4 hours and then the day began.
Let the Games Begin
We arrived a day later than the ‘official’ opening day, Monday 5th, December 2016. Our first day began well with a buffet breakfast served in the the hotel. Then we ‘ubered’ to the magnificent PALCCO conference center.
The registration was quick and swift, same as the check in security. I attended a total of 15 sessions. Given the interest of our program, Kids Comp Camp, priority was towards those workshops dealing with children, community networks (given that we work with local communities in marginalized communities), and cyber security. Some of the sessions highlights included:
- Workshop number 26, Cyber Security – Initiatives in and by the Global South.
The moderator of the session was Carlos M. Martinez, CTO at LACNIC. Carlos introduced the panelists who included Olaf Kolkman, Chief Internet Technology Officer at Internet Society, Cristine Hoepers, General Manager at CERT.br from Brazil, and Jean Robert Hountomey coordinator at the AfricaCERT initiative. He is among the Internet pioneers in West Africa.
The discussions touched on the collaborative efforts by regions, governments and institutions, public or private to create more awareness about cyber security, challenges faced in implementing cyber security measures, how to build local capacities to manage these efforts and knowledge sharing to enhance cyber security best practices in the world. The session highlighted SEED alliance contribution to make the world a safer place by funding and supporting three projects that are enhancing cyber security.
- Seed Alliance Award Ceremony
The highlight of this event and the conference at large was that incredible moment of seeing our work at kids comp camp being shared on a global platform. Friends and partners who were streaming live across the globe were very impressed.
Receiving the award on behalf of my team and representing my beloved country Kenya was such a delight. When asked to write a line to summarise my experience during the Award Ceremony, this is what was at the top of the mind: "This is a chance for us to go beyond what we have achieved. It's a clear chance for us to go for the dream that we have always dreamed of seeing in our community."
It was enlightening to listen to Alan Barrett, AFRINIC CEO, who gave the opening speech and thanked the Seed Alliance sponsors, IDRC and the Internet Society, as well as former sponsor Sida who played a key part in setting up the strong foundations on which the Seed Alliance programme is based. Also listening to remarks made by Dr. Raúl Echeberría, Vice President Global Engagement - Internet Society, Paul Wilson, Director General - APNIC, Phet Sayo, Senior Programme Officer - IDRC, and Oscar Robles, CEO - LACNIC.
And it was a pleasure to meet, for the first time, the Father of the Internet, Vinton Cerf, who is also the Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google.
- Children online rights and protection
Various reports show that 1 in 3 children in the world are online, and numbers are set to grow quickly in middle and low income countries. In many parts of the world, children go online via mobile phones. Available cyber cafes do not offer regulation or oversight for children’s safety. Different age limits for the consent of children around the world were presented as one of the biggest challenges, along with culture as another influencing fact. Setting a definite age for defining who is a child is especially problematic when related to cyber space.
One of the workshops was "Child Online Safety". The speakers presented the findings of their research and pointed out some problems. However, limited solutions were discussed, except the solution of collaboration among multi-stakeholders, which didn't seem concrete enough. Changes need actions, even just a tiny step to start with, and we can then go step by step! Commercialization of children’s data was another big discussion. The discussion led to questions about what is the right balance among child privacy and child protection and are children the independent rights bearers?
Another workshop related to children was "Children’s Rights to Privacy, Safety and Freedom of Expressions". One of the hot discussions revolved around should we have technologies that can verify that a minor is accessing the Internet. As it is now only date of birth can tell but we all know this is a weak monitoring system because most sign ups have fake date of birth. So the question was should parents' permission be sufficient?
I think a more practical alternative would be instead of totally banning the use of the Internet and social media for children, can we impose some limitations for children (e.g. content filters decided by parents) such that children can’t surf some content related to sex, violence, etc. Also, social media shouldn’t collect private / sensitive information for children under 18. They should have the alternatives to choose to continue using the social media or not, after reaching 18 years old. And why are we having advertisements targeting babies, kids, and children through thousands of things that can be connected to the Internet?
- Community Connectivity; Empowering the Unconnected
This workshop was of interest because Kids Comp Camp targets rural communities, the majority of whom have limited or no connections at all. Kenya, where our current operations are based, is making conspicuous steps to push Internet connectivity to the last mile. As we speak, almost 50 per cent of the population can access the Internet. However, the majority of these connections are urban based, leaving the critical mass in rural areas uncovered.
The session was conducted by Mr Luca Belli, who is a Full Researcher, Center for Technology and Society, at the Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School. He introduced the workshop as an opportunity to analyze different case studies and stories of people that are building community networks to empower local communities. He invited the audience to check out the declaration and report on community connectivity freely available at internet-governance. Belli spoke about a new paradigm, aimed not to connect the unconnected, but to let the unconnected connect themselves.
Mr John Dada, CEO, Fanstuam Foundation, Nigeria, told the story of his first encounter with regulatory authorities after starting his wireless community network 12 years ago. He was asked to pay for a license at the same price as any other company in the big cities (US$ 5000), so he showed them the work he was doing to explain that it was unaffordable for that community. They introduced him to the Universal Service Provision fund and was given a five-year license to operate. In his opinion, regulations have not caught up with community networks yet and regulators do not understand the relevance of the needs met by these kind of networks.
Mr Lee Hibbard, Coordinator of Internet Policy, Council of Europe, France, said that community networks are filling a gap by connecting the unconnected. He said that the framework to go forward is given by the United Nation’s resolution on the protection and promotion of human rights on the Internet.
- Internet Society Cocktail
It was interesting to meet high school students from Hong Kong who has attended #IGF2016 to learn more about children's online rights and protection. It was my pleasure to meet Natalie Cho, who is a fifteen-year-old girl from Hong Kong, studying at Pui Ching Middle School. Natalie got the full sponsorship from "Lions Clubs International District 303 - Hong Kong & Macau, China" to join the IGF 2016 in Mexico because she had won a competition, namely "2016 International Youth Innovation Challenge for Public Welfare”. Listening to her and her colleagues made me appreciate the value of extending such opportunities to our kids and teenagers because they are essentially the subject matter and most affected by the fast and dynamic changing tech phenomenon. It was a reality check to hear that their peers had Facebook accounts when they were as young as 8 years old.
- Promoting Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Global South
I noted remarks made by Mr Paul Kukubo, who sits at Communication Authority of Kenya Board, that policymakers and entrepreneurs do not mentally live in the same world, because entrepreneurs do not understand frameworks, while policy makers cannot live without them. He claimed that in the global south the barriers to entry are not high anymore, however the barriers to sustainability are still a challenge that need to be addressed. He added that in the global south not many businesses have the ‘DNA’ or perspective to scale. Most are satisfied by breaking even.
Ms Carolina Caeiro, LACNIC's Coordinator of Development Projects, FRIDA program, provided a background on the programs currently being undertaken by SEED alliance and FRIDA program.
Ms Joyce Dogniez, who is a Senior Director of Global Engagement at Internet Society (ISOC), said that at ISOC ‘innovation is in our spirit’. She provided cases from India and Kenya such as Ushahidi and Brck and reinforced the thought that innovation and entrepreneurship is surging in the Global south. She mentioned that knowledge, education and research as the three main challenges that are affecting innovation in the global south.
The session was graced by the presence of Vint Cerf. Widely known as a “Father of the Internet” who brought up the point of identify the true entrepreneurs so that much can be invested on them. He said that the measure of success of start ups ought not be how many starts up start but rather how many start ups actually survive.
Last but Not the Least: Missed Flight and Lost Luggage
When we checked in our bags for our return journey the airline told us they could not route our luggage to the final destination, Nairobi that is, so we needed to check in our luggage again in Johannesburg, South Africa. When we landed in Jo'burg our first mission was to follow up our luggage. The domestic check in lines were huge and we spent almost 2 hours without even getting to the service counter. At one point we asked one of the officers to excuse us because our boarding was almost completed. Shock on us: when we got to the counter we were told we could not check-in without a ZA visa, which we didn’t have. So we were instead referred to the airline to check-in the luggage for us. Time check! 9:20 am - the boarding time for our flight. Rushing to the airline to report about our luggage. Lo and behold, by the time we got there the flight status read ‘blocked’ and that meant a missed flight. The next flight was at the same time the following day. That meant 24 hrs in transit and a penalty fee of 1,900 South African Rands, equivalent to around 160 USD (plus the exchange charges). When morning came, we were very particular about our luggage as it was source of our pain. The airline even gave us another luggage number. The flight was okay, until i reached Nairobi and stared at the luggage belt for almost half an hour, and I could not see my luggage. A lost luggage, perhaps? Time will tell. I left the airport witha property irregularity report and a hope that my luggage would soon found. It better be found because the Seed Alliance trophy was in there :-(.
Beyond FIRE Awards; Kids Comp Camp Next Step
So far, Kids Comp Camp has reached out to slightly over 6,000 young learners ages 8 to 14 from 10 counties in Kenya. The next milestone is to cross the 10,000 mark: what we have dubbed vision 10K (#vision10k).
We are really grateful for the FIRE Awards exposure and publicity and its cash price because it is going to help us draw closer to our next milestone.
FIRE Africa provides funds for projects, initiatives, tools and platforms that harness the power of the Internet to empower the local and regional community to solve the region’s unique online communications problems. Since we ran our pilot project in 2007 to identify innovative ICT solutions to the challenges faced by local communities, FIRE Africa has grown into a fully-fledged programme that has helped over 30 initiatives in 16 countries over the last eight years.