Alieu Sowe, from the Give1Project Gambia, talks about his project, All Girls Tech Camp, which received the FIRE Africa Google Award in 2016, and his recent trip to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF16). As part of the Award, winners receive a travel grant to attend the event to take part in the global Awards Ceremony together with FIRE Africa's sister programmes in the Latin America and Caribbean (FRIDA) and in the Asia Pacific (ISIF Asia) regions, as well as showcase their project and meet with other entrepreneurs from around the world.
I first learned about the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) through an email I received from AFRINIC stating that the 2016 Seed Alliance Award Ceremony would be held at the IGF taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico. This was my first time travelling across the Atlantic to Latin America. I wondered what kind of people I would meet at this conference apart from tech experts. Arriving in Mexico, the only Spanish words I could say were 'gracias' and 'muchos gracias'! I quickly found myself paying attention to the language and trying to connect it with French.
Landing at the airport in Guadalajara, I found some volunteers who were directing delegates and other participants to the right buses to take them to their respective hotels. Thirty minutes later, I found myself at the hotel. I unpacked and got ready to visit the venue. At the conference venue, I went through the normal registration process to get my badge and conference package. I came to the summit expecting speakers and audiences who had had life-altering experiences, questions, and answers, and I was not disappointed. Minutes into the conference I started exchanging contacts and talking about the projects I am involved in The Gambia and across the continent. I also had the opportunity to visit many booths to discover more about many other organisations and learn about the work they are doing in their communities. And I was given the opportunity to share my work and talk about the Fire Africa Google Award 2016 that Give1ProjectGambia won to expand our work on training more girls on coding, web development, graphic design and other ICT related skills.
Putting Funds to Use
The award we received will be used to train young girls in the urban and rural areas in The Gambia. The project offers them an intensive three-month training course on coding, web design, PC maintenance and software applications. In the rural areas, the project will train complete beginners and equip them with basic ICT skills. This All-Girls Tech Camp will introduce girls to the basic and advanced concept of ICT in order to address not only the global digital gender gap but to also bring African women on par with their tech-savvy counterparts around the world.
Nurturing Tomorrow's Leaders
The Give1ProjectGambia provides opportunities for young people in The Gambia. The project offers the opportunity to become the future "spearhead" of a better Gambia - and of the world at large - by providing new skills, a commitment to innovation, and a passion for development and politics. The Give1Project also gives the opportunity to reflect on the issues of the world around us, and supports collective action for the future. We convey the image of a caring and dynamic youth that is aware of the realities with which they are confronted and we strive to be responsive and share, teach, formulate ideas and transmit the values that may be required throughout our existence. Our mission is to promote the emergence of young global leaders in all communities.
Building the Future
The conference gave me the opportunity to participate in many workshops. Most notable were the sessions on 'Shaping the future of Internet Governance - an open dialogue between pioneers and young Leaders', 'Internet of Things for sustainable growth', 'Civil Society and Private Sector build ICT support for SDGs' among many others. These workshops gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with Internet pioneers like Vint Cerf to learn from their perspectives on open Internet connectivity for sustainable development. I participated in workshops where I learned about best practices from other stakeholders around the world and the positive changes they are effecting through the Internet. I was privileged to ask questions during sessions and contributed by raising my point about the need for stakeholders to come together with plans and policies to avoid Internet censorship or shut down by repressive governments to the detriment of their citizens. To illustrate this, I cited the case in The Gambia during the 2016 Presidential Election where the government deliberately shutdown all means of modern telecommunication to create an Internet black out. I saw the need for more financial institutions and more government representatives to be involved in future forums to create a greater networking platforms. Inviting government officials will create a platform to engage with them in meaningful dialogues that can help in sending the message that the Internet is for everyone. Their understanding of policies and policy development at such forums can greatly influence them in making meaningful policies that will benefit their country's populations.
The networking dinners helped delegates and potential donors to interact freely, allowing delegates to pitch their ideas informally and also to build sustainable and natural partnerships. By the time I left Mexico, I learned about the need for a more open Internet based on the statistics of the number of people living in the world today who are still without Internet access. Internet connectivity yields productivity in many development sectors. I learned that – if only we listen to each other, give people of differing ideas and orientations, the benefit of the doubt – there is not a thing we cannot solve. I have this firm conviction that with forums like this, more people will be empowered and this will help to effect the change we are all yearning of. I will conclude by extending special gratitude to AFRINIC, FIRE Africa and the Seed Alliance for the opportunity.
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.