ISIF Asia largest ever grants funding pool: Apply now!

Really excited about the 386,000 reasons we have to celebrate and support Innovation on Internet development in the Asia Pacific. Thanks to the amazing support from APNIC, the Internet Society and the Canadian International Development Research Centre, ISIF Asia is launching today four new categories, with different types of funding support for research, technical innovation, community impact and cybersecurity. These four grants open simultaneously today until 31 May 2016 (midnight UTC).

From different angles and through different mechanisms, this largest ever pool of AUD 386,000 will support initiatives at different stages of development, that are using the Internet for social and economic development in the Asia Pacific. Projects that introduce, improve, and apply Internet technology for the benefit of the Asia Pacific community may be eligible for financial support in the following categories.

Get to know each one of these four categories and do your homework before your submit your application. Each one has a specific purpose and different support packages, because no one size fits all. Every idea needs a

APNIC Internet Operations Research Grants

The aim of the APNIC Internet Operations Research Grants is to support the development of a research community focused on improving the availability, reliability, and security of the Internet in the Asia Pacific.

The grants are open to researchers working on Internet operations, infrastructure and related protocols in areas such as:

– Network measurement and analysis
– IPv6 deployment
– BGP routing
– Network security
– Peering and interconnection

Public or private sector organizations, universities, research and development institutions and non-government organizations will be considered, with members of Network Operator Groups (NOGs), IXPs, root server operators, academics, and post-graduate students particularly encouraged to apply.

Applicants can apply for funding between AUD 5,000 to AUD 45,000 based on research needs, a realistic timeframe, and a detailed budget. AUD 90,000 is available in total to fund successful applications.

Internet Society Cybersecurity Grant

A single grant of AUD 56,000 is available for a project focusing on the resiliency and security of the Internet’s naming and routing functions, through innovative approaches to Domain Name Security Extensions (DNSSEC), RPKI and BGP. These approaches should enhance user confidence in Internet-based services and options for the deployment of secure routing standards.

Strong emphasis is placed on documenting impacts and sharing knowledge through papers, videos, and associated communication materials.

Community Impact Grants

Innovation and development are integral components of these grants, with AUD 60,000 available to fund two new projects and a single grant of AUD 50,000 to scale up an existing solution. The organization selected under the scale-up grant will also receive a capacity building package valued at AUD 10,000.

Areas of focus for this grant include women and girls in IT, enhancing democracy, open data, economic empowerment, poverty alleviation health and education.

Technical Innovation Grants

Innovation and development are integral components of these grants, with AUD 60,000 available to fund two new projects and a single grant of AUD 50,000 to scale up an existing solution. The organization selected under the scale-up grant will also receive a capacity building package valued at AUD 10,000.

Areas of focus include access provision, electricity supplies, devices, Internet of Things (IoT), IPv6, and privacy.

Apply Now

The ISIF Asia grant programs present a great opportunity to secure seed or supporting funds for those who are addressing local and regional issues using Internet technologies in an innovative way, and would not
be made possible without contributions from APNIC, the Internet Society and the Canadian International Development Research Centre.

Please note, all grant allocations are competitive and follow a rigorous selection process.

More information, eligibility criteria for each grant program, and application forms are available on the ISIF Asia website.

Zaya Learning Labs: Putting ICTs in the Classroom


Neil D’Souza is an Indian engineer and a dreamer. His dream is to help the underprivileged children to receive a quality education.

A Life Commitment to Education

D’Souza’s passion to help the disadvantaged started during his time at Cisco. For four years, he worked there, mostly on mobile Internet and video technologies. During his free time, he would do some volunteering in San Jose, California.

In 2011, he took the leap. He moved to Mongolia and spent a year teaching in rural orphanages. This is where he discovered the learning deficiency that affects most developing countries. His pupils were far below their grade level, lacking basic literary and numerical skills.

D’Souza was aware of the ongoing online education revolution. He knew this could help his students to catch up. But without Internet, they had no chance to ever access the educational resources online. The more time he spent in Mongolia, the more determined he became to tackle this issue.

He was even starting to develop his own solution when he met Soma Vajpayee. Vajpayee was the perfect partner for his project. She had been a Training Manager at Citibank for ten years and, just like D’Souza, she was passionate about using ICTs in the classroom. In 2012, they started Zaya Learning Labs. Their goal was to bring quality education to the bottom of the pyramid, starting in India.

The Indian Crisis Education

For years, India has been confronting an acute learning crisis. Although 96 percent of the children go to school, many do not reach basic literacy by 10. In fact, 60 percent cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

One of the main reasons for the crisis is the lack of trained and motivated teachers. There is an estimated shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters throughout India. Those who actually teach often lack both expertise and pedagogical ability. Since many in low-income private schools get only $100 a month, they also have no motivation. A majority of teachers even skip school at least once a week.

All this adds to the curriculum’s low standards and large classroom sizes. So it is no surprising that the learning outcomes are so poor.

Mixing education and technology

To tackle this issue, D’Souza and Vajpayee created an innovative solution mixing education and a ClassCloud technology.

On the education side, they developed a blended learning model in order to create a student-driven learning environment. The goal is that pupils stop staring out the window and instead engage with the teacher. This is why they divide the students into several groups based on their level. During the day, each group goes through three different learning times. While the schoolmaster teaches the first group, the second one reads or does homework.

Meanwhile, the last group reviews their lessons using a computer or a tablet. It allows them to connect to the ClassCloud. This portable WiFi device contains all the resources for the class. There are lessons, but also instructional videos, educational games, and quizzes.

To truly engage the students, Zaya developed a fun and friendly learning environment. The ClassCloud is also adaptive, so the pupils can learn at their own level and pace. Lessons and assessments are based on each student’s interests and needs, while also taking into account their progress. When they are consistent in finding the right answers, they can move to the next level. But if they aren’t, they spend more time on the topic. The overall goal is to guide them step by step towards their actual grade level.

Once the students complete their assignments, the system generates a personalized analytics report. It is then sent to the teachers as well as the Zaya educational team. It helps them make the right interventions. For instance, it is easier to identify the students who lag behind and have the teachers focus on them.

An Innovative Solution That Makes Students Happy to Study

Zaya’s ClassCloud is a great Edtech solution, as it is particularly adapted to the constraints of developing countries.

  • It is easy to use, even by teachers who have no IT skills
  • It is battery-powered and can run for ten hours without electricity. This is particularly useful in India, where power shortages are frequent.
  • Finally, it works both online and offline. This is another necessary feature in India, as Internet penetration is around 12 percent. While offline, the ClassCloud stores all the data. It syncs it back to the cloud whenever it has connectivity.

No wonder Zaya has become so popular among low-income schools throughout India. Over 100 schools have adopted it, and 30,000 pupils use it on a daily basis. For them, it has changed everything. They are now engaged in their learning and excited to go to class. More importantly, their learning outcomes increase.

Combating Electronic Violence Against Women in the Philippines


For the past two decades, the rise of ICTs has generated new forms of violence. Such violence happens online or via mobile phones, and women are the first victims. According to UN Women, nearly 75 percent of female Internet users worldwide have been exposed to online threats and harassment.

The Philippines are no exception. Electronic violence against women or eVAW is on the rise, and more and more suffer from it. In Manila, 70% of the complaints about online or mobile abuse come from women.

Definition of eVAW

eVAW refers to any violence against women perpetrated using ICTs. Such violence often causes a lasting mental, emotional or psychological distress.

There are several forms of eVAW:

Electronic Harassment: This is the most common form of eVAW in the Philippines. Most of the time the harassment comes from a former partner who wants to take revenge. It can also come from strangers willing to exert control over their female victim. They send threats or communications with sexual undertones. Or they publish false accusations through blogs, online forums, or via mobile phones.

Cyber Stalking: ICTs have made stalking much easier and more prevalent than before. In the Philippines, this is the second most widespread form of eVAW. Tracking someone’s phone has become quite easy (even without their permission). On a smart phone, it requires an installation of a tracking app, which can be done in five minutes. Even if the person owns a regular cell phone, it is still possible to install a tracker. This puts some women in a precarious situation.

Unauthorized Distribution of Videos and Images: Sex videos and images have been proliferating online. With a smart phone, it is very easy for a man to record intimacy unbeknown to his partner. It is even easier to post these records online to harass, humiliate or bribe a woman. This does not happen to celebrities only.

Cyber Pornography and Prostitution: The Philippines are sometimes considered as a “cyber sex hub.” About 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. It is no surprise that prostitution is flourishing. In 2013, there were about 500,000 prostitutes, mostly women. Some are now forced to engage in cyber sex or pornography in exchange for money. The situation is aggravated by the craze for pornography among Filipinos. The country places 15th in adult website Pornhub’s global traffic on mobile devices. And it ranks 26th when it comes to watching it using a computer.

Laws Aren’t Everything

The Foundation for Media Alternatives is a key player in the battle against eVAW.

Founded in 1987, FMA is a well-established Filipino nongovernment organization. Its goal is to empower the Philippines’ civil society through the media. In the 2000’s, it contributed to opening the access to the Internet. In particular, it developed a free email service for NGOs.

In 2009 FMA decided to commit against the rising eVAW issue in the Philippines by becoming involved in the global initiative “Take Back the Tech! To End Violence Against Women.” At the time, there was a pressing need for more adapted laws. The Philippines were already considering violence against women as a crime, but electronic violence was not targeted as such.

Furthermore, more awareness was required. The victims often had no idea how to deal with these offenses. “Laws […] do not always prove to be effective deterrents in the commission of crimes, explained Lisa Garcia from FMA. The anonymity that the Internet provides emboldens malicious citizens to commit damaging acts without fear of discovery in spite of laws. This means more advocacy and education are needed to address issues of violence and rights abuses through technology.”

Taking Action Against eVAW

That is why FAM’s first priority was to raise awareness about eVAW. It targeted the general public by featuring programs on the radio and television. It also reached representatives of public, academic and civil organizations. In total, FMA has trained more than 1,000 people.

In 2013, FAM took its struggle against eVAW one step further. It reinforced its advocacy action by launching the eVAW Mapping Project. This Ushahidi-based tool aims to collect accurate eVAW data. Women report incidents by SMS or emails, and the software aggregates them into a map. FMA then conducts a trend analysis and data visualization. It eventually shares this data with the authorities and policy makers.

Safer Electronic Spaces for Women

Since 2009, FMA has managed to take the struggle against eVAW in the Philippines one step further. Today, eVAW is recognized as a form of cybercrime and more women are aware of their rights and able to report this violence.

How Can Digital Innovations Improve the Economy of Bangladesh?


In December 2008, the Government of Bangladesh introduced the vision ‘Digital Bangladesh by 2021’ to leverage the Internet to improve the delivery of its services, particularly among the poor people. A quiet revolution in digitizing its health sector is already under way to strengthen the Health Information System (HIS), which enables real-time monitoring of population health.

The Internet could provide solutions to a number of structural problems besetting Bangladesh’s health sector. For example, the use of ICT to provide remote diagnosis, advice, treatment, and health education could address a major part of the health issues of patients in rural clinics, which are typically the most poorly staffed. Online tools and mobile innovations can improve the operational efficiency and productivity of (rural) health system by enabling more effective service delivery.

The use of ICT in education has a similar potential to deliver rapid gains in access to education, teacher training, and learning outcomes. As pointed above, web-based school management systems that can support standardization and monitoring of school performance could enable the government to achieve more with their education budgets and providing millions of students with the foundation for a better future.

It is clear that the digital age and its associated variables are continuously getting integrated into our economy and society. Due to the limitations of data, only a snapshot of the impact on education and healthcare of Bangladesh is shown in The Economy of Tomorrow Digital Innovations and Their Implications for the Economy of Bangladesh.

All of the available sources show that to make a dramatic shift in these two sectors, incorporation of digitized materials is one of the most important factors of current time. However, there are many questions regarding the impact of the digital age in the socioeconomic conditions of Bangladesh that still remained unsolved.

For example:

  • How do we quantify the impact that the internet and internet driven business have on a country’s GDP?
  • How does a digitized registration process reduce corruption?
  • What will the legal system of the country look like when digitization will take place there? Is the internet creating a divergence among the different groups of people?
  • How much of labor hours are people wasting doing unproductive works on the internet?
  • For every new digital adoption, someone may be getting a new job, whereas someone, somewhere may be losing his/her job. So what if the rate of losing jobs is far greater than the rate of creating employment opportunities?

The answer to these questions require further research, including reviewing the experiences of other countries where these questions have already been addressed. However, one thing is clear that these topics will dominate the research agendas in the upcoming years and their findings will help Bangladesh to transform into a more balanced, robust and sustainable economic growth.

Fixing Government Data Duplication at DataKind Bangalore


Voters worldwide seldom interact with their chosen leaders- except around 5-yearly elections. However, the advent of advanced Information and Community Technologies (ICT) might shrink this interval considerably. They may even turn back the clock towards the seminal Athenian model of democratic decision-making: directly by the people rather than their representatives. With some political discretion, today’s online forums can allow for similarly incorporating crowdsourced public opinion into policy design. This could contribute to nationally important initiatives (such as preparing Morocco’s 2011 Draft Constitution or debates on Spain’s Plaza Podemos, Brazil’s E-democracia portal and India’s own Nonetheless, we will concern ourselves with far more universal and local problem-solving at the municipal level.

But just who has access to such platforms? While internet penetration in rural India is rising dramatically, the lion’s share (67%) still resides with urban denizens. Moreover, as highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, India boasted of a quarter of the world’s fastest growing urban zones and 8 qualifying ‘MegaCities’ as per India’s 2011 Census definition. The demands on municipal governments are likely to be considerable, and even more likely to be mediated by internet platforms.

Regardless of this explosion of population and the associated challenges, the structure of municipal bodies has remained unchanged since Lord Ripon’s 1882 Resolution on self-government. Furthermore, as Ramesh Ramnathan of Janaagraha points out, the responsibility for action is de facto scattered across acronyms of acrimonious accusing agencies. For example, Bangalore’s (deep breath advised) BDA, BMRDA, BWWSB, BMTC, KSB, BESCOM together juggle the city’s water, transport, electricity, traffic police and development needs. Many authorities, little authority. Increasingly internet-savvy and increasingly increasing residents. Where can they all turn for help?

Enter DataKind Bangalore Partners.

15-year old Janaagraha has endeavoured to improve the quality of urban life- in terms of infrastructure, services and civic engagement- by coordinating government and citizen-led efforts. Of their various initiatives, the IChangeMyCity portal also earned Discover ISIF Asia’s award under the Rights and People’s Choice categories.

Next up, eGovernments Foundation, brainchild of Nandan Nilekani & Srikanth Nadhamuni (Silicon Valley technologist) has since 2003 sought to transform urban governance across 275 Municipalities with the use of scalable and replicable technology solutions (for Financial Accounting, Property & Professional Taxes, Public Works, etc.) Their Public Grievance and Redressal system for the Municipal Corporation of Chennai- recipient of the 2010 Skoch Award -has fielded over 0.22 million complaints over 6 years.

Though these organizations joined hands with DataKind in two distinct ‘Sprints’, the similarities are remarkable. Both their platforms allow citizens to primarily flag problems (garbage, city lighting, potholes) at the neighbourhood level for resolution by government agencies.

Then again, the differences are noteworthy too. As an advocacy-oriented organization, Janaagraha aimed to understand the factors that led to certain complaints being closed promptly by a third party. eGovernments on the other hand, being within the system, to keep officials and engineers adequately prepared for the business-as-usual and also immediately alert them on anomalies. So both sought predictions around complaints- one on their creation, another on their likelihood of closure.

Clearly, quite a campaign lay ahead. If we forget Ancient Greek democracy and hitch a caravan to China, then Sun Tzu’s wisdom from the Art of War pops in: knowing oneself is the key to victory. Always open to relevant philosophy, the DataKinders looked into their own ranks to assess their strengths. The team assigned for E-Governments coincidentally included Ambassadors (Chapter Leader, Vinod Chandrashekhar) and Data Experts (Samarth Bhargav, Sahil Maheshwari) from the Janaagraha project. The teams were also at different junctures joined by the latter’s Vice President (Manu Srivastava) and two of his interns, plus a multidisciplinary mob of volunteers from backgrounds in business consulting, UX Design, data warehousing, development economics and digital ethnography. Let’s see how they waged war.

Progress to Date

Back in March 2015, IChangeMyCity’s presented a set of 18,533 complaints carrying rich meta-data on Category, Complainant Details, Comments, etc. You’d assume this level of detail opens doors to appetizing analyses. Perhaps. Unfortunately, the information dwelt in a database of 10 different tables. Sahil Maheshwari- then working as a Product Specialist- busied himself with the onerous task of unraveling the relationships between them, drawing up an ER Diagram and ‘flattening’ records into one combined table. The team then accordingly fished out missing or anomalous values.

Conversely, E-Governments users either report their problems online, through SMS, paper forms or by calling into the special ‘1913’ helpline where operators transcribe complainants’ inputs. With digital data being entered through drop-down menus rather than free text (either directly by users or call centre employees), no major missing data was to be found. Except of course, unresolved cases-a mere 8% of the 0.18 million complaints. Some entries, amounting to 0.8% were exactly identical- clearly a technical glitch. Moreover, all data resided in one table. So in November 2015’s DataJam, this structure allowed the team to plunge immediately to exploratory analysis.

Across the 200 wards of Chennai, 93 kinds of complaints (grouped further into 9 categories) could be assigned to departments at either the City or Zone level. Although the numbers initially seemed staggering, Samartha Bhargav ran basic visualizations in the R Programming language. The result? Another instance of Pareto’s rule: 15 of these complaint types were contributing to 82% of grievances. Several DataKind first-timers like Aditya Garg & Venkat Reddy ran similar analyses for the 10 most given-to-grumbling wards, and found trouble emanating from roughly the same top 5 sources. Apparently, malfunctioning street lights blow everyone’s fuse. These common bugbears intriguingly became less bearable (and more numerous) in the second half of the year, while others related to taxes seemed more even across the year.

Even so, how could there be 10 broken lights in an area with only one on record? So had ten people all indicated the same light? Like with data analysis, learning from Chinese classics (literally) involves reading the fine print. Sun Tzu’s actual words: ‘If you know the enemy AND know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.’ Clearly, this enemy was a lot more complicated than the decoy flanks that DataKinders had speared. Tzu and George Lucas may well have hung out over green tea.

Attack of the Clones .

In usual data science settings, duplicates are often easy to identify and provide little intrinsic value. However, the game changes in the world of crowdsourced data. Especiallydata highlighting the criticality of an issue. So to achieve victory, the team would have to understand and strike at its core- dynamic social feedback. We could assess its importance at four levels.

The first involves messages from the platform itself to indicate that a complaint has been registered and no further inputs are necessary. In its absence, citizens could well create duplicates by hitting the Submit button either accidentally (not knowing if their complaint was logged) or deliberately (hoping that repeating the complaint may lead to quicker action). This is more of a concern for web platforms rather than call centres. By matching against columns involving email, phone and postal contact details and date, time and type of the complaint, DataKind had already been able to quickly hurl out these obvious clones.

The second level of feedback is where the Force truly awakens- from other citizens. The ability to see that other fellow residents have experienced the same concern may prevent its repetition. But this rests on two assumptions. First, that they can view already posted complaints, as exists with IChangeMyCity. They may rally behind this shared cause by ‘upvoting’- an indicator to authorities of its increased importance.

Even if this feature does not exist- as with eGovernments- then all is not lost. High priority might still be inferred by large absolute numbers of complaints. But these would provide an idea of the severity of the problem across the ward (45 pot holes in Adyar) rather than one specific instance of it (that life-threatening one before the flyover). Secondly, if peeved citizens do not put in the effort of checking the roster of existing complaints- as inevitably occurred even with IChangeMyCity- then the Upvotes option alone cannot guarantee being Clone-free.

The third and most obvious feedback comes from authorities via the digital platform- to indicate closure. This is provided by both partners, with IChangeMyCity also appending contact details of which official has been assigned the task.

The fourth and final level- is where a citizen can verify that a complaint marked as ‘closed’ has truly been resolved. After all, accountability forms part of the foundation of democracy. In this manner, the same poorly tended-to complaint could be reopened, rather than filing another one out. This feature currently exists only with IChangeMyCity, which not only allows municipal authorities to mark a complaint as ‘closed’ (as exists with eGoverments), but also allows users to reopen them if unsatisfied.

IChangeMyCity’s resolution rates lie close to 50%- a figure probably reached after allowing for this reopening scenario. eGovernments on the other hand closed a commendable 97%, with up to 13% shut on the same day to an outlier of 1043 (almost 3 years), with the majority (56%) in under 3 days. Mr Srivastava emphasized that these efficiency statistics had improved dramatically in the last 2 years. But as we just explored, perhaps a confounding factor is that multiple duplicate complaints are being closed by engineers who have identified their Clone nature.

How to Fix It?

Thus, it was the second category- unintended duplication- which bled into the fourth. How could the DataKind team exploit the enemies’ own weakness? They decided to unsheathe their two logical light sabers: text and location. Either one in isolation didn’t necessarily pinpoint a duplicate. But in combination, they could quickly incinerate a Clone’s trooper suit.

Saber A: WHERE was the complaint registered? For IChangeMyCity, one can log in, peer through a map of Bangalore and plant a pin on the spot where you’d like to divert the authority’s attention. Using that pin, analysts can procure exact latitude and longitude coordinates. It’s still entirely possible that different people place the pins some distance apart even when referring to the same issue. But it would seem like a safe bet that two closely located complaints might just be Clones.

EGovernments currently doesn’t use maps, but asks users a fairly detailed, 6-level description of addresses (City, Regions, Zones, Wards, Area, Locality, Street). Such text might help direct an engineer gallivanting outdoors, but not for a computer that speaks code. Attempting to translate the text addresses into associated geocodes, the team split the data into 10 parts and ran Google Maps API with an R Script on each one. Despite their best efforts, accuracy could not be guaranteed. Though eGovernments will soon be introducing such coordinates in future work, geocoding seemed like a closed line of attack.

Saber 2: HOW was the complaint registered. The way people express themselves on a particular local issue may vary, but could feature some words in common. However with E-Governments system, pre-loaded tags from the website were automatically attached to complaints. Result? Nearly 40,000 entries demanding ‘NECESSARY ACTION’ (in capitals, no less) with only minor differences. Others exist, but simply restate the category of complaints. (‘Removal of Garbage’). With so little variability and no hidden clues, this strategy failed too.

However, for IChangeMyCity, citizens are free to fill complaint titles and descriptions as they please. So the DataKind Team broke the text of both the complaint’s title and description into sentences and then into words. Then they ran an unsupervised learning algorithm, which helped generate the Jaccard Index- a measure of how ‘close’ two complaints were in terms of statistical similarity.

But to check this ‘distance’ for N complaints against each other would require N*N operations. Far too long for a dataset of this size. To assist with this more abstract sense of ‘distance’, the team decided to turn to the more intuitive geographical meaning of the term. The clearly listed geocode saber we mentioned above.

The team decided that any two complaints within 250m of each other on a map could be considered as potential duplicates, while the rest could be ignored. Plugging these codes into the MongoDB geospatial index, Samarth ingeniously reduced the computation time for this process from 2 hours to 10 minutes. He also later developed a REST API that could be queried to detect the 10 nearest complaints. Going forward, the team hopes to set a threshold of such ‘similarity’ beyond which a new entry could automatically be flagged as a duplicate, much like answered programming queries on Stack Overflow.

 Onward to De-Duplication Success

At first glance, it may seem like the Attack of the Clones had stamped defeat over the eGovernments project, while IChangeMyCity had dodged the bullet. But let’s not jump to conclusions. The importance of this first battle is relative. Since Janaagraha is focused on closure of a single complaint, it makes sense not to muddy waters by repeating the same theory. EGovernments on the other hand is interested in the total number of complaints likely to arise, not the problems. Also, as we’ll soon see in the next installment, the larger numbers of complaints (including duplicates) would prove crucial in helping generate valid forecasts for the Chennai Municipal Corporation.

So at the end of this first DataJam session, what had the team discovered? On a flight that carried along Sun Tzu, 2 mayors, George Lucas and random Athenians in Business Class, we learnt the philosophical complexities of the idea of ‘duplication’, especially in the contexts of crowdsourcing and democratic processes in strained local governments.

Abhishek Pandit is a Strategy Consultant at ChaseFuture