Why you should apply for the ISIF Asia Awards: advice from past award winner

By Robert Mitchell, APNIC

With nominations for the ISIF Asia Awards 2016 now open, we thought we’d check back with some of our previous award winners to understand how the award benefitted their projects and get some advice on what to include in your nominations.

Khairil Yusof is the cofounder and coordinator of the Sinar Project, which received an ISIF Asia Grant in 2013 in recognition of their work using open source technology and applications to systematically make important information public and more accessible to the Malaysian people.

Established in 2011, the Sinar Project aims to improve governance and encourage greater citizen involvement in the public affairs of the nation by making the Malaysian government more open, transparent and accountable.

Sinar project in action

Sinar project in action

What are the benefits of these kinds of Grants/Awards?

Here’s what Khairil had to say about ISIF Asia’s Grants and Awards:

These awards and grants recognize the difficult and highly technical work that a few civil society organizations do, which is often not understood or appreciated by other traditional awards or grants (for Rights) programs.

Also, being invited to an award ceremony at large event such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), provides you with lots of exposure in an environment where you can meet potential partners and donors that understand your work.

 

What were three key outcomes that the ISIF Asia Grant allowed you to achieve?

  1. The money from the Grant helped our part-time/volunteer effort to register as a proper organization.
  2. It also helped one of our founding members to work full time on funding applications.
  3. Attending the IGF in Turkey provided us with the opportunity to speak with potential donors, which eventually led to initial funding for the establishment of Malaysia’s first fledgling civic tech NGO, and allowed us to continue our work full time.

How has your project progressed after receiving the Grant?

The opportunity to showcase our work to donors led to further funding, which helped with consolidating open standards government data. In turn, this provided open data via REST APIs.

Other achievement include:

  • Powering Malaysia’s Open Parliament efforts [1,2] and the same in Myanmar [1, 2, 3]
  • Uncovering corruption and promoting transparency [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
  • A civil society led open data approach, combining civic tech and open data with traditional social audits
  • Starting a Digital Rights initiative backed by a team with technical capacity, and funded by Access. We are now building partnerships with the TOR Project to collect and report on network interference data and build Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) like alerts for digital rights incidents. We are also providing policy input on Internet and digital rights issues such as trade agreements

What should nominees include in their applications?

  1. Don’t be shy with sharing your methodology and the insights you’ve learned along the way, even if you might think it is trivial. If you’re a very technical team, run your methodology by non-technical friends or family members to get their insights. What you think is mundane, might be inspiring to others.
  2. Review all the outputs you have done; blogs, reports, software, photos, etc. If you’ve been passionately working on your ideas and project, you will be surprised at how much you have achieved. List the highlights in your proposal and reference the other outputs in an appendix or link.
  3. Do Google alerts for mentions and links to your project. It might feel a bit narcissistic, but again you might be surprised at who is referencing or mentioning your project internationally or is inspired by your project work.

Internet in Niue: evolution of our First ISIF Asia Award Winner

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Internet Niue will forever be remembered for being the first WiFi country. It’s Free WiFi initiative was a bold move especially on a small remote island in the South Pacific.
Back in the late 1990s, IUSN (Internet Users Society of Niue) a charitable organisation, applied and was later delegated as manager of the Niue .nu ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) by IANA. As part of it’s goodwill offer, IUSN set out to provide free Internet access through an initiative called Internet Niue.  It began it’s limited services with dial-up and by 2003 it had started testing WiFi in downtown Alofi.
On 5 January 2004 Category 5 Cyclone Heta struck Niue with a force that ravaged the tiny island. Part of the capital was completely wiped out by the waves that rose over the 20m upraised coral cliffs.  As a result of this devastation, we had to rebuild our network infrastructure but with better understanding for the forces of nature as well as the environment that our wireless had to go through.
We worked with local organisations known as Village Councils (VC) and used their meeting halls as sites for our access points.  We also partnered with some private sector businesses and home owners to enable the distribution of WiFi to be extended across the narrow villages that followed the main road.  There’s no mountains or hills so we were able to utilise existing towers to install our major backhaul wireless links.  Initially we used empty cat food cans to build our antennaes and these worked well.  But advancements in design and technology including the decrease of prices in equipment have allowed us to extend further.  We now cover 13 of the 14 villages on the island of Niue.
A lot has changed since our first trial links back in 2003 but the vision has remained the same, to provide WiFi to the local communities.  For a long period, the island was able to enjoy free internet but as time passed, we had to adapt the way we operated to be able to cope with changes occurring in the domain name (TLD) world especially with the arrival of new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains).  Our funding is dependent on the sales of the .nu domain names and we have had several years of having the luxury of free services. The main problem with the Free WiFi setup was that over time with the growth of users, the services was degraded.  So a change to the system was needed as we head into the future if we were going to survive.
By the beginning of 2016, plans were activated which allowed us to upgrade our satellite bandwidth with assistance from Speedcast. We started the new venture of charging people and built a system to become a commercial ISP, Kaniu (www.kaniu.nu). We still get subsidised with funding for the satellite bandwidth from IUSN but we’ve had to engage our users and charge them a fee of $50/unlimited per month to cover the local operations.  The uptake has been promising and we aim to continue offering more bandwidth to our users.
But when implementing these changes, the Government of Niue felt that we had violated some Niue Telecommunications laws and regulations and requested us to cease services. We adhered to that directive, even though we believed we had not broken any laws or regulations, and gave notification to our 600+ users as we turned off all our services in March 2016.  Users that benefited from the Internet access provided, voiced their concerns and later on the same evening we received the authorisation to resume our  services much to the delight of our users. We have continued to meet and discuss with the government what their concerns and requirements are as we intend to maintain our operations in Niue, in a small market that is developing.
We have invested a lot of effort and resources so we will continue to do what we do best.
ISIF Award
In 2011, Internet Niue won the ISIF Award for Localisation and Capacity Building. I was invited to Nairobi, Kenya to the IGF (Internet Governance Forum) to receive the Award. It was an amazing experience to meet other award winners and share with them, but there were far greater benefits that grew organically from it.
Personally, I was able to leverage the opportunity of winning the award and be able to participate and contribute to the regional PICISOC, Internet Society, ICANN (APRALO) as well as the Pacific IGF and New Zealand NetHui.  It has been an exciting journey but moreso the recognition for the work of Internet Niue and Rocket Systems both on the island and internationally.  It helped to grow my professional network and enabled my participation and exchange of ideas around the biggest issue in the Pacific Islands, specially for rural and remote locations: connectivity.  We have taken up the opportunity with Kacific’s upcoming service and we’re very excited that their first interim service is active in Vanuatu.  With this kind of an opportunity including the Hawaiki project underway, the future for our Pacific People looks promising and we can finally realise the dream of becoming more engaged in the digital economy.  Even though I still manage our Niue project, I have found more opportunities in the land of the long white clouds, Aotearoa New Zealand.  I am currently involved in the Makanet project that will see the use of the Kacific service to deliver broadband to rural and remote locations in New Zealand.  This will be a major undertaking and the potential to connect the under-served communities of New Zealand is similar to our own Pacific under-served communities.
The ISIF programme has assisted some great projects in the past and I’m sure it will continue to help others grow to greater heights.  So if you’re interested in using this great resource to develop and gain more exposure for your work, please don’t hesitate to apply at http://isif.asia/award
I’ll be happy to connect with anyone who is wanting more information about our ISIF Award experience as well as our ongoing projects in the Pacific.

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.