I just spent two days at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. Over 500 people came together to “examine and explore how the human rights and high tech sectors can better plan for and manage the human rights implications of new technologies.” My biggest takeaway is that we need to redouble our efforts to empower the grassroots through ICT capacity building.
I am struck by how perilous the world has become despite – actually, because – of the advances in ICT. Yes, it is becoming easier than ever before to use mobile phones and the Internet to stay connected, to access and disseminate information, to document and share evidence of human rights abuses, to be present and reachable. But at the same time it is becoming harder to figure out how to do all of these things safely and in ways that are actually in our own best interest. This threat is everywhere – but it’s most dangerous in countries with repressive regimes.
At the end of the day, as I just wrote in another blog post today (ICT peer learning as it actually happens), practitioners working at the local level are working hard to figure out how to make the best use of ICT in support of their cause. We on the outside can and must do more to support them in their efforts by actually listening to them to learn where the bottlenecks are and by providing a range of learning opportunities to help them overcome them. We can set a better example by using and building tools and features that we would want to have if we were in their precarious situation. We can coordinate efforts to reduce duplication and to ensure that local capacities are actually building up.
For me personally, I was struck by how incredibly urgent it is for people at the grassroots to have core computing skills as Kabissa used to teach back in the day in our Time To Get Online program. They will then not just be able to get their daily work done more effectively and be more accountable and effective, but they will be better able to make use of ICT security resources shared online by organizations like ACCESS or emergency training on security tools like Tor that will save their lives during a crisis.
One approach is to nurture and support Internet Champions at the local level to encourage local-level ICT learning and innovation. They will be served well by having ready access (online and offline) to quick and easy to use self-learning tools on core skills and best practices. An idea that I thought of at the conference would be to create a web/mobile app game and accompanying handbook that takes you through what at Kabissa we called the steps to success on the Internet (1. connecting, 2. accessing, 3. interacting, 4. establishing, 5. advocating). Reaching a certain level in the game can then become a requirement for attending advanced workshops or even for taking jobs in certain organizations.
Coming soon: a blog post on the other big theme that struck me at the conference. The emerging ICT archictecture is broken and needs fixing. This idea is encapsulated in the message of YouTube at the conference (that it is the modern day printing press) which juxtaposes the message of Mozilla (that people need many printing presses – especially at the “fringes” where access to YouTube and like services is difficult and dangerous).