APC meets in Bohol
This years meeting was particularly special. Not only was it the first member meeting in Asia, the APC celebrated 20 years since its founding in 1990. The issues that stirred its founding members to create a global network of computer connected social justice organisations are still are the forefront of the APC, though many have been in recent times eclipsed by the need to sustain access to the internet as a fundamental human right along with the protections the UN Charter of Human Rights affords.
The need for a strong coalition of advocates for such rights online are more pertinent now than ever and it was with this, and recent environmental catastrophes and the political upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East in mind that we set about to learn, share and support each other over the first two weeks of March, 2011.
Network Learning Forum
The APC convened a research, learning and collaboration forum that preceded the member meeting. The objectives of the Network Learning Forum (NLF) were to:
Build a common understanding of what an open, fair and sustainable internet means to us.
Look back as activists and advocates on what we have achieved in the last 2 years in the NLF’s thematic areas.
To learn from one another, share skills and strategies among APC members, partners, research networks and project teams.
To plan and collaborate for an open, fair and sustainable internet.
The NLF was based around poster presentations, World Cafe facilitated working groups or “clusters”, conversational clinics presided over by experts in their chosen fields and open discussions based on television talk show formats. The most successful session, and the one most folks sought more time for, were the poster presentations.
It was clear people wanted to know more about participating organisations, their work, methodologies and possible future collaborations. In short, how can we learn from each other to strengthen our overall united social impact goals.
The poster session I presented was titled The media is nothing without the message, the message is meaningless without an audience, an audience is dis-empowered without a meaningful message.
The session described project design and implementation methodology towards achieving tangible social impact with video and video distribution. It drew substantial numbers of forum participants and no end of questions. So much so that I'd not had a chance to attend anyone else's presentations. In anycase, after three days of input, outputs and over-coffee conversations the following points stood out:
Get a communications strategy designed during project design and planning. Don't wait till the project's finished. Kind of common knowledge, but often over-looked.
Collaborating with organisations that have strong communications / media campaigning skills is key to successful social impact goals. EM's strategy, described by Privacy International founder, Simon Davis as a “federated approach”, of collaborating with groups such as Human Rights Watch, was seen as exemplary in both getting “gripping the media tiger by the ears” and protecting our sources, staff and online services.
There wasn't enough time to dig deeper. Many organisations wanted to know more about EngageMedia, and I wanted to get to know others better too. The opportunities for networking in a meaningful way were too few.
Social entrepreneurship works. Well, it does in India and the Digital Empowerment Foundation, one of APC's newest members, is a leading example for how few resources can be put to significant use towards measurable social impact.
Digital Empowerment Foundation
I don't know how these folks do it. They manage to run an unfathomable number of initiatives to “uplift the downtrodden and to create economic and commercial viability using Information Communication and Technology as means.”
I was particularly moved by a project in which they had taught a single piece of software to weavers of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, a project described as a “fusion between history, culture, technology, art and ancient skill.” Weavers with a tradition going back some 600 years are now using computers to design their own weaves, breaking their dependency on an exploitative mercantile chain that saw them earn less than USD$40/month from which they would support their entire families.
Founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Osama Manzar, talked with great enthusiasm about this project, describing the changes in the weaver communities of Chanderi, the significance a single piece of software in the improvement of people's lives. Read the full story.
APC Council Meeting
Aside from the reports to members on program work, the outgoing boards final report and an update on finances, we broke into working groups to discuss options for possible changes to APC's membership policy.
We discussed whether the fees were too high or low, whether individuals and partners, mostly large international organisations, could participate as members and if so, to what extent.
In 20 years the APC barely changed its membership policy. Is it time to broaden the membership base and if so, how do we do this?
Working groups returned with a series of options that would be taken up by a subcommittee to draft into a proposal for review by the incoming board.
The Council Meeting concluded with the board elections which saw two ties, two additional ballots and eventually, a new board!
- Danijela Babic, ZamirNet, Croatia (APC Chair)
- Valentina Pellizzer, owpsee, Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Andrew Garton, EngageMedia, Australia/Indonesia
- Julian Casasbuenas, Colnodo, Colombia
- Shahzad Ahmad, BytesForAll, Pakistan
- Graciela Selaimen, NUPEF, Brazil
- Liz Probert, GreenNet, United Kingdom
Hearty congratulations to all new board members and a special thanks to all members who put their trust in faith in me to enter a third term on APC's board.
Rapid Response Network meeting
The following day of the meeting a small number of us, in collaboration with representatives from Tactical Tech and Access Now, we huddled over notes and plans towards a new look Rapid Response Network for the APC. We reviewed options to address the immediate needs of our Tokyo based, Japanese member, JCafe, hosting around 400 NGOs many providing critical post-disaster information and under constant threat of power outages and Government intervention. We were told JCafe members are publishing much information contradicting that made public by the Government on the nuclear threat.
By the end of the day we agreed that a proposal wold be prepared based on our deliberations that could see us respond to internet threats in a much more effective way than had been possible. That said, it should be noted that in spite of any formal policies and procedures, APC members have, and continue to respond to threats and potential technical hazards when ever possible and fast! There's palpable, unwavering support amongst its members and our peers. APC is most certainly still, 20 years on, truly on the side of good!
And with the formalities at an end I spent my remaining days, before returning to Dunmoochin, on Panglao Island in life-changing under-water experiences and casual horizon gazing. It never ceases to astound me just how many different things there are to marvel at on planet earth.