Seeking a More Free Internet through Multi-­Stakeholder Dialogue

Joint Statement of Civil Society Delegates to the 2012 Internet Governance Forum

We, the undersigned representatives of civil society who attended and participated in the 2012 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) on 6-9 November 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, make this statement upon the conclusion of the meeting to highlight the opinions we expressed and concerns we raised throughout the Forum. We engaged in this meeting with the objective of advocating for internet freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and the rights to seek, receive, and impart information, as protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our participation at the IGF was enabled by the unique multi-stakeholder model of the IGF, which gives civil society an equal voice alongside the government, business, and the technical communities. We believe this model creates more robust dialogue and more meaningful debate on the many issues involved in internet governance, including internet freedom, and we strongly support the continuation of the IGF and reject any proposals that would exclude civil society from its currently active role in determining the future of the internet.

In recent months and years, documents such as Freedom on the Net, published by Freedom House, and the 2011 report on internet freedom published by Frank LaRue, United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, have documented growing threats to internet freedom around the world.  In 2012, UN Human Rights Council Resolution L13 affirmed that all human rights should apply online just as they apply offline, and other internet freedoms were asserted in the 2011 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, signed by representatives of the Organization for American States (OAS), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

We also note that next month, in Dubai, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will hold a major meeting that could fundamentally alter the structure and global reach of the internet. At the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which is open only to member states, their delegations, and some corporations able to pay for access, governments have put forward proposals that could expand the authority of the ITU over the internet in ways that would threaten internet openness and innovation, increase the costs of access and connection, and erode human rights.

Motivated by these concerns, we make the following recommendations to the Internet Governance Forum and the stakeholders represented in Baku this year:

To Governments

  • We call upon all governments to work toward universal access to the internet, regardless of barriers related to ethnicity, religion, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or language.
  • We call upon governments not to block websites in any but the most limited and exceptional cases, and only when provided by a just law, pursuant to the purposes laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and implemented according to due process by an independent judicial body in the least restrictive way required to achieve the purported aim. Further, we call upon governments to respect the right of their citizens to appeal in a just court of law the blocking or censorship of websites.
  • We implore governments never hold intermediaries liable for content they host or transmit.
  • We urge governments not to systematically collect private data on citizens, and to ensure that any surveillance conducted to pursue criminal elements should be limited, exceptional, and subject to the approval of an independent judiciary.
  • We call upon all states to investigate and work to prevent physical and online attacks against citizens who express their opinions online, and to hold the responsible parties to account.
  • We urge all states to ensure that individuals can speak anonymously on the internet.
  • We implore all governments to control the export of technologies that could be used to monitor or surveil, and to restrict the export of those technologies to regimes that have failed to demonstrate a commitment to upholding human rights.
  • We strongly urge all governments to cease campaigns designed to deliberately misinform citizens or discredit and dilute independent voices.
  • We encourage all governments to include civil society in their delegations to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December, 2012.

To Internet Companies

  • We urge ICT companies to join the Global Network Initiative, and abide by its code of conduct.
  • We call upon internet intermediaries not to limit rights to free expression and access to information except after legitimate judicial intervention, and to publicize all government requests to remove content or block services.   We urge all ICT companies with access to the personal information of users to fully respect the privacy of those individuals, retaining as little of that information as possible and preventing the exposure of that data to third parties.

To International & Multilateral Bodies

  • We call upon international and multi-lateral institutions to adopt internet freedom as a core value, and to speak out publicly against violations of human rights online.

To the International Telecommunications Union & Member States

  • We call upon all those represented at WCIT in December, 2012 to reject any proposals that might expand ITU authority in ways that would threaten the continued growth and global nature of the internet or restrict the exercise of human rights online.

Signatories:

  • Freedom House
  • ‘Gbenga Sesan, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
  • Thai Netizen Network
  • Kamal Sedra, DISC Development
  • Mahmood Enayat, Small Media
  • Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles, Argentina
  • Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
  • Alaksiej Carniajeu, Belarus IT Aid
  • Siarhei Mackievic, Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus
  • Anas Helali, Syrian IT specialist
  • Arzu Geybullayeva, Azerbaijani blogger
  • Myanmar ICT for Development Organization
  • i freedom Uganda
  • Community Empowerment for Progress Organization – CEPO, South Sudan
  • Egyptian Democratic Academy
  • Common Europe Foundation
  • Dr. Katy Pearce, Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Washington

 

You can download a copy of the joint statement. Source: Freedom House

 

A Time to Map: Mapping the Nigerian Tech Ecosystem

Image courtesy Co-Creation Hub, Lagos

There is a time for everything. There’s a time to learn, and a time to apply that which has been learnt. There’s a time to apply what’s been learnt, and a time to show results. There’s a time to show off results, and a time to connect results and resources with others. There’s a time to connect, and a time to raise a new generation of doers. And then, there’s a time to ask who exactly is doing what, where and when. For the Nigerian tech ecosystem, that time – the time to map the industry – is now.

For a while now, I’ve had two kinds of conversations with various people around the not-so-defined buzz within Nigeria’s tech ecosystem. From eCommerce to policy, start-ups to hubs and events to some more talk, Nigeria is seeing a revolution similar to what happened in the ’70s when a generation of tech people returned home from new knowledge acquired on a topic that was still magic at home. Today, that generation sits atop industry associations that many accuse of being disconnected from the real work of innovation going on in the Nigerian tech space.

My conversation has been with two broad categories: those who want to make a sense of what’s up with Nigerian tech so they can benefit from the revolution, and those who are within the thick of things and just want to know how what they’re doing impacts the bigger picture. The advantage of this is that one gets better perspective of the ecosystem, but it also comes with the disadvantage of spending valuable time explaining what can actually be made available as a resource for future reference and relevant consultation. That explains my excitement when CcHub’s Bosun Tijani and I discussed the need to map Nigeria’s tech ecosystem few weeks ago.

In the early days of tech in Nigeria, it was easy to know what folks were doing because everyone sort of met at one watering hole or the other – meetings, contract bids, etc. But then, the industry has grown with Nigeria and we now have so much going on such that it’s impossible for us to have as many touch points as are required for anyone to make sense of chaos. Some of the demerits of this scenario include the replication of exact same projects with strained resources; disconnect between government, academia and industry; complex process of engaging ideas within the ecosystem from outside; and more.

Mapping the ecosystem is like bringing order to somewhat organised chaos. It will help us see who is doing what, where, when, and more. It will also allow actors – or intending players – know who to engage and exactly what space everyone plays in. Just as a map allows us see where each utility exists to serve the community, a mapping exercise for the Nigerian tech ecosystem will allow us see who is working on policy, capacity building, research, incubation, funding, bottom-of-pyramid engagement, mobile, getting-hands-dirty and all that needs to be done, or is being done.

It then makes it easy for new entrants to know who their existing competitors are, where they fit within the food chain and/or who they can hook up with as partners. As an investor, you can easily see where your money will have most impact instead of playing “tente” based on who you know and think may know what you’re looking for. It also becomes easier for government to see policy gaps, for the academia to see where research is most needed and also for the media to see better connections between seemingly isolated activities.

So, it’s the time to map. And this is an early invitation to engage the process when PIN and CcHub call for a stakeholder session in Q1 2013.

12 Reasons To Attend #TENT2012 From 10-12.12.12

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Nigeria and Global ICT Policy: Making Sense of All These Meetings

The room is full of people from various countries and age brackets, but one group stands out. They say longer hellos to each other and seem to have something in common – thousands and thousands of travel miles earned between scores of conferences that they now navigate with so much ease. They may be advocates, policy experts, country delegates or lobbyists, but they know how to work these international meetings and use them for desired interests. They stand around coffee tables and sit in groups at lunch, taking advantage of the presence of international audiences to advance national, sectorial, business or regional agenda.

My baptism into this often-fun part of many global-facing careers was in 2002. The United Nations had agreed to host series of preparatory committee meetings, described by most as PrepComs, towards a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that would hold in two parts – in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. Working with a group of talented young people, many of whom have now gone on to build impressive careers in their respective countries, the WSIS Youth Caucus came to understand the workings of such large international meetings. Governments, civil society organisations and private sector institutions converged in Geneva and Tunis to discuss the future of the Information Society.

There were many agreements and useful exchanges, but the sheer size of participants brought on its own challenge – many ideas were drowned in the sea of heads that gathered in the plenary halls and side rooms. However, the group described in the opening paragraph worked the meetings to the advantage of the interests they represented. Organisations tapped beyond strict borders to get help, as seen through some interests that sponsored individuals from various companies and/or corporations to help push desired agenda. Travel, lodging and daily subsistence allowances came through fellowships that ensured that ideas had consistent support. The language of global ICT policy often rests on the dynamic relationships that exist between people who understand these meetings, interests and how much support can be packed into a “delegation.”

For a country like Nigeria, that has had a history of over-bloated government delegations that often do nothing more than increase the volume of shopping in the cities where their international meetings are hosted, there must be a deliberate strategy to engage global ICT policy by maximising the resources at the country’s disposal. Most international meetings around ICT policy discussions have many Nigerians who are sponsored by various interests and institutions, but their country hardly benefits due to no fault of the participants. Many times, when the government delegation is convinced to host a meeting of citizens at such events, they reveal their lack of preparation. And at times, outright confusion.

The unfair balance of power between the global North and South is not helped by the fire brigade strategy that many African governments adopt towards these international meetings. If you are not on the table, you are surely on the menu. And Nigeria, along with the rest of African governments, needs to understand this. If issues are not ironed out before events and country delegations only become rubber-stamp opportunities for established interests, then no wonder some of our primary issues remain unaddressed. Nigeria should be on the forefront of issues such as cybercrime at the Internet Governance Forum meetings that started based on recommendations from the World Summit of the Information Society, for example. Why, in the age of an open Internet, are African resources blacklisted by global service providers? Bringing issues to the table should be more important than estacode and how exotic the meeting locations are.

Nigeria needs to raise an army of strategic diplomats and subject experts, and not shoppers, meeting junkies or “estacode/per-diem diplomats.” The former are the professionals who can make sure that national interests – that are fair and add value to the commonwealth – are drawn from domesticating the outcomes of global policy discussions and internationalising local policies that are obvious best practices. Before these meetings, Nigeria needs to host multi-stakeholder sessions that will help discuss issues and identify opportunities. After such meetings, debriefing sessions, preferably via online channels since we are indeed in the 21st century, should help extract benefits for the country and her diverse sectors.

While it is cool to have large delegations at these international meetings, it must remain clear to Nigeria that we need to advance the country’s interests through the various global ICT policy discussions. The alternative is to allow opportune individuals to use the next set of meetings as see-the-world opportunities, and that will be costly both in terms of what we lose by not engaging properly and by the resources – in time and money – spent. In December, Nigeria will send a sizeable delegation to the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) where the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will discuss the almost-controversial International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). What will Nigeria bring to the table?

PIN Hosts TENT Gathering To Jumpstart ICT Innovation In Nigerian Universities

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) will, from December 10 through 12, 2012, host the first edition of its annual TENT Gathering, where 500 students with keen interest in ICT solutions will discuss how they can maximize the four or five years they spend on tertiary education to build ICT businesses or business ideas.

“We want Nigerian students to graduate with business plans, ideas or actual businesses, instead of just CVs,” said Mr. ‘Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria. “That is why we started the Techie. Entrepreneurial. Nigerian. Talented (TENT) initiative and we are glad to have Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, as our first university partner on the segment of the initiative that will focus on universities. The vision of TENT is to help jumpstart the culture of innovation and enterprise in the mould of global technology companies which all started as ideas that were developed into products right from the university halls of their young founders.”

With official figures from the Nigerian government on unemployment at 24.9% and a minister revealing that only 10% of graduates get decent jobs two years after graduation, PIN believes the TENT initiative will provide the opportunity to reverse the trend of producing job seekers, and moving towards grooming competent ready hands and employers of labour. According to PIN’s COO, Mrs. Tope Ogundipe, “TENT is a platform that will showcase, connect, add value and inspire.

The platform fills an existing gap and will also provide a place where budding Nigerian technopreneurs can showcase their work, connect with resources, add value to market and inspire innovation, while building a sustainable business that they will run after graduation. TENT’s workshops and annual event will also search for unconnected tech enthusiasts who have the potential of building on globally accessible technology products or leading a new product development cycle for local companies.”

PIN commenced hosting TENT Workshops across Nigeria in 2011 and signed an MoU with Obafemi Awolowo University in April 2012. PIN’s 5-year intervention program at Obafemi Awolowo University will begin from the Computer Science/Engineering department where Year 1 students have been introduced to the concept of tech entrepreneurship.

TENT will challenge participating students to start out with an idea they would love to implement as a full-time business by the time they graduate, connect them with mentors (within and outside the campus environment), support qualifying participants with industry-specific Student Industrial Work experience Scheme (SIWES) placements and support them to complete their Final Year Project based on the idea they started developing in Year 1.

For the TENT Gathering holding from December 10 – 12, 2012, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, facilitators who will share experiences with students include leading Nigerian technology experts, entrepreneurs and industry leaders. They will be joined by technology hubs whose managers will host Innovation Clinics to expose students to best practice examples – of both success and failure – so they can ask practical questions about their on-going projects and get help from the hub managers.

The first day of TENT Gathering will focus on general presentations about technology opportunities while the second day will focus on the dual theme of Techie and Entrepreneurial while the final day will focus on Nigerian and Talented.

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) is a social enterprise that connects under-served Nigerian youth with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) opportunities; with specific concern about the ill effects of unemployment and cybercrime, among other vices that limit the potential contribution of young Nigerians to the nation’s economy.

Having worked with government, civil society, private institutions and international organizations including the United Nations, PIN has worked in ICT education, telecenter support, ICT applications in rural areas, etc. PIN’s projects include Ajegunle.org, a capacity development initiative that connects the community’s youth with training, internship and mentorship opportunities; MISSPIN, the social campaign that is tackling cybercrime issues in Nigeria; and TENT.

If you would like more information about this topic or further project description on TENT, please visit www.pinigeria.org/tent.


This press statement has been featured on YNaija, OTekBits and TechLoy.

10 New Economy Skills

Few thoughts expressed on twitter earlier today, based on what I told students at 2 meetings where I spoke at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife last weekend:

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New Report: Governments Grow Increasingly Repressive Online, Activists Fight Back

Washington – September 24, 2012 – Brutal attacks against bloggers, politically motivated surveillance, proactive manipulation of web content, and restrictive laws regulating speech online are among the diverse threats to internet freedom emerging over the past two years, according to a new study released today by Freedom House. Despite these threats, Freedom on the Net 2012: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media found that increased pushback by civil society, technology companies, and independent courts resulted in several notable victories.

“The findings clearly show that threats to internet freedom are becoming more diverse. As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier—but no less dangerous—methods for controlling online conversations,” said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House.

The battle over internet freedom comes at a time when nearly one third of the world’s population has used the internet. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users. The methods of control are becoming more sophisticated, and tactics previously evident in only the most repressive environments—such as governments instigating deliberate connection disruptions or hiring armies of paid commentators to manipulate online discussions—are appearing in a wider set of countries.

Freedom on the Net 2012, which identifies key trends in internet freedom in 47 countries, evaluates each country based on barriers to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights.

The study found that Estonia had the greatest degree of internet freedom among the countries examined, while the United States ranked second. Iran, Cuba, and China received the lowest scores in the analysis. Eleven other countries received a ranking of Not Free, including Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Thailand. A total of 20 of the 47 countries examined experienced a negative trajectory in internet freedom since January 2011, with Bahrain, Pakistan, and Ethiopia registering the greatest declines.

Several downgrades, particularly in the Middle East, reflected intensified censorship, arrests, and violence against bloggers as the authorities sought to quell public calls for reform. In Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and China, authorities imposed new restrictions after observing the key role that social media played in the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

At the same time, 14 countries registered a positive trajectory, with Tunisia and Burma experiencing the largest improvements following dramatic political openings. The remaining gains occurred almost exclusively in democracies, highlighting the crucial importance of broader institutions of democratic governance in upholding internet freedom.

Countries at Risk: As part of its analysis, Freedom House identified a number of important countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming 12 months: Azerbaijan, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka.

 

Key Trends

* New laws restrict free speech: In 19 of the 47 countries examined, new laws or directives have been passed since January 2011 that either restrict online speech, violate user privacy, or punish individuals who post content deemed objectionable or undesirable.

* Bloggers and ordinary users increasingly face arrest for political speech on the web:  In 26 of the 47 countries, including several democratic states, at least one blogger or ICT user was arrested for content posted online or sent via text message.

* Physical attacks against government critics are intensifying: In 19 of the 47 countries assessed, a blogger or internet user was tortured, disappeared, beaten, or brutally assaulted as a result of their online posts. In five countries, an activist or citizen journalist was killed in retribution for posting information that exposed human rights abuses.

* Paid commentators, hijacking attacks are proliferating: The phenomenon of paid pro-government commentators has spread over the past two years from a small set of countries to 14 of the 47 countries examined. Meanwhile, government critics faced politically motivated cyberattacks in 19 of the countries covered.

* Surveillance is increasing, with few checks on abuse: In 12 of the 47 countries examined, a new law or directive disproportionately enhanced surveillance or restricted user anonymity. In authoritarian countries, surveillance often targets government critics, while in middle-performing countries, safeguards for user rights and oversight procedures are lagging far behind governments’ technical capacities and legal powers, leading to abuse.

* Citizen pushback is yielding results: A significant uptick in civic activism related to internet freedom, alongside important court decisions, has produced notable victories in a wide set of countries. Advocacy campaigns, mass demonstrations, website blackouts, and constitutional court decisions have resulted in censorship plans being shelved, harmful legislation being overturned, and jailed activists being released. In 23 of the 47 countries assessed, at least one such victory occurred.

 

Other Significant Country Findings:

* China: China is home to the world’s largest population of internet users, but also the most advanced system of controls—one that has become even more restrictive. In 2011, the authorities abducted dozens of activists and bloggers, holding them incommunicado for weeks and sentencing several to prison. The government also tightened controls over popular domestic microblogging platforms, pressuring key firms to more stringently censor political content and to register their users’ real names. Meanwhile, China’s influence as an incubator for sophisticated restrictions was felt across the globe, with governments such as Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Iran using China as a model for their own new internet controls.

* Iran: The Iranian authorities used more nuanced tactics in a continued campaign against internet freedom that began after disputed elections in 2009. These tactics included: upgrading content filtering technology, hacking digital certificates to undermine user privacy, and moving closer to establishing a National Internet. Iranian judicial authorities also meted out some of the harshest sentences in the world for online activities, including imposing the death penalty on three bloggers and IT professionals.

*Russia: The internet is the last relatively uncensored platform for public debate in Russia. However, since January 2011, massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and smear campaigns to discredit online activists have intensified. After online tools played a critical role in galvanizing massive anti-government protests that began in December 2011, the Kremlin signaled its intention to further tighten control over internet communications.

* Pakistan: Disconcerting recent developments in Pakistan include a ban on encryption and virtual private networks (VPNs), a death sentence imposed for transmitting allegedly blasphemous content via text message, and a one-day block on all mobile phone networks in Balochistan province. Several other initiatives to increase censorship—including a plan to filter text messages by keyword and a proposal to develop a nationwide internet firewall—were officially shelved in response to civil society advocacy campaigns, although some suspect that the government is still working on them behind closed doors.

*Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) maintained many of its predecessor’s tactics of internet control, while intensifying others. Mobile phones, the internet, and social media remained under vigorous surveillance, bandwidth speeds were throttled during specific events, and SCAF-affiliated commentators manipulated online discussions. Several activists and bloggers were intimidated, beaten, shot at, or tried in military courts for “insulting the military power” or “disturbing social peace.” Despite recent elections, the future trajectory of internet freedom in Egypt remains precarious and uncertain.

*United States: Internet access in the United States remains open and fairly free compared with the rest of the world. Courts have consistently held that prohibitions against government regulation of speech apply to material published on the internet, but the government’s surveillance powers are cause for some concern. In early 2012, campaigns by civil society and technology companies helped to halt passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which were criticized for their potentially negative effects on free speech.

*Azerbaijan: As the host of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in November 2012, the government of Azerbaijan has been eager to promote itself as a leader of ICT innovation, but has also slightly increased restrictions on internet freedom. Rather than significantly censoring online content, the government has employed tactics such as raiding cybercafes to gather information on user identities, arresting politically active netizens on trumped-up charges, and harassing activists and their family members. In a worrisome development, the authorities ramped up their surveillance capabilities of mobile phones in early 2012.

To view the full report, click here.

Download the Nigerian chapter of the report here.

 

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Tell Nigerian Legislators To Obey The Law

On August 29, 2012, Punch reported that “National Assembly, through its Clerk, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, has asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to stay execution of its judgment ordering it to disclose the earnings of its members.”

Many Nigerians will remember that Justice Balkisu Aliyu, in a June 25 judgment on a suit filed by Legal Defence and Assistance Project, ordered the National Assembly through its Clerk “to give detailed information of salary, emolument and allowances paid” to all the federal lawmakers from June 2007 to May 2011.

Nigerians know that, relative to the health of the economy and perceived quality of work done by federal lawmakers, our legislators are overpaid. However, no one really knows exactly what they take home. The fact that a court order asking for such is now being fought deepens the fear that what we’ve complained about is even less than their pay.

Noting that many lawmakers are now taking advantage of social media platforms to communicate with Nigerians and others, it may be a good idea to politely force them into a conversation about this elephant in the room. They should start, though, by obeying the law. One would expect lawmakers to avoid the tag of law breakers.

Follow them, if you’d be kind enough to, or simply monitor their timelines for tweets. Once they post any message, politely remind them of the issue at hand – the need to declare what they’re paid. Why? Because a court of law has asked them to do so. At least, for the specified period.

Let’s keep the conversation civil, and let this join our collective efforts towards cutting government waste. First, we need them to obey this court order. After that, we’ll return to ask the question: do we need to pay them this much considering the fact that 70% of Nigerians – the people they represent and serve – work much harder to earn much less.

And when anyone asks you if it’ll make any impact, tell them about the power of crowding out words that people would want to say but won’t because they know tens (and maybe hundreds) of tweets will follow, asking the same question they’re yet to answer. This may be the online equivalent of a filibuster-like action. Let the replies begin. Thank you!

@olumide_osoba
@AbikeDabiri
@BukolaSaraki
@SpeakerTambuwal
@EmekaIhedioha
@ojudu
@AdolphPeterside
@NitoriOjoOlawa
@femigbaja
@HonNnennaUkeje
@SenHalenEsuene
@Senatorandyuba
@oluremitinubu
@jideomoworare

BUSINESSDAY: “40 UNDER 40: Gbenga Sesan, CEO, Paradigm Initiative”

By Funke Osae-Brown for BusinessDay

Gbenga Sesan grew up in Akure. He saw a computer for the first time ever during his third year in secondary school, but he never had access to it until another three years. His inability to satisfy his curiosity about computers was a very big challenge to him. Instead of getting discouraged, he made up his mind that not only was he going to touch a computer, he would also teach others how to use it.

He recalls, “I was determined to prevent the kind of embarrassment I faced each time I tried getting closer to the ‘magic beast’. Instead of getting frustrated when I was told that computers were not for people like me, that I was too small to understand, I determined never to back down until the tool became a valid force for my personal progress.”
Three years after he was kept away from computers, Gbenga graduated from secondary school and thought it was a good time to get started on computer training. Though his parents initially felt it was too much money to spend on “something that will not earn you a bachelor’s degree and a good job”, his persistence would not keep him away from computer school.

“I enrolled and graduated with the best feeling any human being could have,” Gbenga recounts nostalgically. “I was connected to my dreams and I knew it.”

Eight years after that first encounter with a computer, he met James Sotomi who gave him the opportunity to do his fourth year industrial attachment in his company, Neural Technologies Limited. While there, Gbenga garnered enough experience to start him off in his career. By the year 2000, he had completed his first task of helping people use Information and Communication Technologies for development.

“I organised a training session on website design with a friend, Ogemdi, and about sixteen young people graduated from the training course with a glow similar to the one I had some five years before then. Maybe I’m impacting my generation,” he says proudly.

Now a member of the United Nations Committee on ICT/Youth and an Ashoka Fellow, Gbenga is a social entrepreneur who is quick to express his passionate belief in the potential that Information and Communication Technologies holds for developing economies. “Each time I consider what Nigeria and Africa keep losing as we clamour for wealth from mineral resources while ignoring the potential benefits of investing in the Information Society, I am inspired to take another step towards helping the situation in my own little way.”

Maybe that explains why the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) put it this way in 2003: “Nigeria…appointed a youth as an Information Technology ambassador…and while he has no personal computer himself, he holds the dream of helping over 4,000 young people learn new ICT skills within his two-year tenure.”

After working for 6 years, Gbenga resigned on February 13, 2007 to start Paradigm Initiative Nigeria as a vehicle of connecting young Nigerians with ICT opportunities. “Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) is a social enterprise that connects underserved Nigerian youth with ICT opportunities, with specific concern about the ill effects of unemployment and cybercrime, among other vices that limit the potential contribution of young Nigerians to the nation’s economy. Having worked with government, civil society, private institutions and international organisations including the United Nations, PIN has set standards in ICT education, telecentre support, ICT applications in rural areas, and other ICT interventions in Nigeria.

PIN’s projects include Ajegunle.org; Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria, and TENT (Techie. Entrepreneurial. Nigerian. Talented). PIN is not a traditional business in the sense of profit and loss; we are a social business that reinvests 100 percent of income into our projects.”

Gbenga explains that PIN services underserved youth primarily. “We also serve partners who provide us with technology-related tasks that generate income towards the sustainability of our projects. Our primary clients are young Nigerians who may otherwise not have the opportunity to improve their livelihoods. For example, Ajegunle.org is a model that we have designed to create better livelihoods – through ICT opportunities, entrepreneurship training and short-term internships – for young people in Nigeria’s underserved areas. Ego, like many other young people in Nigeria’s most popular slum, was not sure of what tomorrow held for her. Now she works at the Visa Section of the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos, thanks to her participation in the Ajegunle.org project.”

Another project participant grew her business of N2,000 by over 2,000 percent after the training.

The challenge of cybercrime in Nigeria is very close to Gbenga’s heart; hence he is creating awareness through a social campaign that involves sensitisation workshops in selected schools, annual one-day events and a rehabilitation project. The task of redirecting the energy/skills of these at-risk youth, he says, involves working with PIN partners, Microsoft and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to retrain the youth on how to use their passion and skills to develop a legitimate career in technology.

Break-even for Gbenga means sustainability, and he is fortunate to have been able to achieve that. “But even with that, the task of growing our earned income – from consulting and other assignments – to 70 percent of our annual budget is tough in an environment where the cost of completing such tasks can shoot up with policy changes.

We had projects running through into 2012 that we had signed MoUs for, and no thanks to the January 12 economic shake-up, we took some beating with our final numbers. Our work focuses on developing Nigeria, so we take the harsh environment as an opportunity to prepare our students for the reality of becoming entrepreneurs or managers in Nigeria.”

So, what has been sustaining PIN? “Results,” he says. “Each year, when we look back at the number of people who have come in contact with our projects – and who are much better for it – we look forward to doing more. With excitement, even. Our Q2 report (attached) shows a reach of over 6,000, and we look forward to improving on this for the new quarter. The reward of hard work is more work, and in our case, more (exciting) work.

When asked what’s his next big move is, Gbenga answers matter-of-factly: “In December 2012, PIN will host the first edition of our Techie. Entrepreneurial. Nigerian. Talented (TENT) Gathering. With official figures from the Nigerian government on unemployment at 24.9 percent and a minister revealing that only 10 percent of graduates get decent jobs two years after graduation, we have often imagined the opportunity to reverse the trend of producing job seekers and producing employers of labour instead.

Imagine what the best of today’s young Nigerian code-spinners and ICT gurus-in-the-making – those who are exposed to the technical, business and leadership requirements of ICT and innovation – can contribute to Nigeria’s economy, tech businesses operating in Nigeria and the businesses that these young men and women build. TENT, as PIN’s response to this huge need, is based on analysis of the current circumstances and our team’s experience with national and global best practices spanning a period of over 10 years – and over 30 countries.”

VANGUARD: “My teacher said computers not for people like me – ‘Gbenga Sesan”

By Gift Gabriel for Vanguard Newspapers

Federal Government College, Idoani, Akure had just received two sets of computers and Gbenga Sesan, who was in his third year, was too excited to try his hands on the devices. “Sorry, you can’t understand how to use them because they not for people like you”, a teacher rebuked him.

There and then, the seed of interest was sown in Gbenga who therefore decided to not only learn to use computers, but also teach the skill to others. That dream came to reality ten years later when, in 2001, he was appointed Nigeria’s first ever Information Technology Youth Ambassador.

Today, Gbenga’s work is built around the use of ICTs in socio-economic transformation such as job creation- focusing on underserved groups, through his organisation known as Paradigm Initiative Nigeria  (PIN). He is our Inspirational Icon for today!

Curiosity established
What he considered most embarrassing about his rebuke was that two other students whose father was a professor in one of the federal universities were allowed to use the school’s newly acquired computer sets because they already knew how to use them. No one seemed in anyway ready to show young Gbenga Sesan how to explore the computers.
With the curiosity already established, immediately after secondary school in 1994, he got enrolled in a computer training school before going to study electronic & electrical engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University .

To perfect his computer skills, in his third year when he was to undergo his industrial attachment, he chose to work with Neural Technology Limited, a Lagos-based firm where he was also able to acquire skills in website designing, amongst other advanced skills.

Reaping begins
“When I returned to campus, I was really excited about teaching others, and I started teaching website designing to students for two thousand naira. For the first 12 students I taught, I was able to pay for my accommodation and a few other needs. After that, I got involved in departmental politics, and became the Chairman of our Electronic Club because of my agenda which they knew was to teach computer skills”, he says.

By the time he was graduating from the Obafemi Awolowo University with his degree in electronic & electrical engineering, Gbenga had become a computer veteran!

Just after graduation in 2001, he participated in a competition, emerged the winner, and was, therefore, appointed the first Information Technology Youth Ambassador for Nigeria. The idea behind the competition was to discover young Nigerians who grew up in Nigeria, understood technology, and could compete with anyone from anywhere  in the world.

What a feat for Gbenga who was once told that computers were not for people like him!

As fate would also have it, one of the tasks given him was to travel around Nigeria, teaching people how to use the computer.

“In fact, when I was invited to the Federal Government College, Idoani, after my presentation, the same teacher who had told me I didn’t know how to use computers was actually the one who gave the vote of thanks!”, he satisfactorily says.

Aiming higher
With such glory, many would have become complacent, but not Gbenga! He saw it all as the beginning of greater things, and has, since then, continued to strive towards excellence. Over the years, he has been trained at the Lagos Business School, New York Group for Technology Transfer, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and Santa Clara Universities. He also holds a diploma in software application, certificate in venture management and certificate in project management from the Lagos Business School.

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
After his National Youth Service, which he did at the Junior Achievements of Nigeria, he continued working with the body which was spearheading a project called Lagos Digital Village(a project which corresponded with his dream) with young people until 2007 when he resigned to focus on something he had started online- Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, PIN.

“PIN works in the space between youth, technology and improved livelihood. We basically train young people for an improved livelihood. For example, we currently have a project in Ajegunle, Lagos, in which we train people in technology and entrepreneurship, connect them with internship opportunities, and, as much as possible, get them to begin work with their skills”, Gbenga explains.

“The point is that we can’t keep waiting on government to create jobs because government itself is very busy trying to sort itself out! In ideal societies however, governments don’t create jobs; the private sectors, especially the small and medium enterprises, do! Governments help with enabling environment for business growth.
ICT and national development

“If you look at the ICT readiness index of countries around the world, and you compare it to their GDPs and growth, you will find a 100% correlation. It makes things faster, and increases attention on intellectual capital more than on below-the-ground mineral resources. Nations, particularly in the gulf region, have used their mineral resources to improve their human capital development, such that they are now benefitting from human capital. Nigeria can take a cue from that!”