By Gigi Alford and Shannon Coyne
When we visited the *iHub_Nairobi last month, we could sense the spirit of innovation nurtured by its collaborative space, energetic members and dedicated staff. It was clear that this creative center both attracts and sparks invention and entrepreneurship in the tech sector.
In our own work at Freedom House, assisting online activists to use new technologies to promote human rights worldwide, we try to foster this same innovative spirit. Take for instance the Freedom House IGF Incubator Project, which we explain below.
Prior to our tour of the *iHub facilities, we spent a week with an inspiring group of human rights activists from around East Africa. The group learned a great deal, but they were especially keen to experiment with the Ushahidi platform – a tool made in Africa and now supporting phenomenal projects in Africa and around the world. The pride and enthusiasm of these activists highlights the rewards of continuing to foster regional innovation – not only for business entrepreneurs, but for civil society, humanitarians and activists as well.
In many ways, online activists and tech-focused innovators represent two examples of why established powers consider the Internet “disruptive.” Our research shows the more activists and innovators use digital platforms to challenge the political, social and economic status quo, the more governments surveil and restrict online activities. Thus, promoting and protecting a free and open Internet is not just in the interest of human rights defenders and civil society organizations; it is also important for technologists, investors, and tech companies alike.
This “multi-stakeholder” nature of governing the Internet is engrained in the open forum convened by the UN to wrestle with these questions, known as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Last year, when the IGF held its annual meeting in Nairobi, Freedom House brought a delegation of civil society representatives to ensure that the human rights perspective was featured prominently in the multi-stakeholder dialogue. This year, at the 7th IGF Meeting in Azerbaijan in November 2012, Freedom House will again bring a delegation to highlight the point of view of activists and innovators alike, and emphasize action at the local level.
Part of this effort is driven by the Freedom House IGF Incubator Project, a contest for activists, NGOs, and civil society to compete for funding opportunities for high-impact Internet freedom projects that target regional and country-specific issues. Representatives of at least four projects will be selected to participate in the Freedom House delegation to the IGF in Azerbaijan, where they will present their ideas before a panel of judges in a public pitch. At least two projects will be selected to receive Freedom House funding.
We invite members of the *iHub community to submit a funding proposal for up to $15,000 USD. For more details about the application and selection process, see the contest website: http://www.internetfreedomfh.
strutta.com<http://www. internetfreedomfh.strutta.com/ > and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ FHIncubatorProjectIGF. Please email questions and requests for the full application materials atinternetfreedom@freedomhouse. org<mailto:internetfreedom@ freedomhouse.org>.
The start-up scene in Nairobi has earned the emerging tech sector there the label “Africa’s Silicon Valley.” The contagious innovative spirit of *iHub_Nairobi, spreading in the African tech-hub boom, is now well recognized on the world scene. And so we eagerly welcome your thoughts about Internet governance and await the opportunity to collaborate in advancing Internet Freedom in Kenya and East Africa.