Akber Gardezi awarded for his work for blind people in Pakistan

It is with great pleasure that we report that Dr. Akber Gardezi (Assistant Professor at COMSATS University, Pakistan, and the Inter Islamic Network on Information Technology) and an Affiliated Member of our UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has received this year’s Saima Ammar award for his work in using digital technologies to support people with disabilities in Pakistan.  The award is made annually by the Young Women Writers Forum (based in Islamabad) in association with Sightsavers, and this year it was made during a ceremony at Rawalpindi Women University.

The award was created in 2011 in memory of Saima Ammar, who had bAkber awardeen a very active member of the Young Women Writers Forum, and had recently passed away battling Multiple Sclerosis.  The Forum did not have any funding available and so they contacted Sightsavers with whom they had an existing MoU to help and support Blind Women Writers in Pakistan.  The first “award” (but not in a physical sense) was a small gathering of like minded people who supported the cause of empowering women and overall inclusion more generally. As the years passed by this gathering which always took place around the 15th of October began a regular feature to honour visually impaired people who had done substantial work within the community.  For the last 3-4 years they have also sought nominations from the wider community to include sighted people working for the service of visually impaired people.

Akber.GardeziAkber writes “I am deeply humbled and thankful to my vision impaired friends who recommended my name for this award. This is very special for me as it links me to the memory of the late Saima Ammar. She was a symbol of activism and defiance; she is someone who fought the cause for access to education for people with disabilities in Pakistan. She is someone who did not let blindness be a burden on her life, but rather used it as a motivation. She did not lead a very comfortable and luxurious life herself but played an immense role promoting educational culture among the visual impaired community of Pakistan. She founded Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB) and initiated the Audio World Project in 1995 with the aim of providing education, information and entertainment to visually impaired persons through audio books. Let this be a reminder for us all to keep fighting the good fight and remember Saima in our thoughts and prayers”.

Why migrant technology research needs ‘values’ at its core

In a world where the fundamental human values of liberty, equality and fraternity are being challenged by digital technologies, research on how these technologies impact inequality and migration has never been more pressing.

Digital technologies are often implicated in stories around migration. Mobiles and mobile apps offer a lifeline for migrants in vulnerable situations; a means to connect with their past and to engage with their present.

But in many countries, digital technologies are also at the centre of state surveillance and anti-migrant propaganda. Access to technologies and capacity to use them effectively also vary across communities and individuals. Digital technologies create a kind of paradox: they empower but also create vulnerabilities and even inequalities.

How we use digital technologies to address the migration-inequality-development nexus matters. The values that underpin these efforts matter more. Migrant technology can only genuinely claim to address migrant concerns when it starts and ends with those affected by these technologies – the migrant themselves.

But this raises a couple of questions. How are the problems that migrants face being addressed by digital technologies? Will these technologies create other problems, vulnerabilities or inequalities? How can we fundamentally shift the focus of migrant technology research from the technologies that underpin it to the values that underpin their use?

Answers to these difficult questions aren’t easy. As we embark on a five-year project to understand the role Information Communication Technology (ICT) can play in addressing inequalities in the context of South-South migration, here are three key principles driving us:

  • There is nothing inherently good about digital technology. It can be used to do good or harm.
  • Digital development interventions are often technologically deterministic and have unintended social consequences. Both can lead to failure. Therefore, we must address not just the technological aspects, important as they are, but also the social processes that underpin their use in particular contexts. Different migration contexts may have different needs, and may likely need different kinds of technological interventions.
  • Development outcomes and meaningful user engagement are not inevitable in technology-related interventions. We must find ways to engage users in their context to ensure that interventions are both relevant and sustainable, while maximising positive outcomes and minimising negative social impacts.

Migrant technology research needs to put values at its core. It must reflect the values that we privilege, particularly when we are required to make difficult trade-offs.

When freedom of choice is constrained by the socio-political and legal context, when equality of access is constrained by the cultural context, or when fraternity is impeded by privacy concerns in risky and vulnerable contexts – these values will be integral.

Ultimately, recognising the multifaceted nature of the migrant context means being particularly mindful of the values we may seek to promote through technology interventions.

 

[Originally posted on MIDEQ site on 31 August 2019]

DFID-funded technology for education Hub Inception Phase consultation retreat hosted at Royal Holloway, University of London

It was great to have hosted the DFID-funded technology for education EdTech Hub three-day Inception Phase consultation retreat from the evening of  29th July through to 1st August at Royal Holloway, University of London.  This brought together some 30 members of the core team, funders and partners from the Overseas Development Institute, the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, Brink, Jigsaw Consult, Results for Development, Open Development and Education, AfriLabs, BRAC and eLearning Africa, and the World Bank, as well as members of the Intellectual Leadership Team from across the world, and representation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The meeting was designed to set in motion all of the activities and processes for the Inception Phase of the eight-year Hub, focusing especially on

  • The Hub’s overall vision
  • The work of our three main spheres of activity
    • Research
    • Innovation, and
    • Engagement
  • Our governance structure
  • Our theory of change
  • Our ethical and safeguarding frameworks
  • Our communication strategy, and
  • Our use of Agile and adaptive approaches

The Hub aims to work in partnership to “galvanise a global community in pursuit of catalytic impact, focusing on evidence so we can collectively abandon what does not work and reallocate funding and effort to what does”.  Moreover, it is “committed to using rigorous evidence and innovation to improve the lives of the most marginalised”.

Above all, as the pictures below indicate, this meeting formed an essential part in helping to build the trust and good working relationships that are so essential in ensuring that this initiative, launched in June 2019, will achieve the ambitious goals that it has set.

 

Inception meeting of UKRI GCRF South-South Migration Hub in Ghana

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, represented by Dr. Hari Harindranath and Tim Unwin, is excited to be participating in the inception meeting of the UKRI GCRF South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub, being held at the spacious University of Ghana Campus in Legon.  The multidisciplinary Hub, led by Professor Heaven Crawley from the University of Coventry, is committed to “doing development research” in new and different ways, and this inception meeting is living true to that aim – with the first morning being illuminated by music, art and poetry, as well as lively discussion.

The first day is focusing on how the more than forty partners will work together as well as getting to know those colleagues leading on the various corridors and work packages.  The second day will focus on issues such as research ethics, the baseline survey and our communication strategy, and the entire final day will be devoted to safeguarding issues.

We hope that the pictures below catch something of the diversity, energy and expertise of those participating in this fun-packed gathering.  The dancing starts later…

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The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D: research, policy and practice

We are delighted to share this new poster prepared for the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D by Jen Thornton, highlighting the aims of our research and how these influence policy and practice.  Especial thanks too to our friends Sanna Ojanperä and Mark Graham at the Oxford Internet Institute for preparing the map on the latest figures for the relative costs of fixed broadband subscriptions across the world.  Put simply, we try to do the best possible quality of research with, and in the interests of, the poorest and most marginalised.

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For a high resolution .pdf version, please click here.

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at EQUALS annual meetings in New York

30977455738_16795cafc3_oRoyal Holloway, University of London, was one of the earliest  partners to join the EQUALS global partnership in 2016, and has largely been represented in the partnership by members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.  EQUALS is “a ground-breaking global network delivered by a committed partnership of corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women – and in so doing, bettering the lives of millions worldwide”.  Its activities are grouped into three coalitions (Skills, Leadership and Access) and a Research Group, with Royal Holloway being most active in the Skills Coalition and the Research Group.

30977455818_32711a3151_oEQUALS holds its annual Principals’ Meetings in the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and this year Royal Holloway was represented by the Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.  The Principals’ Meeting on 22nd September discussed the progress made by all of the coalitions, and particularly the publication of the Research Group’s report entitled Taking stock: data and evidence on gender equality in digital access, skills and leadershipMembers of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D have been active in the preparation of this report, and the section written by Liz Quaglia and Ashley Fraser on A gender perspective of security and privacy in the digital age was particularly noted by the Rector of the United Nations University (UNU) in his speech launching the report.   EQUALS now has more than 70 partners, and before the Principals’ Meeting, there was a welcome event for new members.  In the evening many of us also gathered for the  EQUALS in Tech awards ceremony, which celebrated the activities of global initiatives in skills, access, leadership and research that have helped deliver the overall objectives of EQUALS.

43941036125_cdf0d24a59_oWith so many EQUALS partners present in New York this was also an opportunity for members of the Skills Coalition and the Research Group to meet to review progress and plan for the future.  We were all very grateful to UN Women for hosting these meetings, and much progress was made in moving the initiative forward.  In particular, there was widespread support at the Skills Coalition meeting for the need to change men’s attitudes and behaviours, and the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s new TEQtogether initiative, soft-launched at this event, was strongly supported.  Indeed, the Skills Coalition has subsequently agreed that a group of its partners would have this theme as one of its deliverables for the next couple of years.

Royal Holloway, University of London’s formal commitments to EQUALS for 2018-19 are:

  • Research Group: membership of, and active contribution to, Research Group – e.g. one chapter in 2018 report, as well as two people undertaking editorial work.
  • Skills Coalition: support UNESCO in the development of the outputs through active participation in meetings, including continued participation in Mobile Learning Week.
  • Other Coalitions: support Access and Leadership Coalitions and their deliverables by sharing knowledge and resources.
  • Implementation and testing: application of tools developed by skills coalition with students and staff at Royal Holloway, University of London (c.9,500 students and 1,700 staff)
  • Additional Initiatives: Development of women in science database, and TEQtogether

We are all delighted to be able to contribute to this important initiative on behalf of Royal Holloway, University of London.

Localising and Contextualising Access Technologies

Volume 2    Issue 3    March 2017

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted the importance of prioity assistive technologies to ensure the needs of people with a disability are met globally. Addressing this need requires a combination of innovative new solutions and the localisation in new communities of existing ones.  Localisation can be described as the linguistic and cultural adaptation of digital content to the requirements of a specific cultural market and GALA suggest that is beyond simply translation and includes other conventions such as date, time, currency, number formats, text, images, colour symbols, flow of information and product functionality. In order to complete such localisation there is a need to understand the differences between cultures and the problems that are likely to occur as a result. In seeking to address the global needs for assistive and accessible technologies such processes need to be recognised and considered. In truth, any definition of Universal design that fails to take account of culture and language cannot truly be referred to as Universal.

Our work in developing a framework for this in the Arab world has been based upon the practical experience of localising over 40 assistive technologies to support Arabic, working with developers to transition their technology, and with investment to mitigate any risks. The framework established has been effective in delivering in both the commercial and Open Source spheres. Full details of the Mada framework are available online alongside a downloadable summary of the key factors, which include the need to: 1) address design; 2) understand the language; 3) outline and address technical issues; 4) consider individual needs; and 5) deliver through partnerships

There is value in the clear discovery of requirements and local needs, generating a design that respects culture and language and recognises any impact on content. Great care should be taken with translation, which may be strengthened through the addition of a glossary and by engaging with both local translators and linguists.

Developers recognise a need to establish a consistent style regardless of the local version of a product. Later localisation is facilitated if a clear style guide for design is developed which includes the use of universal graphics and icons wherever possible. Testing with potential users, provides feedback that forms the basis of further development including both maintenance and updates. In the Tawasol project, (creative commons symbol dictionary for Arabic speakers) the engagement of users was central to design. The community was at the heart of the process of review and testing through a combination of approaches including face to face and focus group sessions to discuss and vote on design options, alongside an online voting and management system that allowed users and professionals to give continuous feedback.

The delivery of successful, innovative technology solutions for people with a disability requires full consideration of these issues and implementation of suitable processes. Used effectively they can help reduce the cost of transfer, and in the case of Open Source solutions lead to a well managed, distributable solution that is cost effective and will have impact.

The ICT4D community has an opportunity to address these issues in a systematic manner. In seeking to support the production of quality cost effective solutions there is much that can be done together to map the availability of necessary components for localisation. The availability of available text to speech engines, word prediction tools and algorithms, speech recognition API’s and symbols for communication all provide the bulding blocks upon which new solutions can be built. Where such direct tools do not yet exist then there is a need to stimulate the production of the resources upon which these are built. Frequency of words lists in the form of a usable corpus are essential and the work of language communities to build a shareable phonetic speech corpus is an excellent example of the ways in which research can directly impact upon the creation of solutions.

Such building blocks significantly reduce the cost of localisation. They directly engage language and cultural communities in the production of products and they stimulate local innovation and development. The use of Open licences for such resources can do much to enable digital empowerment for people with a disability. Sharing the availability of research and resources can accelerate that process significantly.

Royal Holloway, University of London, at EQUALS Focal Point meeting in New York

UN SmallThe UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was delighted to represent Royal Holloway, University of London at the first Focal Point meeting of the EQUALS initiative held on the side of the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York on 18th July 2017 .

EQUALS is a global initiative founded by the ITU, UN Women, the ITC, GSMA and the UNU, and delivered by a partnership of more than 20 corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women.

Royal Holloway, University of London, was created from two of the leading women’s university institutions in the UK: Bedford College founded in 1849 as the first women’s higher education institution in the country; and Royal Holloway College, founded in 1879, also as an all-women College.  The wealth of expertise of Royal Holloway, University of London’s researchers and teachers, especially  those involved in the UNESCO Chair of ICT4D in fields such as information security, business management, computer science and geography, is highly relevant to the EQUALS agenda of enabling gender equality in the digital age.  The Chair is also one of the first 20 research organisations committed to working as part of EQUALS Research Group led by the UNU-Computing and Society Institute, and looks forward to participating actively in the group.

EQUALS smallThis first Focal Point meeting brought together the founders and partners to explore ways through which the work of EQUALS can best be delivered through three coalitions of partners:

  • Access: Ensuring that women and girls have full access to digital technologies, devices and services;
  • Skills: Empowering women and girls to acquire skills to become both ICT users and creators in the digital world as well as in broader STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields; and
  • Leadership: Promoting leadership opportunities for women in the digital workforce including women’s entrepreneurship.

The work of EQUALS can be followed at:

Despite all of the global initiatives undertaken so far to use technology to empower women, digital inequality has increased.  As UNESCO reported in March 2017 “the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the estimated gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher from men than women in all regions of the world”.  EQUALS aims to use new approaches to reverse this trend, ensuring that women across the world have the access, skills and leadership to enable them to benefit from ICTs to the same extent as do men.