Empowering Civil Society Voices at the Internet Governance Forum
On the second day of the Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) in Tokyo this July, a panel on "Internet Governance for Development" was discussing the multiplier effects of a "connected economy." A hand went up in the audience, and a young Cambodian woman, representing a human rights foundation, pointed out that in her country, not only do millions lack access to the internet, but millions more—who can browse the web on their mobile phones or at an internet café— don't really know how. It's fine to talk about multiplier effects in highly connected countries where a high-speed internet connection comes standard at an office desk, but a disconnected or digitally illiterate citizen can hardly contribute to the growth of a “connected economy.” Discussion in the plenary hall shifted to consider the digital divide that segregates Asia.
The APrIGF is an offshoot of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a UN-mandated global dialogue on internet policy and technical matters. As in the Asia-Pacific, most regions and many individual countries hold IGFs that serve as forums to discuss regional or national internet issues. While IGF forums have no rulemaking or standard-setting ability, they are invaluable spaces for the internet’s many stakeholders—government and corporate actors, the academic and technical communities, customers and civil society—to come together and address common issues on equal footing. Unlike almost any other international policy body, the multistakeholder model of the IGF allows all participants to engage on equal footing, and weigh in on the internet issues that matter to them.
Freedom House helped sponsor the APrIGF, and brought a delegation of civil society leaders from around Southeast Asia to engage in the forum. For the past several years, Freedom House has also engaged at the global IGF, contributing our own perspective on internet standards and policies, and helping raise the voices of civil society leaders from around the world. This year, Freedom House is looking forward to engaging at the global IGF to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan in November. Part of this effort includes the Freedom House IGF Incubator Project, a competitive funding opportunity that aims to support activists and advocates from around the world with big ideas about how to promote internet freedom in their countries or regions.
In the past several weeks, 20 individuals and organizations have submitted proposals to the IGF Incubator Project, hoping to win one of several grants of up to $15,000 to fund their projects. Of the 20 submissions, four finalists will be selected to join the Freedom House delegation in Baku, and will have the opportunity to gain firsthand experience with the global internet policymaking process and advocate for internet freedom. At the IGF, these finalists will present their project ideas to a panel of expert judges, and at least two projects will be selected to receive funding.
In the spirit of openness, we invite you to help select the four finalists by visiting the contest website and voting for the project you think is most deserving. While we have received many phenomenal entries, only the top ten vote getters will be considered for invitation to the IGF. Cast your ballots all this week—you can vote once per day, so come back to the site throughout the week to make sure your choice is on the leaderboard. Don't miss this opportunity to help empower civil society voices - both at the IGF and on the local level.
-Sam duPont, September 2012