The hardest thing to do is to write in the midst of the holidays. But for every rule, there is an exception. I had to make this post because of the phenomenal impact the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) had on me, thanks to the Internet Society (ISOC).
I attended my first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) at the United Nations Office in Geneva Switzerland, this year from the 18th to 21st December, as an ISOC IGF Ambassador. For a first timer like me, the IGF 2017 was a mind blowing experience. A lot of smart, brilliant people involved in the internet governance space all together in Geneva for 5 days discussing issues that will shape our digital future and our use of the internet for years to come.
The opening ceremony had high profile attendees such as Doris Leuthard, the President of the Swiss Confederation, Michael Moller, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and current Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General Communication and Information at UNESCO, Houlin Zhao, the Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Kathy Brown, ISOC President and CEO, all addressing us on the theme ‘Shape your digital future’
Personally though, my IGF experience started with the Community Leadership Exchange organised by Niel Harper of ISOC for ISOC ambassadors and fellows as one of the IGF pre-events. It was very refreshing with opportunities for participants to organise breakout sessions and make presentations on internet governance issues that mattered to us individually. I pitched a session on ‘how to make young people to understand data protection and privacy.’ In my view, it was a great ground of preparation for the upcoming sessions during the IGF.
From all of the sessions, cocktails, receptions and networking during my 5 days at the IGF 2017, here are my key takeaways –
Multi-stakeholder processes should be encouraged – The IGF demonstrated to me that multi-stakeholder processes especially the bottom-up approach is very impactful and instrumental in formulating policy for the internet. It needs to be adopted at the various national and regional levels for internet governance.
The IGF is a typical example of a multi-stakeholder process even though no resolutions are made at the end. The IGF is a global multistakeholder forum that promotes discussions and dialogue about public policy issues related to the Internet. It was convened in 2006 by the United Nations Secretary-General. Multi stakeholders involved in internet governance from the technical community, to the academia, the policy makers and civil society discuss pertinent issues related to the development of the internet during the conference. Think of the IGF as a very busy shopping mall in a strategic part of town with different types of shoppers and a very limited time to make purchases. You have to choose which shops are the most important for you to visit.
Several sessions were ongoing simultaneously and like a kid at a candy store, I was spoilt for choice. The internet is very ubiquitous and dynamic and each year brings its set of issues. I strategically picked out key sessions that were of interest to me and would impact my work back in Nigeria such as fake news and algorithms, bridging the digital gender divide, data protection and privacy, internet shutdowns and involving youth in internet governance discussions. I also made sure to learn new things with regards to policy and regulation of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, community networks and net neutrality. The ISOC open forum was also very instrumental in this regard
Hopefully countries like Nigeria will adopt this multi-stakeholder approach in formulating internet policy so as to ensure openness, transparency and inclusiveness. Unfortunately, Nigeria did not record a huge participation at this IGF especially from the regulators and the government.
Regulation is not everything – to shape our digital future, we need to get back in touch with our humanity – The internet is currently at a crossroads, where important decisions need to be made about its future. One thing a lot of sessions determined especially regarding emerging areas of net neutrality, internet of things and artificial intelligence is that regulation is not going to be the magic wand to deal with all internet policy issues. If we are to shape our digital future and ensure the sustainability of the internet for good, we need to look at things like norms and core internet principles of openness, trust, transparency, collaboration and inclusion that will shape the use of the internet. We also need to educate the public. According to Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet at the IGF, we need to get back in touch with our humanity.
Collaboration and inclusiveness is important – One of the major high points at the IGF is the opportunity to network and form new collaborations in between the sessions and in the corridors of the IGF. I was blown away by the quality of participants and sure made a few introductions and collaborations of my own which I hope to follow up on to collaborate on existing and new projects in the coming days.ISOC and the IGF on its part are looking to more collaborations with other groups such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) in order to get more stakeholders from the government and private sector involved.
We need to connect the next billion – About 3.2 billion people globally are currently connected to the internet according to 2015 statistics from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). But about half the world’s population ie 4 billion more still remain unconnected. One thing I learnt at the IGF 2017, was that as someone who has benefitted from using the internet, it is very important that we connect the next billion users to the internet. This will help use bridge digital divides and ensure everyone is carried along in the innovation and opportunities that the internet affords. More importantly at the IGF, I learnt that in doing this we must ensure that women and other gender are carried along, that those with disabilities are not excluded, young people are not left out as well as those in rural areas. I also learnt the importance of community networks in connecting the unconnected and how we can help rural communities who may be left out by telcos and Internet service providers get connected. I am really fascinated by the idea of community networks and hope to help get it implemented in Nigeria
The IGF wasn’t all serious sessions though. There were also loads of receptions, cocktails and after hour parties where it was easier to mingle and strike up conversations away from the bustle of the conference. There were also loads of freebies like books and self development materials from the various organisations’ booths at the IGF
Many thanks to ISOC for the platform and my ISOC mentor and buddy Ilda Simao, for the valuable introductions to wonderful contacts. Also, many thanks to Niel Harper, co-ordinator of the ISOC NextGen and IGF Ambassador programme and to my fellow 2017 IGF ambassadors. You guys rock!
I look forward to more IGFs to come. Most importantly though, I look forward to putting to use the knowledge, experience and networks gained at the IGF 2017 in my work in Nigeria such as in campaigns against fake news, for cybersecurity and for better data protection and privacy, bridging the digital gender divide in Nigeria, getting more youth involved in internet governance and policy and ensuring online rights are respected. I also hope to use the knowledge gained to ensure an internet that is open and free for everyone to encourage innovation.
Adaora Okoli is the Founder and Publisher of TechCultureng.com. She is a blogger, broadcast journalist and lawyer with a bias for tech and internet policy.