An Excerpt from iLab’s March 2014 Visiting Expert – Jukka Heinonen

Scrum is a management framework that follows agile software development principles. When the iLab’s Country Director, Teemu Ropponen, suggested me that I should visit iLab to share some of the software development knowledge accumulated over the years, I didn’t need much time to consider. It sounded so exciting that I couldn’t resist.

After the initial excitement, I started to think about what would be the most valuable lessons I could share. I really didn’t know much about Liberia and my trip would be my first real visit in the continent of Africa. As I am a software development professional, teaching some programming language seemed the obvious choice. But even though I started as a software developer, my coding skills have become a bit rusty as I have had more managerial roles recently. On the other hand, I’ve learned that even though the coding skills of individuals are at the very core of software development, the efforts are wasted or not effective if the what should be done and how it is done questions are not addressed. As the ‘just start coding, ask later’ approach is a common pitfall everywhere I know, probably the same applies in Liberia, I figured, and that formed the core for my lectures.

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iLab’s statistics in 2013!

Wow! We couldn’t believe it. With all of our donors, collaborators, partners and users on board, we’ve hit a milestone we didn’t even dream about when starting iLab back in May, 2011: we have served 1,280+ people in 2013 alone.

 

Trainings

 

  • Intermediate Branding and advertisement course
  • Quick start Website Creation for Institutions
  • Structure Query Training Language (SQL) Training
  • Social Media for women/Social Media for Social Change
  • Introduction to Ubuntu
  • Intro Mastering the Internet
  • Intermediate Ubuntu
  • Social Media for Transparency and Accountability
  • Mobile Technologies for Transparency and Accountability
  • Python Programming Language
  • Intermediate Python Programming
  • Physical Computing
  • Photography
  • (and some of these special courses for women only)

Courses offered in 2013

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Supporting Implementation of the Open Government Partnership in Liberia with High and Low Tech: Knowmore LIB

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By: Blair Glencorse and Teemu Ropponen.

This post has also been submitted for the OGP blog.

 

Liberia has made some impressive reforms to support open government since it signed the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2005. The government has put in place a host of bodies focused on transparency and accountability, including the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC). It was also the first African state to comply with Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) rules governing natural resources and the first West African country to pass a Freedom of Information Act.

 

Against a variety of measures- including the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and the Open Budget Index- Liberia has exhibited steady progress. The recent 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance showed Liberia to have made greater governance gains than any other African country since 2000.

 

In practice, however, legal frameworks and bureaucratic mandates have been difficult to implement, and organizations have been hard to manage. Liberia remains an extremely demanding context, at the central-level with serious challenges in terms of incentive structures, rule of law, capacity, infrastructure and resources. Moreover, information is difficult to obtain and data remains stove-piped; while for citizens it is still tremendously time-consuming and exhausting to navigate formal governance systems according to the written rules.

 

This problem begins with an absence of information in a form Liberians can understand and use to ensure the transparency and accountability of government. It is encouraging, therefore, that the Johnson Sirleaf administration- through the Open Government Partnership- has committed, among other reforms, to the development of a citizen website and an open data portal.

 

The Accountability Lab and iLab Liberia are supporting these commitments through Knowmore LIB (“Knowmore” is a knowledgeable person in Liberian English; “LIB” is a local nickname for Liberia)- a project to assess, find, collect and visualize information and datasets on key government services. The team is working with the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) to build a dual purpose website to function as an open data hub and as a government navigation portal to help citizens understand and use government services more effectively.

 

In a context like Liberia, however, high tech approaches are simply not enough when internet penetration and education levels are low. We are also bridging the digital and literacy divide creatively through an off-line campaign using popular chalk billboards to convey this information to citizens in language and illustrations they understand. Recently, we ran a series including pictures and explanations of road signs and rules- and had everyone from passersby to policemen asking for further information.

 

Additionally, we are beginning to train government, media, and civil society organizations on data journalism and data visualization and the benefits and uses of open government and open data initiatives. In conjunction, the Accountability Lab has formed a Liberian Art Collective to begin painting murals with accountability and open government messages around Monrovia; and is supporting community radio shows to discuss government revenue and spending information in local languages.

 

Information can be transparent in Liberia but is often mismanaged or difficult to navigate. Knowmore LIB is a collaborative effort across civil society and government in Liberia to ensure that information can be used by Liberians to make their government more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

 

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab. You can follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab. Teemu Ropponen is Country Director of iLab Liberia. You can follow iLab Liberia on Twitter @iLabLiberia

 

iLab + LINGO forum Capacity Development for LINGO Member organisations

We are currently conducting a training, having 8 persons from Liberian International Non-Governmental Organizations (LINGO) registered, they are taught data curation (file management) and LibreOffice Writer & Calc. Training will last for 2 weeks, 2 hrs daily, after which they will be certified with a certificate of achievement.

The participants are professional Liberians who work for various iNGOs in Liberia. Though they have knowledge on Microsoft Suite acquired in the work place or by self; we decided to go in-depth in order to build their ICT skills using Free & Open source Application software like LibreOffice Writer & Calc the LibreOffice Word processor and spreadsheet components respectively.

 

Open government and Freedom of Information in Liberia – more than a Hollywood dream?

I am sitting at the University of Liberia campus, watching Erin Brockovich, the Hollywood movie. As it demonstrates the uses of the Freedom of information act in the US to uncover environmental damage by a chemical company, it is a demonstrative prelude to a distinguished Freedom of Information/Access to Information panel, moderated by Dep. Min. Tweah with US visitors from Department of Justice and The Carter Center, the Liberian Independent Information Commissioner, and former Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism  – one of many events  lined up before the Right to Know day, on September 28, 2013.

 

Liberia has had the Freedom information Act in place for three years now and is one of the few countries in  Africa to have such legislation. The Independent Information Commission is one of its kind in Africa. BUT, things are not always so sweet. In a recent CEMESP study, only one of 92 FOIA requests resulted in a full, positive disclosure of information.

 

This is not to say a lot has been done. The Government of Liberia (GoL) has committed to greater transparency and, after years of instability, Liberians now have the opportunity to become more aware of what to expect and demand from government.

 

For example:

  • The government passed the Freedom of Information Act in 2010 (the first in West Africa);
  • has worked to pass a Procurement and Contracting Act in 2009 requiring GoL contracts or projects to be executed on a competitive basis;
  • has put in place an Open Budget Process to provide the public with information on the government’s spending; and
  • adhered to the Extractive Industries Transparency through the EITI Act.

 

 

In fact, Liberia has recently joined the Open Government Partnership (the OGP, an international initiative that aims to build concrete commitments from governments relating to transparency), and its action plan in this regard was endorsed by the Cabinet in July, 2013.

 

 

Despite all of this however, information is not easy to obtain or understand in Liberia. Accessing information in person at Liberia’s ministries can be a significant challenge. And as mentioned, the FOIA enforcement is not as effective as it could be.

 

iLab is proposing and looking forward to working on making information available to citizens in two ways:

 

  1. One citizen-centric place for knowledge that answers questions ordinary citizens have – how do I get a passport, how do I register a business, how do traffic lights work (yes, they are new in Liberia and no, people do not understand how it works)
  2. An open data portal, that gathers data assets (like statistics, demographic information, geographic information) into one place

Why open data? Martin Tisne recently wrote about it. Open data not only creates transparency, it can drive service innovation. Transparency, on the other hand, can lead to efficiency and improved citizen participation. Definitely goals worth striving for!

 

In time, information and data about Liberia should be as readily and easily available, as the Swiss portal https://www.ch.ch/en/, just recently launched at the OKCon conference.  A great example how a government website can be simple but elegant – and above all, informative for citizens.

 

Impossible to do in Africa? No. This information is and should be available. Examples of data portals, even in difficult contexts, can be found – for example in the Edo state in Nigeria http://data.edostate.gov.ng/ . “It won’t work here in Liberia” is no answer.

 

However, at the same time, not all good initiatives succeed, and it is important to learn from those. For example, the great efforts in Tanzania did not succeed as well as expected because it was difficult to get people to participate. At the same time, one of the end goals of transparency is to increase people’s participation – but it’s a long road there in many of the developing countries. Think big – but don’t expect too much right away.

 

In Liberia, it is important not forget those who do not have access to the internet. It s absolutely vital to make use of other media- print, radio, and even creative arts. One unique Liberian media is the Daily Talk, which has even attracted international attention. The principle is easy – chalkboard, sign and a location that attracts a crowd. There is no reason why this could not and should not be taken into communities.

 

So, a reason to be optimistic about the future of open government in Liberia? Sure – but it will take a lot of time and a collaborative effort between the various civil society organizations AND the  government to do it right! It’s a long way to a Hollywood ending.

 

At iLab, open government is one of the key themes we are passionate about and focusing on in 2013-2014. Would you like to partner with us? Contact us for more information.

 

 

 

iLab participates in the first Atrocity Prevention Workshop of the Early Warning Early Response Working Group of Liberia

I was fortunate to have represented iLab Liberia at the first ever Atrocity Prevention Workshop of the Early Warning & Early Response (EWER) Working Group organised by the Peacebuilding Office in partnership with Peace Direct, a UK based organization which aims to support local action against conflict. The EWER Working Group is comprised of civil society organizations, government agencies, UN agencies and other international partners working on issues of peace building and conflict prevention.
This three days (September 5-7, 2013) interactive workshop held at the county office of National Elections Commissions in Buchanan city, Grand Bassa County, taught participants ways to develop community based approach to atrocity prevention. The facilitator,  Roland Clarke also drilled participants through a series of sessions that will help them create a link between Atrocity Prevention and Local First, a development approach that looks first for the capacity within countries before bringing in external expertise and resources.
In conflict zones worldwide, local people are building peace, stopping violence, saving live and healing their own communities. I believe that if the “Local First” approach can be employ by the Government, International NGOs, and other peace and development actors, the local heroes (ordinary Liberians) can play a pivotal role in sustaining the peace that the Liberian society currently enjoys.
Luther D. Jeke
Training Director
*iLab_Liberia

 

GIZ + iLab ICT for small business training; a milestone in Liberia’s road transport sector capacity development

A training organised by German Development Corporation in Liberia (GIZ) and implemented by iLab. The course introduces Information Communications and Technologies (ICT) to Liberian contractors, 30 persons from the transport sector are trained on computer basics, data cu-ration and storage, Internet basics, Email etiquette  how to create and manage their Facebook business page and how to use Open office tools for basic expenses and sales using Libre Office; a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The training will benefit the participants in various ways:

  • Accurate tracking and recording of their business or projects
  • Global marketing/ advertising of their business
  • How to communicate with their clients via email
  • How to use the internet for research on prices and ways to improve on already existing business/service

 The training is actually on a slow pace because some of the trainees have absolutely no knowledge on computer which is quite challenging for us.

Having 2 sessions; 15 persons in one session, the training will last for 2 hours every Tuesday to Friday for 4 weeks after which successful participants will proceed to the intermediate course.

 We at iLab believe that Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) can play a key role in the growth and development of Liberia.

Intro to Branding/Advertisement for small business

Intro to Branding & Advertising for small business– August 19 – 23, 3:00-5:00 pm. Having 16 persons registered for the course, they are using Scribus; a free and open source software (FOSS) to create business logos, brochures, business cards and advertising materials. This course will focus on branding and marketing for customers.

 

So what is branding, anyway? Branding is the process of building a positive collection of perceptions about your business in your customers’ minds. Customers of your business may make a purchase (or avoid a purchase) based on their perception of your brand.

When people encounter your business’s name, they automatically conjure up impressions and memories that determine what they believe about you:

  • Sources: Their notions may be the result of communications you’ve had with customers, or they may be the result of good or bad publicity or word-of-mouth.
  • Exposure: Your customers may have a deep well of perceptions about you, or your slate may be nearly clear of any impressions whatsoever.

Regardless of whether the beliefs a customer holds about you are many or few, good or bad, or accurate or inaccurate, they comprise the image of your brand in your customer’s mind — and they influence how your customer thinks and buys.

Your brand image lives in your customers’ minds, whether you intentionally put it there or not. Branding is the route to making sure that the brand image you have is the brand image you want.

iLab’s logo

 

Think you have a great product? Unfortunately, no one’s going to know about it unless you advertise.

Advertising, if done correctly, can do wonders for your product sales, and you know what that means: more revenue and more success for your business. But be warned: it is not a panacea.

Below is a list of what advertising can do for your business,

  • Remind customers and inform prospective customers about the benefits of your product or service
  • Establish and maintain your distinct identity
  • Enhance your reputation
  • Encourage existing customers to buy more of your product/service
  • Attract new customers and replace lost ones
  • Slowly build sales to boost your bottom line
  • Promote your business to customers, investors, and others.

Exciting insights from eLearning Africa 2013!

I had the privilege recently to represent iLab  at the eLearning Africa 2013, which was the 8th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training held in beautiful Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

 

ELearning Africa 2013 brought together 1480 participants from 65 countries gather in Windhoek for three days of learning, knowledge exchange and networking. The Continent’s largest gathering of eLearning and ICT-supported education and training professionals, eLearning Africa brought together over 300 speakers from across Africa and the world to explore the latest innovations and issues in the fields of technology and education.

 

Getting me to Namibia to attend eLA 2013 was bit of a hassle because I needed to get a  visa for South Africa in Accra, Ghana then get the Namibian visa in Pretoria, South Africa, but the dynamic and hardworking team of iLab applied all efforts and time to make that happen.

 

There were two major missions in sight as headed out to Namibia.

 

1. To represent iLab Liberia at the second gathering of the Afrilabs, a Pre-eLA 2013 conference workshop (Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: Creating Opportunities for Peer Learning and Knowledge Exchange), which was organised and sponsored by GIZ.

 

2. To attend the actual eLA 2013 conference.

 

Africa now has several innovation hubs. iLab and these other hubs serve as business incubators, meeting places for the local IT-community and points of knowledge exchange. Although there are different types of spaces, but we all represent powerful opportunities for social innovation and community empowerment. A common challenge for many of our spaces is creating a sustainable business model that enables us to work independently and plan for the future. This pre-conference event was intended to strengthen the co-operation between individual hubs, as well as GIZ and Afrilabs.

During the first half of the pre-conference workshop, as hub managers / employees, we were asked to share our experiences on community building strategies, connecting members and enabling peer learning in our hubs. We were also asked to present our different business models and approaches to attain independence and sustainability. Additionally, during the second half of the pre-conference workshop, we were given a task to develop a toolbox that would include ideas for replicable income streams and ways to implement them. The essence of developing the toolbox was to find ways to give answers to the question: How can all activities, including community building, help build sustainable replicable environments for local empowerment?

 

Way forward/ Action Points (Opportunities) emerging from the pre-conference workshop + bar camp.

  • We should work on the Intellectual Property (IP) and legal challenges.

  • Build strong mentorship structures.

  • Successfully embrace virtual incubation.

  • Collaborate with our governments with the involvement of Development Funding Agencies (DFA’s) in technology development for example laying their own internet cables like Kenya did to cut the costs, subsidizing ICT equipment etc.

  • We need to be supplementing some of our government’s agenda’s if we are to tap in some of their support. We should also categorize the investors for example, donors, government, foundations, business angles among others.

  • We can only get good external funding if our activities clearly define “what is a hub?” in terms of what we do, the kind partnerships we are looking for, and most importantly the success stories we produce.

  • We categorized our revenue models into the activities that our hubs were good at and we highlighted;

    • Desk rental services

    • Donors, seed funders

    • Technology Philanthropists like the Geek Development Fund & Savanah Fund in Namibia

    • Banks, Small SME loans, Partners e.g. GIZ, CCL, Universities, Google, Dell, Microsoft

    • Consultancy and ISP partnership e.g. iHub in Kenya.

    • Local entrepreneurs e.g. Private Sector Federation, Rwanda Development Board.

  • Work on Hub profiles:

  • Statement of path to sustainability – develop prototypes of revenues models that can guide new hub entrants.

  • Shared amplification of AfriLabs using the Media Machine as double edged sword for example news channels, news papers, magazines, T.V and Radio shows but being conscious about cons international media. Hub managers should blog about their Hub activities and community activities.

    Key Points about growing our hub communities:

    We should have activities that are tagged to the community challenges and keep the hub open to society. It doesn’t have to be techie’s only. (Jessica-iHub, Kenya). Have events running frequently and ensure to make them practical. Something that will keep the participants engaged all throughout the entire activity. (Mohammad-Ice Cairo). Have a good set of planners (events management at the hub). Have a web platform for continuous communication between the community, event facilitators and the hub management as well.

    We got a representative from ECOWAS in one of the Bar Camps, his remarks were: Ministries wanted to work with youth that were good at content development for example youth entrepreneurs, developers of animations that reflect the true value of the African Continent.

 

 

At the conference, I had the opportunity to attend the followings:

 

1. The opening plenary: Learning and Innovation: In the Cloud and on the Ground with a Spirit of Ubuntu which chaired by Honorable Minister Joel Kaapanda, Minister of Information and Communication Technologies, Republic of Namibia.

 

2. Promoting Innovation in Africa Through Free and Open Source Technology. This session chaired by John Matogo, Strathmore University, Kenya, Geraldine de Bastion, Germany and Joris Komen, FOSSFA, Namibia. The speakers shared their past five years experience of using free and open source software to create learning environments, as well as business opportunities in Africa.

 

3. Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: This interactive session focused on how many of the innovation hubs in Africa go beyond start-up incubation and are actively supporting peer learning, community engagement and education. Finding sustainable ways to finance hubs and how can individual hubs network and cooperate. I actually served as on of the panelists during this session.

 

 

4. eLearning Africa Debate: Innovation and sustainable; which is more important for education in Africa? Participants were given the chance along with the panelists to point out if priority for education in Africa be Innovation or sustainability. In the end, the house that believes that more emphasis should be placed on Innovation won the debate.

 

As stated by the organizers, I do concur that ELearning Africa conferences are the key networking events for ICT-enhance education and training in Africa. It is a must those who want to develop multinational and cross-industry contacts and partnerships, as well as enhance their knowledge, expertise and abilities. The hub for first-hand information and real-life examples of how ICT advances the cause of education for all in Africa. Decision makers and practitioners from the education, business and government sectors, with 80% coming from Africa. And amazingly the conference is accompanied by extensive and exhibition and demonstrations.

 

Overall, eLA 2013 was a great learning and networking experience for me and I also found some time to have fun and explore beautiful Windhoek.

 

eLearning Africa 2014 will be held in Kampala, Uganda from May 28th -30th.

 

 

Thanks,

 

Luther D. Jeke

Director of Training

iLab Liberia

 

 

 

 

 

Zane hands over…

The intern from  New Georgia Tech University had his last class on Python with the Ladies today. We had so many sad faces with me inclusive:(  Zane, it was so nice having you teach us so much on Python, Physical Computing, Photography and more…

So, Carter and Luther will continue with the Python class for Ladies on Friday as Zane leaves for New Georgia.

We wish you a safe trip back home to your family hoping to see you next summer.