Girls in ICT- A Program Funded by WeTech Seed Fund Grant

Last year we had a program on Girls in ICT, a Google RISE program, for girls in high school or those who have recently left high school.

 

This year, there’s another opportunity for women & girls everywhere to become creators - and not just consumers – of tomorrow’s innovations. It is vital to expand access to Computer Science Education through programs that inspire, engage, and retain top talent.

 

iLab is one of the African institutions being funded through WeTech Seed Fund for Women & Girls in Africa.

The courses to be offered are:

  • Introductory ICT for small business
  • Website creation course, using open source tools
  • Introduction to Python Programming – already started
  • Intermediate Python Programming
The program will run from July to September.

3 Interns at the iLab for the month of July

With the yearn to get a sense as to what it feels like to work in a professional environment, and to learn from the staff of iLab and their users in order to help develop their initiatives; these three young fellows applied for a one month internship at iLab.

 

 

Daniel Welsh
Intern at iLab
daniel@ilabliberia.org
@danwelsh

Daniel is an intern from Canada for the month of July 2014. He will be working under mentorship of all members of iLab trying to spread his foundation on IT and business skills while working in a professional environment. He is very excited to be here and plans on working on website development, building a iLab user database, and filming a new updated video about iLab’s story in Liberia. Continue reading

Summer teaching blog 2 – Michael Madaio

It’s hard to believe that it’s already July, and the first month of trainings is completed!
In that time, our Beginner’s Approach to Computer Programming (Python) course and our Digital Video Production course both came to an end. We held a course showcase last Friday night (June 27th) for both of those courses, to award the completion certificates to the students, and to show off all of the great work they did to members of the community.

 

We had several students from the Python Programming course show off their completed songs they wrote with the EarSketch software. It was really cool to see my students presenting their work to an audience and explaining the programming concepts that went into the music they wrote. Plus, all of their music was great, and the audience was almost out of their seats dancing!

 

We also had many students in our Digital Video Production course show off their final videos, which were small local news packages, reporting on issues that they felt were important to them in Monrovia. Citizen journalism is a powerful tool for empowering local citizens to speak out and raise awareness for issues that individuals feel are urgent and important, not just issues that get covered by the radio or television news programs or newspapers. Our students, having gone through the course, are now able to film, edit, and write scripts reporting on issues of importance to them. We want to recognize and thank the Accountability Lab for attending and offering some great feedback, and we encourage people to check out the film festival they will be having, and the film courses for social accountability that they offer as well.

 

Stay tuned, and we will be posting our students’ songs and news videos on our iLab Liberia site, so keep an eye out for those!

 

In addition to our course showcase, I gave a guest lecture last week on Coding as a Creative Practice, in which I talked about the ways to develop effective problem-solving techniques for programming through learning to code creatively. There are many different platforms for using code to participate in creative practices, some of which we are using here at the iLab, such as using music to learn to program Python, as in EarSketch, and using graphic visualization to learn the Java programming language, as in Processing, a class we are offering in July, beginning this week. The turnout was incredible, with more than 50 people packed in tight, on a rainy night, too! Thanks so much to everyone who came out, and I hope to see you all at the next Lecture night, on Wednesday, July 16th.

 

 

Looking ahead, we are in the middle of a Physical Computing course, which uses the Arduino microprocessor to teach about hardware circuits and the software programs that control them. So far, we’ve learned how to control the voltage across the circuit using buttons, potentiometers (or, small dials), and light sensors, and displayed that in the form of LED’s turning on or off, or brighter or darker. Next week, in our final week of that course, the students will be making projects to solve problems they have in their home, or to make things easier or comfortable for them. The end result isn’t the goal, but the process of conceptualizing how to solve a particular problem using hardware and software input and output controls is important, and will translate to other forms of repair, hacking, and problem-solving.

 

If you’re interested, join us on Wednesday, July 16th, for a lecture I’m giving on Hacking, Tinkering, and the Maker Movement, which will be followed by demonstrations and explanations of the students’ projects. Hope you can join us! See the Events page for more information.

 

Finally, the last 2 courses that I’m teaching here have begun: an Intermediate Programming class, using the Processing software to teach the Java language, which should be a lot of fun, and a Beginner Programming for Women course, using EarSketch to write music, using the Python programming language. I’m excited to work with the students, and we will be having a final course showcase to show off both of their work on Friday, July 25th. Feel free to follow along on the individual course pages, under the Resource tab of the iLab site, though it’s of course not a complete substitute for being in the course.

 

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading!

 

Michael Madaio
Georgia Institute of Technology
@mmadaio

Innovative mobile service for gathering reports from citizens about road conditions in Liberia launched by Ministry of Public Works

The GIZ/Transport Sector, a department of the German International Cooperation (GIZ) in Liberia recently contracted us to implement one of the first mobile services for citizens engagement for use by the Ministry of Public Works, Republic of Liberia. The project implements and pilots a text message based service for a) citizen reporting of abnormalities in road construction projects and b) the communication of starting road construction projects. This will improve citizen awareness of Ministry of Public Works (MPW) /road construction and maintenance projects in the pilot regions and facilitate monitoring of road construction site work.

 

The new technology or service dubbed Ministry of Public Works and GIZ/Transport Sector Mobile Services for Government to Citizens – Citizens to Government Communications and Engagement Project (G2C2G) affords road users and residents within the targeted counties mentioned supra to make inquiry about the status of on- going road works on various segments of the road from Red Light to Ganta in Nimba County and obtain an instant feedback. The new technology or service also allows road users and residents along the stretch of road to be fed with information concerning on – going road works on various segments of the road with no cost to road users and residents.

 

The road users and residents within Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, and Nimba Counties respectively desirous of subscribing to and using this new service or technology should simply make use of the service by sending a simple text message.

To report an issue on the roads TO Ministry of Public Works, send a text message to 7623 FREE of charge whether a LoneStar Cell MTN or Cellcom GSM subscriber.

 

Also to subscribe to the service to get regular updates FROM Ministry of Public Works, send the message JOIN to 7623.

 

This service or new technology was realized owing to enormous support from the German International Cooperation (GIZ) to the Ministry of Public Works and utilizing the services of Liberia’s leading GSM providers LoneStar Cell MTN and Cellcom.

 

The Formal launch ceremonies in Margibi and Bong Counties:

 

A team consisting of representatives from all three partner entities GIZ, Ministry of Public Works and iLab officially launched the service last month. The official launching ceremonies of the service took place in two counties with scores of well meaning Liberians in attendance. The launches took place on May 19 at 11:00am at the Administration Building in Kakata, Margibi County with over fifty participants ranging from local authorities, civil society organisations, schools, religious institutions, International NGOs to local residents in attendance while the launch in Bong Country took place at the Gbarnga Administration Building in Gbarnga, Bong County with over eighty (80) participants in attendance as well. Continue reading

iLab Support Girls in ICT day and the Launch of the Adolescent Girls Resource Center in Liberia.

“The most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human capital and talent –- the skills, education and productivity of its workforce. Women account for one-half of the potential talent base of the world.” – A study conducted by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union).

In celebration of the Girls in ICT day, the Adolescent Girls Unit (AGU) of the MInistry of Gender and Development (MoGD) organized an event for adolescent girls in Liberia. The event consisted of presentations, focal group discussions and the official launching ceremony of the Girls Resource Center at the  MoGD.

 iLab’s Country Director – Teemu Ropponen gave an inspirational speech and also talked about iLab Girls in ICT program, importance of female being involved with ICT related careers and significance of the day. The girls were encouraged to take part in one or more of the girl’s courses offered at iLab.
     
World Bank representative from Washington DC lauded the Min. for their efforts toward the subject and officially launched the Adolescent Girls Resource Center which is situated in the Ministry and is open to all Liberian girls to learn computer, doing school work and research. The resource center consists of five computers, a printer and internet connectivity and other reading materials. The project is funded by the World Bank.
Although many women are working in the lower level of the ICT workforce, they account for very few of the strategic and executive positions. We at iLab encourage girls and young women to prepare themselves for a career in ICT and inform parents, teachers and other stakeholders on why preparing for a career in ICTs is good for women and girls, good for business and good for societies.

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.

  Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.