Great to be back in LIB!

Celebrating the 10 years of peace, debating about the challenges of the development of the nation, seeing the technology enthusiasm and opportunities in iLab users everyday…it’s great to be back in LIB! Here’s a few thoughts just after being in the country – back home in Monrovia – after holidays.

 

In my native country, Finland, the summertime is slow – people are on holidays, and for over a month not much happens – with the exception of travel and tourism industries. One might expect the same here in LIB, since it’s rainy season, but far from it –we’re action packed!

Even CNN was in Liberia – they got a chance to see the action at iLab, here is the packed house for Mapping party – 60+ people in 2 labs.

 

Just before I left on holidays, we at iLab were happy to reach record attendances in June of this year. Further, in July we had over 200 visits just during our co-working hours – a huge increase.  We’re in the midst of crunching the numbers and will have some analysis on those sometime soon.

 

One of the more novel things for us at iLab is our project on mobile data collection for tracking and monitoring beneficiaries of a child labor prevention project. We are looking at various open-source technology solutions and mobile devices – and defining and assessing technologies for developing  a system for our client and their field force – people in some 30 communities in three counties.  We’re excited – stay tuned for more info.

 

Seems a lot is happening with e-learning right now – lots in interest gained. When Kpetermeni Siakor had his guest lecture on e-learning and the so-called MOOCs – the house was absolutely packed, with some 78 enthusiasts crammed in to listen! We’re talking with several organisations regarding how iLab could facilitate the adoption of the masses of material that are out there.

 

I had a chance to discuss with several youth initiatives and with some staff from the Ministry of Youth and Sports. It is so great listening to the youth in their teens or early twenties asking for iLab support in their initiatives to utilize technology in new interesting ways – for example, how to disseminate text messages among the nearly 200 national volunteers. What was great to hear was that the idea for the project came from a participant in our mobile technologies for transparency and accountability -training!

 

At Samuel K. Doe stadium / Ministry of Youth and Sports

At Samuel K. Doe stadium / Ministry of Youth and Sports – explaining to 185 national volunteers how mobile technology could make their life easier,

Now just last weekend Liberia was celebrating 10 years of peace – no small feat – since its gruesome 14-year long civil war. Of course it is absolutely a great path to be on, even with its challenges. It was naturally disappointing to find Liberia (once again) as one of the most corrupt countries in the world – 10 years after the war, this really is one of the key challenges. On a related matter, equally puzzling and alarming Is the current battle between the media and some government-affiliated persons, relating to investigative journalism.  It seems there is quite a bit to do on the topic of open government and transparency, one of the themes at iLab this year. While the problems are certainly not solved just by technology, we are looking at increasing transparency by using ICTs intelligently. We look forward to working with both civil society organizations as well as government entities like the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism. Getting government and the citizens to communicate and meaningfully engage will be a long, fascinating journey.

 

Wow, that’s a lot I’ve mentioned – but it’s not even nearly all! Right now we need to make sure we finish delivering what we’ve promised to our donors: our Girls in ICT –program is going strong – an intermediate Python class is just about to start. We continue to work on open government and transparency. We are thrilled to be a part of the IT business plan competition initiative that has been going on and are very much looking forward to supporting the new businesses as entrepreneurship remains one of our key themes. And we will not be forgetting the use of Ushahidi – essentially the reason iLab was started in the first place – to track incidents of conflict or violence all over Liberia, as a part of the Early Warning Early Response working group – 20 or so organizations led by the Peacebuilding office. We just trained 19 volunteers from the Interreligious council and continue to expand our conflict  reporter base.

The future programmers who attended Introduction to Python busy during a workshop on how can the internediate class be even better.

 

All these promising initiatives need further support for continuation next year. With an internet access of 2.8% and mobile penetration of 42% in Liberia, iLab and similar entities have got a lot of work to do – lot of trainings, lot of organizing events,  lot of talking…and lots of negotiations with donors.

 

However, all this is buzzing activity gives us immense amounts of optimism. There is nothing like the energy of people who have learned new skills and who are ready set their imagination free. There is a huge amount of this energy right now in LIB – so let’s keep it rolling!

 

Demographics and Usage – Feb 2012

iLab recently evaluated their usage records from May 2011 to February 2012 to see who is using iLab and what parts of iLab they are using. Here is what we found:

Who uses iLab

By far the majority of iLab users consider themselves students. Since a user can select more than one way of describing themselves it’s possible that many of our users are students while they are also employed. Also, the Liberian education system is notoriously slow and students often have large gaps in their class schedule, so it’s possible that not everyone who considers themselves a student is actively taking class, but in the process of completing an education program. Entrepreneurs and IT professionals round out the top 3 places. Interestingly the least number of users are government and NGO staff. This may appear surprising since these two sectors are the largest sources of formal employment. However, unemployment and informal employment in Liberia are known to be quite high. To encourage those who are formally employed to come to iLab we hold a lot of our events after hours.

What events are people attending

When it comes to iLab events the mapping parties and TED talks are the clear leader. This is most likely because these are our longest running and most frequently offered events. Google technology events and our introduction to Free Open Source Software (FOSS) events are also quite popular. It should be noted that this graph represents the number of individuals that have attended 1 or more of the given events. If we were to count the number of repeat users TED talks and Mapping parties would be much higher. The graph on the left shows the number of users who have attended 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 or more events. This shows that mapping parties draw more repeats users. When looking at the numbers we do see that TED talks draw more first time users.  As we continue to offer events we hope to better capture the number of new and repeat users for all of our events.

Gender

Finally we end with a look at gender. Out of 335 users 278 (83%) were male and 57 (17%) were female. Quite a large discrepancy. We certainly do our best to encourage participation of both genders, but it seems, as is often the case around the world, participation by the fairer sex is lacking in the technology sector. iLab is currently talking with an organization about creating a curriculum specifically to target young ladies. We’re excited about this opportunity and hope it comes to fruition.

Raw Data

For those of you who want raw data to play with, like all good computer scientist would, please see this Excel File.

 

Thanks,

 

John.