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Can technology enhance sustainability?

A report back from the 2022 NetHope Africa Chapter Meeting on the theme: "Technology in the heart of Sustainable Africa."


By Doreen Koech, Global IT Operations Manager for VSO International, Elizabeth Njoroge, International ICT Business Manager for ChristianAid and Joan Orina, Winrock International

Our 6th annual NetHope Africa Chapter Conference was once again successfully delivered virtually. Due to logistical issues, we were prevented from holding a hybrid event, however all was not lost as we were introduced to a new Networking tool called Kumospace which allowed us to experience a physical space virtually as we were able to collaborate in a virtual café set up as well as a beach where we could hear the ocean crashing! The theme of this year’s conference was “Technology in the heart of Sustainable Africa.” It was informed by the fact that COP27 will be held in Africa this year as well as all technology driven innovations in Africa. The conference brought over 60 participants from NetHope Member organizations, partners, and speakers.

Hosting such a big event wouldn’t have been possible without a dedicated team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that we delivered a successful conference. A big thank you to: the steering committee who created time to attend the weekly planning meetings, topic suggestions, speaker suggestions and also handling different tasks during the conference; the NetHope team led by Robyn and Dianna for working Tirelessly to ensure that we had everything we needed for the conference and even supporting us in the middle of the night; our speakers who agreed to share their expertise with us on different topics; NetHope’s CEO, Lance Pierce for gracing the occasion; to the BDI Events Team led by Joe for taking care of the technical aspects of the conference and ensuring that all of the technology worked despite the time difference and for supporting us when he was supposed to be resting; to Kayamba Africa for the good music; our participants for creating time to attend the conference virtually even though you would have appreciated a physical one; and finally to Rhema Malobo for taking care of our French speaking colleagues.

Emerging digital rights in Africa and digital access and equity

We kicked off our conference with a panel discussion on the emerging digital rights trends in Africa and digital access and equity moderated by Bill Marwa from Oxfam. He discussed many developments across the continent; however, issues are emerging such as responsible data use, privacy, access, and equity among others.

We were priviledged to have Juliet Nanfuka from CIPESA and Favour A. Borokoni, Data and Digital rights researcher, deep diving on this important topic that touches our lives daily in Africa. Juliet mentioned that there is a lot happening and there is a lot that is not happening as far as responsible data use, privacy, and digital access and equity are concerned. As much as we are advancing in terms of technology infrastructure, we are still experiencing issues such as affordability, stringent laws, regressive data protection laws, surveillance, and the digital divide among others. She noted that many countries have signed Digital rights frameworks that are meant to govern digital access however not much has been done to ensure that these frameworks are implemented.

Where are we when it comes to digital access and equity? Favour mentioned that according to the Internet access statistics only 30% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa have access to the internet. We are still experiencing a lot of digital divides across the continent whereby marginalized groups do not have access to the internet. We need to create solutions that address the needs of different groups and stop creating one-size-fits-all solutions. Janet mentioned that women are not respected when it comes to responsible data use, as they tend to fall victim to cyberbullying and lack of consent.

It was evident there are still several barriers to digital access. Favour mentioned that according to Alliance for Affordable Internet, a meaningful internet use entails: the ability to access 4G-like speed, use of an appropriate device, unlimited broadband connection, and daily use among others. With this definition of meaningful internet access, we could say that a very small percentage of Africa’s population have access to the internet. We also have other challenges such as cyber-crime, and internet affordability. As NetHope Members we need to break these barriers by advocating for affordable internet access, and laws that protect internet Users. Despite the challenges that we are experiencing as far as digital access is concerned there are opportunities for us as well. Janet mentioned that we need to work toward creating a larger community around producing content that showcases more about Africa than Wildlife Safaris. This will give our cause more visibility.

Leading in a nonprofit realm

What does leadership in a nonprofit organization look like?

Aja Martin-Peters, Director Digital Strategy and Programs at CARE USA, Katharine Brown, Vice Chair NetHope Board of Directors, and Leela Ramdhani COO of Oxfam International shared their experience and perspectives on nonprofit leadership. “What does a good leader look like?” Dianna Langley posed. Katharine mentioned that a good leader presents a compelling vision. Aja added that a good leader should also ensure that their vision aligns to the organization’s vision and leadership should be inclusive. Leela mentioned that as a leader you need to own your voice, and to cultivate courage to be able to have difficult conversations when you need to. A leader should be able to motivate others. Leela mentioned that human behavioral skills and being resilient are some of the skills that will be required moving forward as technology advances.

Technology advancement: Blockchain

Jeremiah Chienda, a blockchain enthusiast and the speaker during the technology advancement session clearly demonstrated the endless opportunities that blockchain technology presents to the sector in fundraising, combating climate change, and for food security. 

Blockchain technology is very attractive as it can enable organizations to fundraise easily, streamline complex processes using smart contracts, allow for permissionless and trustless transactions where there can only be one single source of truth. Records and transactions are immutable and tamper proof. Most importantly, the decentralized nature of the technology redefines power, value, and accessibility as it does not require policies or a governing structure to oversee its use. 

Every great invention always has a downside to it. Blockchain technology has its limitations: With immutable transactions, mistakes cannot be undone. Some solutions consume a lot of energy depending on the number of transactions. It is not scalable as the more nodes are involved in a transaction, the chances of slowing down is greater. Finally, blockchain being a relatively new technology there are very few blockchain developers and specialists with expertise on the technology to help organizations implement solutions effectively. 

In conclusion, it was evident that this was a complex and somewhat new concept for the Africa chapter. It will take time for the Members to learn about blockchain and for them to implement it in their organizations. But it was encouraging to see that the Members were fervent to learn more on the topic.

Digital transformation

When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.

George Westerman

How has the digital transformation journey been in your organization?

Sonia Karkare, the Director of Digital Transformation at MSF-WaCA shared their eight-month journey with us. The main goal of digital transformation in MSF WaCA was to help WaCA achieve new ways of humanitarian assistance by transforming current practices and developing new digital humanitarian services. Their approach  began by using a NetHope tool called Digital Nonprofit Ability to assess their state of digital readiness. Despite many challenges including heavy workloads, and change management issues, they achieved success within the department.

E-waste management

Did you know that Africa generated 2.9 Mt of e-waste in 2019?

Unfortunately, this number is on the rise and experts have predicted that e-waste will reach 74.7 Mt by 2030. Arthur Mwangi, Business Development Manager at WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Center) in Nairobi mentioned that Africa is leading the way on dealing with e-waste as more than 13 countries have e-waste policies and regulations in place. As much as e-waste management has challenges such as health effects it also has some opportunities such as job creation. Since 2012 WEEE has managed to create over 600 jobs and trained over 700 youths on e-waste management.

We also gained a better understanding of how different NetHope Member organizations approach e-waste management. We had Carine from CRS taking us through their approach, where it was evident that CRS has done a lot of work when it comes to e-waste management. They are looking forward to deepening their e-waste disposal policy in an environmentally friendly way. They are also working toward a global e-waste policy across the agency.

We also had Henriette Normann-Ekegren and Kim Tovgaard from DanofficeIT presenting on sustainable IT procurement in support of responsible e-waste disposal. They mentioned that when purchasing IT equipment, we need to consider four areas: How sustainable are the products? How sustainable are the companies you are doing business with? How sustainable are the transport methods? And can your old IT equipment be reused or recycled? With these three very insightful submissions it is evident we all have a responsibility in ensuring that electronic waste is disposed of in a responsible manner.

Cloud security and incident response

Most of our organizations are now gearing towards cloud infrastructure as opposed to the on-premises infrastructure which is associated with huge overhead costs in terms of physical infrastructure. Cloud infrastructure has a lot of advantages compared to on-premises, but we cannot rule out the issue of security.

What are you doing to ensure that your data and resources are secured while they are being hosted on the cloud? Have you left the security responsibility to the hosting service provider?

Stephen Amolo, a cloud cybersecurity engineer reminded us that we have a responsibility as ICT practitioners to ensure that we have implemented controls that seek to protect our data without relying entirely on our service provider. We also went through incident response preparedness, which was presented by Kelvin Kanya, head of threat Intelligence at M-KOPA, who highlighted three key important processes: prevention, detection, and response. We need to prepare our incident response team to handle incidents by ensuring that we have incident response policies and procedures in place. We also need to prepare our technology by ensuring that we establish visibility through logs, alerts, and other telemetry.

Future of connectivity and infrastructure

As workspace is shifting from physical space to virtual working spaces how will connectivity and infrastructure look like?

We had a panel consisting of Kevin Kariuki from Evail, Martin Mbalu from Path, and Martin Bucah from Save the Children providing a deep dive on how connectivity and infrastructure will look as we adjust to the new ways of working. Participants from different organizations were able to share how they are handling and managing these organizational changes and lessons learned. Some organizations are still struggling with how to support their field offices because some resources are still on-premises and there is a need to cascade working solutions for them. We also touched on cyber security. As we move to remote working, we have moved from the office network which is protected by the firewall, to using our home routers and uncertain security features. In this case there is need to invest on endpoint security i.e., a good anti-malware, email filtering systems etc.

ICT4D

Once again, we had our own Jack Kaburu from CRS presenting on the effects of digitizing health campaigns and how it improves outcomes. He mentioned that while technological solutions are an important element of digitization, CRS’ experience shows that the right technology is not all that is needed. CRS proposes that for digitization to be successful, these six core pillars need to be considered: Local leadership where local knowledge and actors can better assist with acceptance of the proposed solution; the need to map the stakeholders and understand their roles and priorities; alignment to the health system so that the proposed solution should fit within existing processes and protocols; adapted technology; support for data use; and change management. He further reminded us that successful digitization takes a multi-faceted team.

Climate change and green

Floods sweeping people in Bangladesh, India and China. A 5.9 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan and drought ravaging in the Horn and East Africa. Clear indications that affect all of us and we must #actnow. COP27 will be hosted in Egypt in Africa and climate change and Green Energy was a topic not to miss at NetHope Africa 2022.

Tech giants have been playing a critical role in climate adaptation and today we were honored to have Owen Ombima from Safaricom PLC on their contribution to a sustainable future. Green energy is the future, and they are working on going green by 2025. As a sustainability expert, he reminded us of what climate change is, but also its effects to all of us. In tech, our intersection with climate change has only been on power backup, mainly gensets. We only think of going solar as our contribution but were reminded of planting trees to absorb CO2 from the environment.

It is important for every tech professional to be thinking and providing innovations for our organizations as we tackle #climatechange.

How does NetHope help Member organizations with their climate change aspirations?

Jean-Louis Ecochard was keen to paint the #NetHopeGlobalVision on climate change and sustainability. The vision is driven by a collective Member strategy and a journey of strategic alignment that will realize the dreams and aspirations of many that we work with. With anticipation that funded climate change interventions will be the impetus for technology professionals to equip themselves on this topic. If your organization has not put this in your portfolio yet, be ready as this will be soon enough, and climate change will not have to be the core but will be a constant that cannot be ignored.

Going green comes at a cost, and the only way to manage this is to address the green energy supply chain. We need to start producing energy efficient devices, a conversation that NetHope is already having with the tech partners. We look forward to the fruits of working towards a collective impact.

Climate action and adaptation belongs to all of us. Let’s not wait for our leaders and government to do it. Begin by shutting down your appliances, using a reusable mug, turn off your water while brushing your teeth. These simple acts of kindness are saving our planet.

#ActNow by downloading the Aworld app that allows you to track your daily habits and educate your loved ones and community. Together we can save the planet.

Disaster response and preparedness

How prepared are you to handle a disaster?

Mark Hawkins, Global Humanitarian Technology Manager at Save the Children took us through some important considerations that we need when preparing to respond to a disaster. He reminded us that disaster response maybe in response to a cyber-attack and, in that case, we need to think about IT Security, data protection and how we will use ICT4D to support programmes. We also need to factor in the need of connectivity, power, physical security of Infrastructure, wi-fi and remote support

Trainings

As usual we created some time to fill in “our skills cup.” We had Pete Cranston from Christian Aid demonstrating a travel process management app which was built on power apps. He took us through their learnings and why power apps are the way to go if you would like to develop applications with minimal coding experience.

We also had a training session on endpoint management formally, Intune, presented by BUI, a Microsoft TSI Partner who took us through the process of managing devices using Intune. We went through features such as device compliance, application deployment, configuration profiles, BYOD device management using MDM and MAM.

What’s next?

We are looking forward to the NetHope Global Summit where Africa will be one of the in person hubs.

We are calling on our colleagues from Member organizations in Africa to join us in making our chapter more collaborative and exciting.

Be sure to join us on our Africa’s monthly meetings for further conversations on various topics covered in this year’s conference.

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