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Rudi International: An experience on e-participation, the first month!
I am going to share with you an evaluation of our e-debates on ICTs. Rudi International is the organization I am Co-founder of and now the Executive Director. The organization aims to link the African diaspora with those on the continent inciting them all to partake to the development of Africa. We launched an ICT specialized program, “Rudi for Women and Girls Online”, which aims to integrate women and girls in the use of ICTs through trainings, workshops letting them understand why and how they have to use ICTs to partake to the relaunch of their countries, for this specific case, the Democratic Republic of Congo where we are based although our activities touches the whole world using the power of new ICTs, Internet.
One of the activities we do in this program is the “Online debate” which takes place every Thursday night (19h00 UTC) and takes one hour and a half. Each week, we have a new topic of discussion. Our target is women but these are in less number than men. So men are the most taking part to our online discussions. One of the topics we discussed, in the first discussion, was “What are the advantages and inconveniences of Internet use for young people?”. This activity begun in past June, so we are now at our first experience that we wanna evaluate before we can move forward in the coming months.
The discussion takes place using Facebook, through comments on a photo posted with the day’s topic. Our users will just make comments and the moderator is telling people when they have to move to the next step.
Our target is French speakers and most of our fans are from the D.R. Congo where French is the native language. In DRC, Facebook is the most used by the youth than any other social network or other Internet platforms. Using some network providers such as Airtel, MTN operating in DRC, Facebook is free of access. And we call it “Facebook Zero”. This is accessible for mobile users through “o.facebook.com”. With this service, you cannot see pictures or videos, only text. For mobile users, there is no need of seeing or posting pictures as long as the access is free of charge. But if you want access those services, you will be charged but not so much. So we decided to use Facebook because we can be sure to the reach more people who uses Facebook.
Another reason is because the discussion takes place in night times. In DRC, only few people are accessing Internet in their houses. Most people access Internet using cyber cafes or while in their offices. So, once at home, there is no access until it’s the next day. So Facebook mobile helps people stay online when they cannot access through their computers. That’s why we decided to use Facebook as our discussion’s platform. And I can tell you, it’s is a great idea and a great experience to get to reach those people!
For this first month of experience, there are some challenges we think our user did face while accessing to the discussion. Also, we received feedbacks from some of them. Let me list some of those we received:
- The scheduled time. In eastern DRC we are at UTC+2, this means that the time scheduled for the debate (19h00 UTC) will be 21h00 in Goma (Eastern Congo). The discussion usually takes 1,3h. This is very late for some who have been working the day long and need rest. So being awake and taking part to the discussion depends on the topic whether it’s interesting or not.
- Access. This is always the major problem. It is not everyone who have a mobile phone allowing GPRS access. So for those who use their PC or cyber cafes will not take part to the discussion because they will be yet back home and without Internet. This joins the first challenge above, the schedule. But also, talking about access is about the network. Sometimes, the network is very bad due to weather or technical problem. This will make troubles for those who want to connect and access to the discussion.
- Interest? In most cases, we are able to say that some people have less interest in the online debates. At the time we are starting, I always see most of my friends online but when you invite them to the discussion, they are not coming. In our last workshop on the 2012 World Telecommunication Information Society and Day, one of the questions raised was: Is it a problem of Access or Interest that leads to the non-participation of women in ICT activities? Most people say that it is a matter of interest because when one is interested on something, he will do his best to have access. Both women and men face the same challenges when accessing, so why only men break that barrier and access more?
- Lack of information. We received feedback that many of our official Facebook page fans were not informed about our debates although they were interested. On yes, we have to make much ads so many will be informed and will be taking part.
I think, this is a great example of e-participation! I am always one of the moderators because I am administrating our Facebook page, Rudi for Women and Girls Online, even though my name or my personal Facebook Profile will not appear in the discussion. After the debates, I make sure I make transcript of the debate and make it as a Facebook note or our Facebook profile Rudi Intl for archives. I always apply knowledge received with Diplo courses to well manage this program, helping educate, train and integrate women in the ICT environment.