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A Contract for the Web: Tim Berners-Lee’s plan to save the internet



They often miss the mark by veering into totalitarian territory. But governments have an irreplaceable role in building and maintaining a valuable, prosperous internet.

Supported by about 150 organisations – including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Paradigm Initiative – the Web Foundation has, this week, launched a formal policy guide to this regard. A Contract for the Web, as the document is called, outlines nine principles that should guide governments, companies and individuals towards safeguarding the internet as a public good.

Founded in 2009 by Tim Berners-Lee – who invented the world wide web 30 years ago – the Web Foundation seeks to set the global agenda for open, equitable and affordable access to the internet. The Contract principles are based on international frameworks like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.

“The web has given people new, powerful tools to make their voice heard and to challenge injustice,” Berners-Lee said at the launch event in Berlin, Germany, on the sidelines of the 2019 Internet Governance Forum. “Typewriters have been replaced by blogs, social media, and online messaging.”

Everyone should be able to connect to the internet, “no matter who they are or where they live,” according to the Contract. National governments should aim to guarantee this, without prejudice to any groups, especially women and minorities.

Three policy goals

That means governments should, in the first place, engender a thriving economy. In an economy that favours the majority of citizens, one gigabyte of data should not cost more than 2% of average monthly income.

Secondly, governments should aim to provide at least 90% of citizens with access to broadband internet by 2030; the present gap towards reaching that target should be halved by 2025. Also, they should ensure “at least 70% of youth over 10 years old and adults have Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills by 2025.”

When compared to similar economies in Africa, data is not affordable in Nigeria. Access to quality broadband service is a limiting factor on citizens’ capacity for innovation. Despite over 80% mobile phone penetration, broadband availability is below 40% and is confined to urban areas. With nearly 13 million children out of school and education budgets consistently paltry, there is currently no path to achieving the prescribed ICT skills goal.

Therefore, the Nigerian government, among other things, should commit to “developing policies and providing funds for broadband strategies.” 

Keep it on

Investing in broadband infrastructure is one piece of architecture. Keeping the internet on at all times for all people is the thornier, more contested duty by (especially developing-country) governments.

In Chad, DR Congo, Cameroon, and Nigeria, the ruling class are concertedly restricting how open the internet should be for citizens. Social media has become the poster child for authoritarian frustrations with the internet. Threats to gag and hang abound.

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Contrary to this inclination to stifle online expression, government should focus on facilitating laws and regulations that enforce established human rights treaties on “freedom of expression, of peaceful association and assembly, and the freedom to access information as applied to online speech, behaviour, and online information,” per the Contract

Governments should be beating down old barriers, not raising new walls. That the internet increases the volume of speech available doesn’t suddenly make these rights too difficult to protect and enforce.

Enforce fair competition

When the focus is on scraping the web for irreverence, it is hard to imagine governments paying attention to the important duty of ensuring net neutrality. Private-sector internet service providers should follow non-discriminatory rules in determining what platforms, content, services and devices can access the internet.

Three principles in the Contract focus on companies: they should make the internet affordable, protect data privacy and “develop technologies that support the best in humanity.”

However, private sector players give first place to increasing profits and will do whatever they have to when permitted. As governments become the villains fighting internet access by habitually proposing questionable legislation, every move towards overseeing companies will be viewed by the public as ill-willed and retrogressive.

The internet: a public good

Nigeria’s anti-social media bill empowers law enforcement agencies to order internet shutdowns at their whim. While governments should foster multi-stakeholder dialogues to ensure internet access restrictions are proportional and legitimate when necessary, the bill’s primary argument for strict controls over the internet is to protect government officials from undesirable criticism.

This goes against the view of digital rights activists that the internet is a public good and a basic human right, despite its attendant dangers.

“Balancing rights, responsibilities and sustainable development is key,” Nnenna Nwakanma, the Web Foundation’s chief web advocate for Africa, told TechCabal. “Given Nigeria’s leadership on the African continent, we expect that laws should be forward-looking, that they will encourage innovation and be compliant with international human rights. The government should show its leadership by endorsing the Contract for the web”

Ultimate vigilance lies with citizens: engaging in civil discourse online, building strong communities and respecting other people’s privacy. Fighting for the web, against any government or entity aiming to weaponize it, should always be top of mind. 

As Berners-Lee said while launching the Contract, “We cannot leave the next generation a web — and a world — that is darker than the one we have today.”

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Did you miss the TC Edtech Townhall? Here’s what went down



On Friday, 29 November 2019, TechCabal hosted its fourth townhall for 2019. TC Townhall: EdTech and the Future of Work was a dynamic event that brought together education technology entrepreneurs and innovators preparing people for the jobs of the future.

Held at the Zone Tech Park in Gbagada, the goal of the townhall was to identify the issues in the education sector and how people can latch on to skills that are relevant to the future of work. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of interest in this discussion, as the hall was packed with nearly 200 attendees.

So if you missed the townhall, this is your one chance to catch up on what went down, so follow closely.

The doors opened at 9 am with the good folks at Odunjinrin and Adefulu, a law firm, providing legal advice for 30 minutes.

The main event officially kicked off at 10 am, with the welcome address from Chidi Uguru, Big Cabal Media’s very own Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships.

Next up was a lightning talk from Folawe Omikunle, Managing Director of Teach for Nigeria.

Following her talk was the keynote presentation made by Tomiwa Aladekomo, the CEO of Big Cabal Media. In addition to an earlier video presentation, Aladekomo’s presentation was important for context setting. For the benefit of the guests, he explored the trends in the edtech industry and who the startups are and what they do.

Sequel to the keynote presentation was the first panel session of the day: the State of Edtech in Africa. The panellists included: Tunji Adegbesan, Founder of GidiMo; Tayo Olaniyan, Nigeria Adaptation Manager at Ubongo Kids; ‘Dimeji Falana, CEO/Co-founder at Edves; Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji, Founder Rise Labs/ CEO of Passnownow. The session was moderated by Aanu Adeoye, the Managing Editor of TechCabal.

The panellists were as passionate about the problems in edtech as they are about their tech solutions. “Edtech is only going to prosper to the extent that the entire Nigerian system begins to rethink the process of investing in education,” said Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji, one of the panellists.

“The Nigerian educational system teaches you to read and regurgitate rather than to apply themselves to problem-solving and critical thinking,” she emphasized.

Beyond the challenges in the industry, the panellists explained how their solutions work and how they are addressing challenges that exist in the market.

Following this panel was a brief 15 minutes break and the show continued. The guests got to see product exhibitions from STEM MET and Imisi 3D, a startup using virtual reality to improve learning abilities for people.

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Next up, Chika Nwobi took to the stage. Nwobi is the founder of the developer training company, Decagon. He revealed why he started the company and his passion to equip young people with the technical skills they need to succeed.

The focus on equipping youths with the needed skills continued with the second panel of the day. Titled ‘Preparing African Youths & Employers for the Future of Work’, the panellists included: Seyi Ladejobi, Head of Employability at LSETF; Tolu Agunbiade, General Manager Nigeria at ALX; Femi Taiwo, Executive Director LEAP Africa; Solape Hammond, Acting Commissioner, Wealth Creation for the Lagos State Government. Emmanuel Emechete from the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY), moderated the session.

Passionate about the youth, Seyi and Tolu spoke about their work to train young people and what skills are needed for the future of work.

Following the panel was another product showcase, this time from ScholarX and FlexiSAF.

Guests also listened to another round of lightning talks titled: “For Edtech to succeed in Africa, we need?’. Anna Ekeledo, an Executive Director at AfriLabs gave the first talk, explaining how partnerships are important for edtech to succeed.

Dayo Koleowo, a Partner at Microtraction, gave the second talk. As a startup investor, Koleowo listed some things that EdTech startups must know when working in the industry. Here are a few:

1.  Understand the edtech space, don’t just assume what schools need.

2.  Have educators involved in building your solutions; don’t neglect the teachers in the consultative process.

3.  Develop high-quality content.

Next, was the last panel of the day, and it was a huge eye-opener. Titled “Investing in Africa’s Edtech Sector”, the panel was made up of heavyweights: Kola Aina; the Chairman of Edu Platforms and Founder of Venture Platforms; Gossy Ukanwoke, the Founder of Beni American University; and Bunmi Lawson, MD/CEO of EdFin. The session was moderated by Bankole Oluwafemi, the Editor-at-Large at TechCabal.

Two of the panellists double as both investors and EdTech entrepreneurs, so they shared their experiences, especially the regulatory challenges in the industry.

The main event officially ended with the closing remarks and vote of thanks by Tomiwa Aladekomo.

Afterwards, there was an invite-only startup and investor matching session where selected startups had an opportunity to meet with potential investors.

The post Did you miss the TC Edtech Townhall? Here’s what went down appeared first on TechCabal.

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French VC firm Partech is fishing for innovation in Africa’s informal economy



A year ago, venture capital fund Partech Africa gained attention following its investments in two promising African startups. South Africa’s Yoco provides portable point-of-sale machines to merchants, without contracts or monthly fees. TradeDepot, a Nigerian mobile B2B firm, gives retailers access to a wide range of goods directly available from FMCG factories.

Yoco and TradeDepot are examples of what Partech’s Africa drive aims to achieve: spurring innovation around the informal economy.

In 2019, Partech Africa made two follow-on investments and six new deals in Africa, including a leading role in the $5m raised by Kudi in April. Half of the eight transactions Partech has deployed were between $3m and $7m. Earlier in the year, they doubled their Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement operations in Dakar.

A nascent fintech based in Lagos, Kudi plays in the money transfer and e-payments space through an agent network. It is a model that provides individuals an entry point to the digital economy, without the regular prerequisites for formal access.

“These companies have validated our investment strategy: outstanding team, with validated model, addressing fundamental economic opportunities will build the next African champions,” says Tidjane Dème, general partner at Partech Africa, of their 2019 investments.  “We will continue to focus on financial inclusion, online and mobile consumer services, as well as mobility, supply chain services and digitization of the informal economy.”

What exactly is the informal economy?

Economists are revising how they measure and define an informal economy. One guide is to say it comprises “economic activity that falls outside the regulated economy and tax system, such as street vending or unregistered taxi drivers.”

The IMF estimates that between 2010 and 2017, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are the regions with the highest share of informality both at 34 percent of GDP. The numbers are much lower in North America (9%) and OECD countries (15%), probably because an informal economy is associated with “low productivity, poverty, high unemployment, and slower economic growth.”

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Informal economies are shrinking globally. But it takes time for economies to transition to formality. So what’s the catch for venture capitalists like Partech coming in at this time?

Building innovative pan-African companies

The informal economy is “where we see strong local African innovation,” said Cyrill Collon, general partner at Partech, in a phone call with TechCabal. For those who crack the informal economy, there is a “crazy playground to be a game-changing company in Africa and beyond.”

Of the nine companies on Partech’s portfolio, five already do business in more than one country.

Collon says the reach of the companies beyond the countries where they were founded “deeply demonstrates how African entrepreneurs are addressing the need of the continent and potentially those of emerging global economies.”

For Partech, innovation on business model is a key metric for judging an African company’s potential. “If you are capable of building new business models, you have a reach that no one can have,” Collon says.

Though they decline to reveal all at the request of the companies involved, Collon disclosed to TechCabal that Partech’s 2019 portfolio companies are spread across all regions in Africa. Nigeria has four of the nine companies on the list. May as well be deserved: 60% of its economy is informal, among the highest in Africa on that score.

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