Exploring Egypt’s Online Interface

19 May

Cairo What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word Egypt? The Pyramids, the pharaohs and snorkeling in Sharm El Sheik? But would you connect its capital Cairo to information and communication technologies? In April Egypt was THE place to be as it was hosting Cairo ICT 2012, the biggest Telecommunications fair in the Middle East.

I had the privilege to join the winners of World Summit Award, which celebrated their Winner´s Event at ICT Cairo 2012. I have to honestly confess that going to Cairo I was not only expanding my horizons in terms of intercultural learning, but – more importantly – I was shifting my point of view towards Egypt’s online interface along with the whole Arabic world. Even though there is an obvious language barrier and lack of Arabic content when browsing the Internet, there is still enough space to learn and get inspired. During the “Young Egyptian Digital Planet”, which was dedicated to the Youth Award´s Winners from Egypt, several Cairo based youth initiatives took my breath away: HarassmapZabatakKherna, or Wupy.

So what was the shift, actually?

We are all aware of the power new technologies have and how they can empower people and their actions towards creating social good. The online world can multiply initiatives taking place in the real “offline” world, which became obvious during the Arab Spring. What still might be surprising, especially in the Western world, is the fact that many developing countries actually kind of skipped the 2.0 Era and directly moved to 3.0 mobile Era.

Heather Mansfield, author of a successful book Social Media for Social Good, points it out very precisely: “In the past, nonprofits in developing nations and the communities they serve have been hindered by the cost of desktop computers and Internet access, they often have not had the infrastructure in place or the financial capacity to utilize the Internet on a regular basis. The revolution in mobile technology in the developing world is changing that forever”.

Numbers make this very clearly: Did you know that 40% per cent of mobile phone users in Egypt are poor? Or that the top five countries in terms of Internet access through mobile devices are African, followed by India? Well, I honestly didn´t until I happen to attend the discussion “The Mobile Revolution – Poor but Online” which was one of many highlights of the Winner´s Events in Cairo.

This opens very new horizons for people with limited Internet access. It gives them a powerful tool to raise awareness on their case, receive support or donations from all around the world, or simply connect with others.

It is fascinating to see how ICT adoption in different regions of the world can surprisingly go much faster than expected. And it will indeed be fascinating to observe how non-profit sector will gain a powerful and affordable tool to emphasize its efforts.

This post has been originally posted at wsis-award.org and  youthaward.com.


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