Analogue leadership in a digital world

The Yalla Apprenticeship Programme

The Yalla Apprenticeship Programme

We began our partnership with Founders and Coders in November 2018 by supporting the Founders Programme.  The objective was to give Founders and Coders (FAC) and Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) Graduates some practical industry experience as well as the opportunity to work on projects which had social impact.  Over two years Intersticia funded three cohorts of Founders each comprising two graduates from London over three months who worked with three teams of Gaza (one team per month) from the Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy on Tech for Better projects.

One outcome of the Founders programme has been the creation of the Yalla Co-Operative, a start-up Web Design and Development Agency formed by Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Ramy Al Shurafa, with Simon working in Berlin, Ramy in Gaza and Joe in London.  Our second Founders cohort, Kristina Jaggard and Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, acted as Class Co-Ordinators of FAC 18 and Kristina has now started working with Yalla in Berlin.

As we reflect on the programme and what we have achieved it is time to move to the next phase.

The Idea

In London Founders and Coders has recently been granted the status of a UK Registered Apprenticeship Training Organisation which means that in addition to the Coding Bootcamp FAC is in a position to work more closely with employers by providing on the job training as well as coding skills. (FAC has developed guidelines for their programme which can be found here.)

In early 2020 as Yalla were exploring how to further support their Gaza team the idea began to emerge of Yalla itself taking on Apprentices which would provide GSG Graduates with ‘on the job’ experience whilst also helping Yalla to grow as a business.

This very much fits in with Intersticia’s desire to deepening our connection with existing Fellows whist also strengthening our impact on the projects we undertake.  By continuing to invest in both the GSG Code Academy graduates as well as Yalla as an young start-up enterprise we can created a prototype programme which demonstrates the ability of a company to work collaboratively from both Europe and Gaza whilst also continuing to give opportunities to Palestinian graduates.

The idea is that Intersticia UK will fund Yalla to create such a programme whilst also drawing on GSG’s mentoring network, FAC’s support through logistics and administration, and Intersticia’s coaching and mentoring expertise.  Once developed and tested then Yalla and GSG can take the concept to other partners and employers around the world.

How it will work

As with most things Intersticia we are making it up as we go along – there is no tried and tested model for this, nor are there other examples we can draw lessons from.  Yalla is a rare entity in it’s UK-Europe-Gaza partnership structure and this would be no different, but that is why this is the perfect philanthrophic opportunity.

Yalla have crafted a very comprehensive plan for the Apprenticeship Programme which is now being refined and, as we proceed, will evolve as we all learn.

The primary aim of the programme is to provide two recent graduates from the Gaza programme to earn a living wage while also gaining experience in a real life agency and practicing the hard and soft skills that they’ll require for meaningful employment.

Secondary aims are:

  1. To provide many recent graduates with the experience of applying for their first employment opportunity within the field of Web Development
  2. To provide the opportunity of permanent employment to new graduates living in Gaza
  3. To support recent graduates in building the leadership skills that they need to work with clients either as a part of, or independently of, Yalla (soft skills, project management, confidence in spoken and written communication, experience in remote working)
  4. To support recent graduates in building solid portfolios that showcase their interests and strengths
  5. To provide recent graduates with a chance to acquaint themselves with the technical skills which are commonly used before moving on to billable work
  6. To build a sustainable apprenticeship programme that can eventually be promoted to other organisations

Our Founder Fellow Kristina Jaggard will act as the Programme Facilitator and the application and interview process will take place in April 2021 with the programme commencing in May 2021.

Intersticia’s role

As always Intersticia works in the space where things are ill-defined, a bit messy and always challenging – the space where all things are possible.  During our conversations with Yalla over the past two years it is apparent that they have sufficient technical skill to give the Apprentices their ongoing technical and business experience but there is much more we can offer in the area of coaching and help with the ‘soft skills’.  To this end we will be helping with the Interview process and then working with the Apprentices during the six months of their Apprenticeship.  In addition we have engaged Ahmed Elqattawi, an English/Business coach and mentor working with Gaza Sky Geeks and who served as my translator for Brave Conversations Gaza, to join the team as our Gaza based resource and advisor.

It has been an enormous privilege to work with FAC, GSG and Yalla over the past few years –  this new initiatives takes our work to the next level truly demonstrating the potential of a small, agile and innovative project to have broader implications whilst enabling and empowering individuals to change the world.

 

Intersticia’s 2020 Year in Review

Intersticia’s 2020 Year in Review

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.  (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin)

“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse

2020 has certainly been interesting.

As we have all been hunkered down in our respective homes around the world locked up in various level of Covid tier we have connected as never before, created new ways of supporting our Fellows and others with whom we work, and truly begun to embrace the world of digital media that has been at the core of our beliefs about what is needed for 21st Century Leadership.

Intersticia exists to develop and promote digital fluency and develop smarter humans in terms of how we proactively create, manage, harness and utilise digital technologies.

We do this primarily through the following activities:

  • We identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships
  • We work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation
  • We hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership

In the 2019 – 2020 year we built on the foundations that were laid in our first couple of years of existence and, powered by the opportunities afforded by the Pandemic, we have been busier than ever.  At the end of 2019 I felt that we were completing the work of our first Horizon, developing our Fellowship; clarifying who we are, what we do and how we do it, and creating our partnerships.

As we embark upon 2021 our second Horizon is becoming clearer.

Identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships

From the outset Intersticia has sought to identify and support emerging leaders who are a little different, are prepared to take risks, are generous of spirit and have a deeply ingrained need to make the world a better place.  I am often asked how we find our Fellows and those we choose to support.

The first filter is through our values which are those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace.  We look for these in how people approach us, how they present themselves, how they interact with the world and the sorts of things they value in life.  These are what drive those of our current Fellowship and manifest in how they demonstrate their individual leadership.

The second is our belief that Intersticia is a community.  We are not a leadership development or training organisation, nor are we a Charity that ‘sets and forgets’.  Our intention is to recruit and embrace individuals who will contribute to and expand the work that we do both individually and collectively, and as a group collaborate to bring about positive change.

The third is the filter of need.  There are many who apply for our support who come with worthy ideas that many other organisations will see merit in, and we often encourage them to find those organisations.  As a small organisation our interest is in those people who often fall through the cracks, who often straddle multiple disciplines and who don’t fit neatly in to one category or another.  These people provide the hidden connections which we see of great value.

We now have 21 people we have supported through Scholarships and Bursaries and of these 19 have been made Fellows (see https://intersticia.org/fellows/).

However, bringing people in to our Fellowship is just the beginning, and one thing that our work thus far has demonstrated is that it is not broadening our reach which is important, but deepening our connection and strengthening our impact.  Of those we support some choose to continue being a part of, and contributing to, our community, others choose not to, which is their choice.

For those who stay with us there are four main areas that we have begun to focus on:

  1. helping our Fellows develop their own Authenticity as emerging 21st Century Leaders
  2. creating our Fellowship as a Community that shares experiences and learning
  3. supporting our Fellows to find their Voice in the stories they tell and work that they do
  4. harvesting these factors to build a collective Resilience in their work and individual lives

This year we have not been able to come together as a group physically but we held our 2020 Retreat online and appended this with Small Group sessions which continue in to 2021.

We have embarked upon a series of Intersticia Brave Conversations interviews with each of our Fellows produced online and available throughout the community.  As a complement to this we have begun working with our Fellow Jess Chambers in her professional capacity as a Voice Coach to give all within our community additional skills in how they present themselves publicly.

Finally we have expanded our group of Advisors with the contribution of key individuals who are willing to help and support our Fellowship group.  These people have been incredibly generous with their time, energy and enthusiasm – without them we couldn’t do all that we do.

Work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation

We also could not do the work that we do without leveraging the partnerships that we have, in particular Goodenough College, the Web Science Trust, Founders and Coders (FAC) and Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG).  It is through these organisations that we have been able to find new opportunities and innovative projects.

Our support of the Founders Programme began our formal partnership with both FAC and GSG and has resulted in three cohorts of Founders from both London and Palestine, and our first cohort of Founders (Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Ramy Shufara) has created the first spin out in Yalla, “a Web Design and Development agency which helps non-profits and impact-driven businesses drive positive social change in the tech sphere”.

In 2021 we aim to take this to the next level through the development of a pilot Apprenticeship Programme with Yalla employing two Gaza Code Academy Graduates.

Hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership

From the outset Intersticia has sought to operate within the interstice between society, culture and technology, the space of the Social Machine.

Our flagship activity is our Brave Conversations events which seek to educate the general public about the Social Machine and act as an Outreach activity for academic research of Web Science.  We have now held events around the world, and, with the opportunity afforded by Covid in 2020, online.

Our plan for 2021 is to build on these foundations to further expand the footprint encouraging a greater partnership with the Web Science Trust and its network of Web Science Labs, beginning with our second event hosted by IIIT Bangalore in February 2021.  We will also be an integral part of the 2021 Web Science Conference to be held online in June 2021 and intend to integrate content from the Web Science Untangling the Web podcasts in to our activities.

All of our events are listed below and on the Brave Conversations website.

2020 Brave Conversations Kav Mashve
2020 Brave Conversations Arabic/English
2020 Brave Conversations Southampton Online
2020 Brave Conversations Gaza
2020 Brave Conversations Bangalore
2019 Brave Conversations London
2019 Brave Conversations Boston
2019 Brave Conversations Melbourne
2018 Brave Conversations Kingston
2018 Brave Conversations London
2018 Brave Conversations at the World Government Summit Dubai
2017 Brave Conversations Canberra
2011 Metalounge

Digital Gymnasia Series

In a ‘normal’ year we would usually hold a series of workshops at Goodenough College to promote digital literacy and digital skills to current students of the College.  Given the restrictions on travel we have instead now developed our Digital Gymnasia Series which has been delivered throughout 2020 to students and Alumni of the College around the world. In 2020 we developed and delivered eight workshops which attracted between 20 – 30 attendees each time.  In 2021 we will be delivering an additional four Gymnasia to the Goodenough community in 2021 on the topics of Building Digital Brands, Demystifying AI, Facilitating Online and Digital Governance.  All of these are now being recorded to be made available online to the general public, especially the Boards of Charities and Not-for Profit organisations.

Conclusion

2020 has taught us the value of our networks and connections, whether they be IRL (in real life) or via the virtual medium.  What I have found is that whilst I have been ‘grounded’ in my physical space here up on Pittwater and have connected more frequently with my local neighbours and community, I have been much more active with a broader range of people around the World and my Global community.  I have spoken to my family and friends more often, I have held more meetings and I have been more productive than I have ever been.  Through this I believe we have been given the opportunity to deepen our relationships this year, particularly with our Fellows and Advisors, who have all brought their personal experiences and challenges of negotiating and navigating through 2020 and shared without hesitation.

We have been given the opportunity to slow down and consolidate rather than madly race around looking for new adventures and shiny new distractions, and for that I am extremely grateful.

So what comes next?  We have talked about our planned 2021 Retreat in Devon and following that we plan to take our Fellows to walk through the Sinai Desert led by our Advisor Louise Sibley.  These face to face activities where we don’t have to rely on words but can commune as a group of humans physically together are now more important than ever.  As are our ongoing Brave Conversations events where we ask our Fellows to share their thoughts about the work they are doing and perhaps the theme for 2021 may be “Brave Conversations Unplugging” as the World gradually unfreezes from it’s Pandemic state (thanks to Sam Crock for that idea).

More on that to come!

Digital Gymnasia Series 2020

Digital Gymnasia Series 2020

Emergencies fast-forward historical processes.  Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. (Yuval Noah Harari)

For the past few years I have been delivering Digital Skills workshops to interested students at Goodenough College, but the travel restrictions of Covid 2020 means that I’m stuck in Australia and so, like everyone, we’ve had to come up with new solutions and ways to engage.

The flip side is that Covid has brought about ‘the digital moment’ and we are all now participating in probably the largest global experiment as we harness digital media to remain connected, to craft new ways of staying in business, and to keep the wheels of industry turning.

With this in mind Goodenough College Dean Alan McCormack, Alumni Director Hannah du Gray and I decided that it was the perfect time to reach out beyond the  current student body to all of our Goodenough community around the world and offer them the opportunity to more consciously think about the digital tools that they work with, and begin to develop some real digital muscle in order to more safely and securely navigate and negotiate our lives online.

Thus was born our Digital Gymnasia, a series of workshops where the emphasis is on education, play, and skill building through conversation and coaching and where we can explore some of the questions and issues which arise in a safe and non-judgemental space.

The Ancient Greek Gymnasia were places for physical activity but also places for intellectual pursuits and philosophical discussion.  The word gymnos comes from the Greek unclothed which implies not just nudity but also a vulnerability and a need to exercise in order to attain skills to better prepare for the world around.  The Romans continued the idea of the gymnasia with their Baths and we still use the term for both exercise facilities but also schools.

As I thought of what to name the series of digital literacy workshops that have emerged over the past few months the idea of the gymnasia seemed most appropriate.  What we need at this time is not something to cure an illness or seek treatment but a space within which to play and test the equipment around us in order to build our confidence, capacity and capability in using it to live better and more fulfilling lives.  In short we need to exercise our digital muscles in order to both safely use the equipment and, even better, successfully compete in the digital games that now surround us.

We have become digital in the last few years (especially with our phones) as well as physical beings. There is nothing in physical experience that can fully equip us with what that really means. (Doc Searls)

The tools of the Digital era have been gradually evolving but pre-Covid the legacy and stickyness of Industrial Age thinking has persisted – just consider the World Economic Forum’s idea of a Fourth Industrial Revolution.  I would contend that whilst we still live in an ‘industrialised economy’ ever since the birth of the Internet and the Web we have been moving towards a Network Economy.

The Pandemic has provided both the need and the curiosity for many to explore the digital realm in new and unexpected ways. Up until now we have largely been retro-fitting the way we do things in the physical space in to the online environment – insisting on having conferences and events from 9 am t0 6 pm and not taking account of the affordances of the digital medium and how that impacts our emotional and mental needs or reactions.  This is still happening but gradually we are becoming more confident and creative and what has surprised and delighted me is how creative people are becoming at working with the online tools – the democratisation of the digital space is enabling and embodying new creative solutions and expressions.

One example of this is Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Café which provides peer support meetings online.  Ruby started her in person meetings at Marks and Spencer cafes but Covid has forced them to go online.  When I asked her what she will do then some sort of ‘normality’ returns Ruby told me in no uncertain terms that the online Frazzleds will continue because they are so powerful and can reach so many people.

Ruby, and many like her have found the confidence to go online, to a space that they may not have felt comfortable operating in, but bit by bit they are experimenting and developing their digital muscle.

But as with all new exercises and fancy gym equipment it is often best to start off with an instructor, and that is what we are seeking to do with our Digital Gymnasia.

The format of Digital Gymnasia

Our first Digital Gymnasium focuses on the topic Digital 101, a session designed to explore how the socio-technical systems around us have evolved in order to understand where they are now in 2020 and imagine where they might be going.  We focus on a brief history of information technologies coupled with some hands on exercises to determine peoples’ levels of digital literacy and awareness.

The second Digital Gymnasium focuses on The Digital Agora where we explore the world of online community spaces and how they are enabling us to remain connected despite the global lockdowns and quarantines.  We begin by considering the affordances of digital interaction technologies and what benefits they provide as well as their limitations and consequences.

The third Digital Gymnasium focuses on Your Digital Brand and how we each craft our presence online.  This session is built upon the work I have done over the past 2o years (and resulted in my PhD research, see here and here) which at the core considers how our lives online produce our ‘brand’.  Our aim here is to really think about how we are perceived by others online.

The fourth and fifth Digital Gymnasia focus on Protecting Yourself Online and provides  an overview of tools and techniques to better deal with online safely and security.  Our aim is to get people actively engaged with their online security and more fully begin to understand the idea of digital identity.

The sixth Digital Gymnasium focuses on The Politics of Digital Technologies with an overview of how governments around the world are utilising digital surveillance technologies and systems in the name of Public Health. At the core of this is the concept of Trust which is multi-layered and an expression of our cultural norms and expectations.  It is also a clear example of the lack of digital literacy and awareness in the Pubic Sphere.

The seventh Digital Gymnasium focuses on Seeing the World through Data – how data drives everything around us and why this is important.  Data has been described as the new oil of the digital economy, but there is a lot more to it than that.  In order to build digital muscle we need to understand what digital is made up of (think of how we monitor our diet through exercise) and data is the source.  This workshop seeks to demystify the idea of data, information and knowledge to more effectively work with it as our digital systems evolve.

Our final Digital Gymnasium focuses on what being Born Digital means – how digital businesses differ from traditional bricks and mortar ones, but also how they are changing and what this means for the future of work, education, health care and many other aspects of our everyday lives.

These workshops are an opportunity for me and my colleague Leanne Fry (with whom much of this material has been developed and who has lived through the digital transformation of the past two decades with me) to reflect on the work we’ve done and to offer what we’ve learned to others in a way that we hope is useful, empowering and entertaining.

We would love you to join us.

If you are interested please just contact me.

Creating a 21st Century Literacy

Creating a 21st Century Literacy

Founders Joe Friel, Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, Kristina Jaggard with Dan Sofer and Anni Rowland-Campbell

Founders and Coders started life as “Self Organising”, a MeetUp at the British Library[1] which led to a 6 week pilot at the Camden Code Academy in March 2014[2].   The next step was a crowdsourced 8 week programme in January 2015[3] (FAC4).

Founders and Coders are now about to graduate their 17th cohort FAC17, and have helped to initiate Coding bootcamps in Nazareth, Gaza and Hebron[4].

I met Dan in 2015 and quickly realised that his vision of bringing the ability to code to all those who are interested in developing a ‘literacy for the modern age’, and ours of developing 21st Century leaders, were closely aligned.  This resulted in our support to help him create the Tech for Better Founders Programme[5] and ever since we have been exploring new ways to work together and develop both the technical and social skills required to lead in the twenty first century.

Our first cohort of Founders, Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Michael Watts[6] have now founded the first FAC ‘spin out’, the Yalla Co-Operative with Gaza Founders Ramy Shurafa and Asala Kamal[7].

Our second cohort, Oliver Smith Wellnitz and Kristina Jaggard[8] finished their Founders work and are co-ordinating the 17th FAC programme.

Tech for Better – Founders 2 Projects 2019

Oliver and Kristina worked with a range of Palestinian Founders on three projects:  Commons, HOWL, Business LaunchPad

The Commons:  Networked City sought to progress work towards their ultimate goal of creating an online platform for supporting the development of communities and networks, both in a spatial (e.g. a local community) and interest (e.g. supporting at-risk youth) sense.

Team:  Kristina-Talisa Jaggard, London Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, London Haneen Shahwan, Gaza, Ali Haj Ahmed, Gaza

HOWL (The History of Women’s Liberation (HOWL) ​group) is a group of aged 60+ women who were active during the Women’s Liberation Movement between the 1960s and 1990s who continue to contribute to the contemporary feminist discourse.   Their central aim is to create a collection of stories, visual documentation and ephemera relating to the Women’s Liberation Movement in the United Kingdom

Team:  Kristina-Talisa Jaggard, London Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, London Orjwan ​Al-Rajaby, Hebron Muhammed Shareef, Hebron

Business Launchpad aims to support young entrepreneurs (16-30) through running free workshops and mentoring sessions with groups and individuals. Part of their work involves collecting and digitizing information related to each individual’s journey in order to both better support them and to inform the future direction of the organization.  They sought to create an app that would help to facilitate their data collection while also providing something that would be useful for young entrepreneurs.

Team:  Kristina-Talisa Jaggard, London Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, London Salwa Mugh, Gaza Shaima Azmi, Hebron

Gaza Sky Geeks Second Cohort Founders

Haneen Shahwan – Graduate Coder

Haneen Shahwan is a software engineer who graduated from Gaza Sky Geeks Coding Bootcamp in 2016.  She worked in the management field for one year then decided to return programming.  Code Academy has challenged her and helped her develop her software engineering skills together with her skills in systems analysis, and her English and communication skills.  She returns to Tech4Better so further develop the skills she began developing during the first round of projects.

Ali Haj Ahmed – Graduate Coder

Alis has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics Engineering, from Al-Azhar University, Gaza.  He graduated in 2012 and joined the Business and Technology Incubator (BTI) at the Islamic University (Mobaderoon 2 project) before starting his own business in CNC Zone.  He then decided to learn programming and joined Gaza Sky Geeks in mid 2018.  He is keen to further develop his technical and communication skills as a team and community member.

Muhammed Shareef – Graduate Coder

Muhammad graduated from Palestine Polytechnic University in Aug 2018, with a BA degree in Computer Science.  He joined the GSG Founders and Coders program to strengthen his programming, management, and social skills, and also to make good relationships with people out of his country.

Orjwan Al-Rajaby – Graduate Coder

Orjwan heard of Gaza Sky Geeks after being unable to attend College and then entered the Coders programme after hearing about them on Facebook.  She is now a Fullstack Developer.

Salwa Mughessib – Graduate Coder

Salwa studied Electrical Engineering at Islamic University of Gaza and applied for Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy shortly afterwards.  She enjoys the community and meeting new and interesting people.

Shaima Ihdoosh – Graduate Coder

Shaima has an information technology degree from Palestine Polytechnic University graduating in July 2018.   After graduation she was unable to find work and then did volunteer work to gain experience before hearing about Gaza Sky Geeks when browsing Facebook.  She was keen to learn programming and communications and work with a team of students from other fields and joined the first GSG Cohort in the West Bank.

All Tech for Better Project GitHub Repositories and Descriptions:

  • https://github.com/techforbetter/connect5
  • https://github.com/yalla-coop/myPickle
  • https://github.com/techforbetter/nightingale
  • https://github.com/founders-programme-2/commons
  • https://github.com/founders-programme-2/howl
  • https://github.com/founders-programme-2/business-launchpad

 

[1] Initial meeting – Self-Organising Meeting at British Library – http://selforganising.org/

[2] 6 week pilot Camden Code Academy March 2014 – https://vimeo.com/88149344

[3] Crowdsourced programme for FAC4 –
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/founders-coders-a-free-coding-academy-in-london/

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/05/wireless-in-gaza-the-code-school-bringing-hope-to-the-strip and https://medium.freecodecamp.org/something-within-me-whispered-be-the-builder-9a47fcc013f

[5] See https://intersticia.org/founders-and-coders-tech-for-better/ and https://www.foundersandcoders.com/techforbetter/)

[6][7] See https://www.yallacooperative.com/, https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/the-most-international-micro-agency-how-two-london-bootcamp-graduates-built-a-remote-3eeda0be1b2a/ and https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/indyventure/founders-coders-software-developer-academy-islington-gaza-yalla-a8907586.html

[8]https://intersticia.org/founders-and-coders-tech-for-better-second-cohort/

Brave Conversations goes Global even more in 2019

Brave Conversations goes Global even more in 2019

In July last year, before we had Intersticia UK properly set up, I wrote this post.

We are about to take Brave Conversations to the next level with events in Melbourne, Boston and London.

If we know that alternative futures are possible then we can start thinking about better ones.  (Cory Doctorow, What should we do about democracy?)

In my last post I referred to Psychohistory, Isaac Azimov’s fictional science which combines history, sociology and the mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behaviour of very large groups of people – in other words to explore alternative future.

It has been said that the World Wide Web is a portent of precisely such a thing which is why those who invented it created the interdisciplinary field of Web Science.

“Research tries to anticipate time. If you’re reading the Economist it’s interesting facts.”  (Luciano Floridi)

Since its public release in to human society the Web has evolved from being a small academically orientated Read Only (push information out) information community to a global publishing Read-Write infrastructure upon which almost 50% of humans interact with each other facilitated by the largest companies of the modern era.

The Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web 

(see 10th anniversary video).

Not only do we communicate via the Web but increasingly it is becoming an environment where we actually live (Luciano Floridi) and as with all social ecosystems our ability to co-habit as a bunch of evolved apes is dependent on the rules and norms which govern how we act and treat each other.

“Civilization is but a thin veneer stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen.” (Bill Moyers)

In previous eras the relative rates of technical and societal change have been roughly equivalent.  In the digital age this is not the case, which is why we created Brave Conversations in 2017.

Brave Conversations

Brave Conversations is the first non-academic but publicly focused Web Science event to provide people from all walks of life – industry, government, academia, and the community sectors – with the opportunity to sit back, reflect and respectfully explore the socio-technical issues beginning to arise as a result of digital information technologies.  It carries on from MetaLounge, our first attempts from 2008 – 2011 to create these types of event, and has now had four iterations around the world;  2017 in Canberra; Dubai as part of the 2018 World Government Summit; London 2018 in partnership with SoapBox Islington, and Kingston, Jamaica in July 2018 hosted by the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission.

At each event I have been humbled and privileged to help facilitate and encourage people to be truly brave in addressing issues which have been both confronting and uncomfortable, but most importantly to feel that at the end of each session they have left slightly more educate and enabled, but most of all empowered, to more proactively navigate and negotiate their digital lives.

Throughout we have continually been asked “what is a ‘brave’ conversation“?

As we were designing the programme it struck us that the most valuable thing we could contribute to the global dialogue would be to intentionally confront people with ideas, concepts and suggestions that they may intuitively be aware of but were unable to explore, understand or articulate in a public space.

Our Canberra event taught us the importance of actively listening to, and integrating the voice of young people.  It also demonstrated the benefit of having a diversity of voices in the room, sometimes creating discomfort and tension when language was a barrier, by which I mean those comfortable with technical language and those not.  This is why we chose to partner with SoapBox Islington and a huge thanks to James Dellow, Nick Crivello and all the team there for their wonderful hospitality and terrific group of young people who joined us.  Thank you also to Tris Lumley, Lydia Hascott and Jo Wolfe for their incredible support and amazing organisational skills in supporting Leanne Fry, Bel Campbell and me throughout.

Brave Conversations London in partnership with SoapBox Islington

“Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.”  (Sherry Turkle)

As we were framing Brave Conversations London we reflected on the 2018 Data breach scandals and the calls for ethics to be more proactively integrated in to the development of digital technologies.  But which ‘ethics’?  Ethics, from my understanding, is relative and is based on how you see the world, what matters and how things fit together.  As we explored this we determined that what was more important was to help people focus on and articulate their values as a foundation piece in order to have brave conversations, particularly as the group was quite diverse having a good mix of sexes, around a third under the age of 35, together with a number in their 70s, and one family of three generations.

In understanding the difference I found this to be a very useful overview:

  1. Values are the basic beliefs that an individual thinks to be true. Every individual has a set of values through which he looks at all things and also at the world.
  2. Ethics are guidelines or rules that are set for a society or an organization rather than for an individual.
  3. Values can be said to be the guiding principles in one’s life. ‘Value’ can be defined as a bridge by which an individual makes a decision regarding good and bad, right or wrong, and most important or less important.
  4. Ethics can be defined as set of rules formulated by a country or a company or some institutions. Ethics is mainly based on the moral values.

We crafted our values framework based on both an interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs combined with Moore and Khagran’s Strategic Triangle for Creating Public Value.  Not only did we frame our questions around the questions of ‘what Can we do‘ (logos, the technology) and ‘what Should we do‘ (ethos, culture) but we also highlighted the need to ask ‘what May we do‘ (pathos, authority).

In addition we created a very simple, but quite informative, algorithm to poll the group about their feelings towards technology asking four questions to elicit their confidence that five potential technology innovations would improve their lives.

This graphic shows the results - a score of -0.18, in other words they were not confident at all.

Whilst the exercise was both crude and we did not have a lot of time to explain it in detail, it was indicative in terms of the general feeling in the room over the two days and the flavour of the discussions that were held.

What we learned in London then informed how we framed the conversations for Jamaica.

Brave Conversations Kingston in partnership with the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission

“We need to ensure that future citizens have the human capacity to operate in the digital world.” (Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, Jamaica)

I met Cordel Green at the Harvard Kennedy School and our mutual interest in digital literacy and the need to empower people in the digital world resulted in his very kind invitation to travel to Kingston to hold Brave Conversations.

Not only was I welcomed with open arms but I was almost overwhelmed by the hospitality I was given and a huge thanks to Cordel, Karlene Salmon, Don Dobson and all at Broadcom for giving me such a privileged insight in to Jamaica.  Thank you also to Kemal Brown and his wonderful team who recorded it all.

Broadcom is the communications regulator in Jamaica, but not only is it doing that it is taking the lead in educating the Jamaican community about the world of information and both their rights and responsibilities in it.  We kicked off with an interview on Smile Jamaica, the opening of the Jamaican Teachers’ Federation Conference, and a radio interview, all of which gave me some initial insights in to this wonderful country.

Many of the conversations I heard in Jamaica were similar to those I hear elsewhere, but with their own unique twist.  Jamaica’s history, geography, climate and demographics have created an island paradise from which individuals have always shone on the world stage and of course writers such as Ian Fleming have been at their creative best.

Jamaica’s most pressing challenge is its crime rate.  According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 the most problematic factors for doing business in the country are Crime and Theft, Taxes and Corruption.  But this links to so many other factors, and what resonated deeply for me was the determination to help young people develop the resources and resilience through both education and opportunity to help change this and determine a different future.  This was coupled by the high level of religious affiliation which was proudly displayed and acknowledged.

When I was crafting Brave Conversations Jamaica I wondered what impact this would have particularly as one of the key thinkers we reference is Yuval Noah Harari, whose Homo Deus and interviews directly challenge traditional religions comparing them to the “playing of virtual reality games in order to give humans meaning and purpose”.

It proved to be a core part of the conversations, and an opportunity to push both boundaries and ideas.

Fear and love

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)

We chose the word brave because any discussion around technology forces us as human beings to confront our deepest beliefs, aspirations and above all fears – how we see and make sense of the world and above all the things we are afraid of losing – from the basics of safety and security, to the intimacy of love.

At each of our Brave Conversations a mini-community evolved within which there was a degree of discomfort, people did have to explore and listen to different, and often challenging, viewpoints, but there began to emanate both a sense of trust and the preparedness to be brave.

“The real existential risk is a loss of the ability to make sense of the world around us:  what is worth doing, and what the likely effects of things will be.” (Daniel Schmachtenberger)

Having now run Brave Conversations in numerous countries, and with other invitations in the pipeline, we are keen to do whatever we can to help people better understand and appreciate the new digital space within which they are living.

What I have learned is that if we can provide the framework, the information and safe space for people to take a risk, present themselves as truly curious and smart humans, they will be brave and they willingly embrace the opportunity.

The real question of course is that armed with the insights of research, coupled with the power and communication afforded by our technologies, and with Humanity’s future at stake, can we afford not to be brave?

Founders and Coders – Tech for Better, Second Cohort

Founders and Coders – Tech for Better, Second Cohort

Founders Oliver Smith-Wellnitz and Kristina Jaggard with Haneen Shahwah and Ali Haj Ahmed

Intersticia is thrilled to announce our second cohort of Tech for Better Coders in partnership with Founders and Coders (UK) and Gaza Sky Geeks.

This builds on the very successful first round which resulted in the creation of the Yalla Co-Operative providing ongoing opportunities for the team from our first cohort to continue their collaboration in a commercial environment building real products and services.

Our second cohort consists of two London coders who will work on three sprints over three months helping to develop Tech for Good projects.  They will be complemented by six Gaza coders who will work in pairs for one month each.

The Course Faciliator is Charlie la Fosse.

London Coders – Second Cohort, 2019

Oliver Smith-Wellnitz – Graduate Coder

Oliver Smith-Wellnitz is an Australian-born international Circus Artist turned Web Developer. After spending twelve years training, performing, and teaching as a trapeze and hula hoop artist, Oliver turned to coding as a means of finding not only more stability, but also opportunities to make a meaningful impact with his work. Founders and Coders, with their peer-driven and community-oriented structure, offered the perfect opportunity to achieve these goals, and Oliver was quick to accept when offered the chance. He is extremely excited to be able to take advantage of the skills learned throughout the course and apply them to projects for Tech For Better clients.

Kristina-Talisa Jaggard – Graduate Coder

Coming from a background in visual art, Kristina-Talisa Jaggard developed an interest in programming after being introduced to web design through her job within the charity sector. Noting a disparity in online accessibility for those with disabilities, Kristina decided to learn to programme for herself. It was the core values of social impact, inclusion and cooperation that drew Kristina specifically to the Founders and Coders course.  Kristina applied to the subsequent Founders Program because she wished to continue to develop her programming skills while working on real-world projects that push for a more inclusive World Wide Web.

Gaza Coders – Second Cohort, 2019

Haneen Shahwan – Graduate Coder

Haneen Shahwan is a software engineer who graduated from Gaza Sky Geeks Coding Bootcamp in 2016.  She worked in the management field for one year then decided to return programming.  Code Academy has challenged her and helped her develop her software engineering skills together with her skills in systems analysis, and her English and communication skills.  She returns to Tech4Better so further develop the skills she began developing during the first round of projects.

Ali Haj Ahmed – Graduate Coder

Alis has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics Engineering,from Al-Azhar University, Gaza.  He graduated in 2012 and joined the Business and Technology Incubator (BTI) at the Islamic University (Mobaderoon 2 project) before starting his own business in CNC Zone.  He then decided to learn programming and joined Gaza Sky Geeks in mid 2018.  He is keen to further develop his technical and communication skills as a team and community member.

We are very excited that our ongoing partnership is providing such fabulous experience for young coders, and for the opportunity to continue working cross-culturally between London and Gaza.