Interview With A FACT Challenge Winner: Tobias Eigen from Kabissa Connections

Claire Sale's picture

We recently announced the 5 Winners for the FACT Social Justice Challenge and we are thrilled at the caliber and impact of all the Projects. As such, we want to give you a closer look at these collaborative technology Projects and the people behind them. Each Monday in the month of November, we posted an interview from one of the Winning Projects using the fact interviews tag. This is the last interview in the series - thanks for following along! 

This week, we're featuring Tobias Eigen from Kabissa Connections. Kabissa is an online network that helps African civil society organizations use ICT to benefit communities all over Africa. The Kabissa Connections Project is an extension of the existing Kabissa platform that will address trust concerns by revealing connections that organizations have with networks, international organizations, supporters and service providers. 

Learn more about Kabissa Connections in the interview below!

——

Q. What was the inspiration for your Project?

 The inspiration for Kabissa Connections comes out of my work with African civil society organizations for over 15 years, the last ten with Kabissa, always with the aim to help organizations put information and communication technologies (ICT) to work for the benefit of their communities. In the early days, I helped build and run “store and forward” email networks in Africa using Fidonet technology. Then in 1999, inspired by a consultancy helping 10 human rights groups in 5 cities throughout Nigeria, I created Kabissa. Kabissa started out as a domain/website hosting provider, then it grew into a technology partner providing Internet training and support. Now it is a network connecting people and organizations for Africa primarily via an online community website

Over this entire time, economic, social and political change has been coming to Africa excruciatingly slowly. One reason for this, I believe, is that the existing development aid system does not do enough to elevate and empower the people who are in the best position to create change - the changemakers working on the local level to serve their own communities. Even now, after over 30 years of independence in most countries, these local heroes still do not operate on equal footing, at the same eye level, with their international partners. They are under-resourced, often work in deplorable conditions, can’t easily demonstrate their effectiveness, and are accountable not to their beneficiaries and local partners but to the international donor agencies, NGOs and foundations who fund their work.  

Another reason is that changemakers, especially those working in rural areas, struggle to use ICT effectively. Regular access to the Internet is hard to come by which leads to people not being able to learn useful tech skills or come up with creative ideas for using tech to help them create change. As a result they waste time online and even unwittingly put themselves and the people around them in danger. 

You would think that the rise of blogging and social networking platforms like Facebook present an opportunity for changemakers to use ICT better and to build up their credibility online, but while it is true that they are able to do more online now, the same old problems - and the risks - have also been amplified. Only some, usually those already connected with international charity brands, are effectively leveraging blogging and social networking in support of their mission. Meanwhile local changemakers are trying their best but spread themselves thin on many social networking sites and often fall prey to phishing scams. They also face unknown security risks as they turn to Facebook for “one stop shopping” for both work and play

Kabissa Connections is an idea to help African changemakers take charge of their presence on the Internet, build a Web of Trust around the projects and organizations they are involved in, and ultimately become more effective and accountable so they can create lasting change in their communities. 

 

Q. What else are you working on right now? 

As already highlighted in the Kabissa Connections project description, Kabissa’s focus for 2011 is on BUILDING TRUST. 

Kabissa the Organization

As explained in our November 9th Progress Update, we are working on building trust in Kabissa itself, officially organized as a United States 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. We are completing the transition from technology partner to network by making our own organizational structure and procedures more transparent and accessible. 

We will also invite stakeholders to get involved in running Kabissa on various levels, such as: 

  • Joining the Kabissa Board of Directors
  • Volunteering in ongoing roles such as running Kabissa Groups
  • Making strategic use of Kabissa to support their networks and local communities
  • Proposing and partnering with Kabissa on projects of mutual benefit
  • Funding projects to improve Kabissa to suit their needs.

 

Kabissa the Network

We are busy setting up a volunteer team and infrastructure so that we can continuously help the people and organizations in our network to make the most of Kabissa to showcase themselves and connect with each other to collaborate, share opportunities and help each other to learn how to use ICT more effectively. 

Priority areas include: 

  • Membership Management 
    Helping members add organization profiles and make the most of their profile, and maintain the database  
  • Kabissa Ambassadors 
    Recruiting and coordinating a core team of members tasked with spreading Kabissa in their communities and cross pollinating learnings and opportunities 
  • Kabissa Groups 
    Nurturing and facilitating participation in group blogs, discussion lists, and wikis
  • Monthly Member Newsletter and Special Mailings 
    Ensuring that member news, opportunities and ICT tips/knowledge reach members on a timely basis 

Kabissa the Platform

As explained in our September 22nd Progress Update, we are working on several projects to improve Kabissa as a networking platform and to enable our members working in Africa to leverage it for their own purposes as much as possible. Besides Kabissa Connections, a top priority for us is to upgrade Kabissa Groups to improve their usability and to enable members to participate via email. We are also working to improve the site functionality overall by adding new features such as translation tools so that the site can be accessible to people who speak languages other than English. 

 

Q. Where do you see your Project in 5 years? What about in 20 years?

It is always very hard to predict the future of technology projects. However, assuming Kabissa Connections is successfully implemented, I would first and foremost like to see that it helped Kabissa remain a trusted partner to African civil society. The outcome of this would be a larger membership with tens or hundreds of thousands of participating individuals and organizations as well as deeper and more effective cooperation between them via Kabissa. 

Besides that I would like to hope that in 5 years the technology sector in Africa (and indeed in the world) will have settled down, that the Internet and the web will have remained open and free, and that Kabissa will have become an integral part of a well-functioning ecosystem of collaborating networks and service providers that is able to help people working in Africa to effectively pursue their own interests online and defend their privacy and personal security. 

For Kabissa as an organization, I would like to see that in 5 years and beyond we have succeeded in establishing it as a lean and effective platform run by stakeholders on a sustainable basis. 

Q. What help do you need to to get your Project off the ground?

Funders

In the past we have received generous funding from a range of sources including the Africa offices of the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute Information Program, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Lonely Planet Foundation (now Planet Wheeler Foundation). 

As of 2007, Kabissa currently has no employees or institutional funding, and we have been taking a pole pole (slowly slowly) approach to developing Kabissa even though we have many projects that we are working on. This is intentional and part of our transition strategy

It would speed up many activities and produce a better result if we could secure regular funding for the next three years to recruit a full-time coordinator (~$60,000 annually including a travel budget) and a web development firm to manage the roadmap and produce an integrated site user interface and design (~30,000 annually). Additional activities, including Kabissa Connections, would be proposed, prioritized and funded on a project basis in collaboration with members and partners. 

This fall we have set ourselves a modest goal of raising $20,000 in donations from individual donors to cover the core costs of maintaining the organization which include server hosting, book keeping, the annual audit and tax return, and security/maintenance upgrades. So far we have raised about $10,000 towards our goal, and the sooner we can raise the rest the sooner we can focus our attention on other tasks. If we are able to raise more, we will put it towards our projects. Donation options are at http://kabissa.org/donate-now 

Web Developers

We see Kabissa Connections (and Kabissa as a whole) as fitting into the broader project to keep the web open, a vision we share with Mozilla Drumbeat: 

The open web is the most powerful communication tool in the history of humanity. It's the nervous system of trade, education, governance, activism and play. It allows a single idea to achieve global impact. At its core the open web is participatory, transparent, decentralized and generative. Existing content and software can easily be spun into something new. All without needing to ask for someone else’s approval or permission.

What this means in practice is that we want to join forces with any and all projects that are working to defend the open web, and want to avoid reinventing the wheel or creating yet another silo where information goes in and can’t come out or be used properly to help make the world a better place.  

If you are working on open data, open APIs, badges, or any other related open source/open content project we want to hear from you and work with you to help secure the open web. Our part will be to help African changemakers to produce open, freely usable and sharable content and to take control over their identity on the Internet and reveal the connections they have with their partners and supporters. 

Our platform is currently Drupal/CiviCRM so if you have competency in using these tools or want to collaborate on building or improving specific modules we would be particularly grateful for your help. 

Stakeholders

We would love to hear from Kabissa stakeholders - African organizations, activists, charities, SMEs, entrepreneurs, networks, foundations, international agencies, students, etc - who are interested in joining together to work on developing the Kabissa platform and ensuring it is as useful and relevant as possible. 

 

Q. How can people best follow your progress and/or get involved? 

The best way to follow our progress is to create a free user account at http://www.kabissa.org, join some groups and subscribe to our newsletters and special mailings. If you don’t want to create an account you can also just subscribe using your email address. 

You can also follow @Kabissa on Twitter and join our Facebook page.

Send us an email via http://kabissa.org/contact