Do we all live in one online world? – Aidana Alken

I was honored to attend The 14th Internet Governance Forum held in Berlin as an Ambassador of Netmission.Asia. This was the first IGF I have ever attended and also my first visit to Germany. The theme of this year’s IGF was “One Net. One World. One Vision.” It sounds very big and inspiring but many people would challenge it for being unrealistic about the current state of the global net. Surely, internet equality worldwide is still to be achieved. And this was especially pronounced on this IGF where conversations were mainly held around euro-centric topics, European values and sophisticated issues of privileged internet users. No doubt IGF Secretariat had done and is doing tremendous work in increasing diversity and inclusion on global IGFs through providing travel support (speaking of which I was entitled to as well), hosting regional hubs and live streaming sessions. However, the fact that the next IGF hosted in Poland will be forth subsequent IGF held in Europe warns us about the levels of neglect faced by the global south. Access to the internet is still one of the main issues faced by half of the planet’s population. Even our workshop’s topic of universal data protection framework turned out to be far from relevant for many developing countries.

As a first-timer on IGF, everything was new for me and I had to learn on the go. I was thankful to our program coordinator of NetMission, Jenna, who was constantly giving us advice while our pre-departure preparations and onsite as well. What amazed me the most about IGF is that it is such a unique platform where people from all parts of the world and all walks of life come together to listen to each other, to collaborate and to speak up without caring about titles and positions or fear of being mocked. As a junior undergraduate student with very limited knowledge about internet governance I could speak to business owners, government officials, UN representatives, lawyers, teachers, journalists, policy developers, IT specialists, Google people, Vint Cerf, virtually to anyone on the forum. IGF is a place where people care about what is being said rather than who is saying it. This makes it a perfect place for youth to speak up, thought I. The biggest issue for youth voice is that we are rarely taken seriously by other stakeholders. Youth representatives and civil society in general still have to work harder to make our voices heard. I left Berlin with a firm objective to increase my knowledge on IG, identify the real needs of Asian youth and strengthen my position on IG issues so that next time when I am invited to the table to discuss the future of net I can make the most of that opportunity. As voices who are ignored, we are in need of Greta Thunberg of IG.

Overall, this was an eye-opening experience and I would definitely love to attend more IGFs in the future. This forum left me as a more confident, more outspoken and more knowledgeable person. I feel grateful for having this opportunity provided by NetMission and the United Nations.

About the writer

Aidana Alken, NetMission Ambassador of Class 2018/19, Kazakhstan
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Finance with Minor in Enterprise Computing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University