Gladys: I’m curious if you have some challenges running the program. Do you mind sharing if there’s any?
Sylvia: One is the preconception of what the Internet is and how it works. There are people who think that the Internet is what companies like Google or Facebook do and that you are going to be very rich and make money very fast. This is the kind of stereotype that we are fighting. The Internet is a lot more. We can use it in a lot of decision making processes and we just need to understand how it fits into our culture and environment.
Fundraising on this sector is quite competitive. Now there are a lot of innovation challenges or programs focusing on Innovation. It’s getting to a point where it’s difficult to assess how effective those innovations are as the people get caught on the excitement of what they are proposing rather than the reality of what they can deliver. That is a problem for us because when we approach donors for funding, they say “Oh, another innovation challenge” and we we want them to know about the whole process and what we want to achieve to make sure the right steps are taken for the the Internet industry to keep growing, in support of development targets, to help people, to use technology to solve problems.
The other challenge is that our coverage is regional. Some donors have limitations to invest in certain countries, for example in Pakistan or the Pacific Islands, or that want to avoid how difficult it is for local organizations in India to receive funds from overseas, or like in Japan where they have a large tradition of funding activities themselves so there is limited experience in small organizations about how to receive funds from overseas.
Other donors are working with focus on specific countries, so let’s say we want to partner with a donor that can only fund projects from Cambodia and Myanmar. If they partner with us, that means we can only choose projects from those two countries. What if we don’t receive good quality applications from those countries? We want to select based on merit, not discarding great projects based on from where they are coming from. To tackle this problem, we have considered to start country-based ISIF; say for example, ISIF India, or ISIF Philippines, to go around that challenge of trying to find capital for regional coverage.
Gladys: To end this interview, do you have advice to those people who aspire to join competitions and grant awards like ISIF Asia?
Sylvia: My advice would be that participants should be thorough, do your research so you can explain your idea in a way that is clear and concrete, covering the technical aspects of the solution/research proposed and how you are planning to achieve it. If you have the information to answer those technical questions, then you will be well prepared to defend your ideas. I would also encourage young people to do their research and understand really what the problem is about before jumping to conclusions and think the problems we have today no one has tried to solve before. Most times, there are other reasons (political will, regulations, limited funding, technical limitations, to name a few) that have prevented problems to be solved. By understanding what has been tried before and learning from that, their proposals will be better placed to compete and be successfully selected.