Day 1- 15th November 2021 (Opening of the Conference)

Session 1: The Pandemic, Digital Dependence and the Unconnected: challenges and opportunities

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated – or perhaps forced – the uptake of digital solutions, tools, and services, speeding up the global transition towards a digital economy. However, it has also exposed the wide chasm between the connected and the unconnected, revealing just how far behind many are on digital uptake. This gap exists within and between segments of the population e.g., minority and rural communities, as well as in different sectors e.g., education and health, and has impacted developed and developing countries. This session will explore how the region has coped – or tried to cope, and the digital gaps that prevail. It will also look at how complementary access solutions such as community networks have helped communities during the pandemic, and highlight some strategies, best practices and learnings for the future.

Session 2: Community Networks: Empowering Education and Healthcare

In the field of education and learning, disruptions in the delivery of lessons to students and the shift to online learning have made the digital educational divide more pronounced. According to UNESCO, around 1.5 billion learners are affected by school closure caused by COVID-19. This emphasises the point that while the pandemic is new to many of us, the digital divide has been with us for quite some time now. This session will discuss ways and means of accelerating online learning and how initiatives such as community networks can be used to promote education in underserved communities in both structured and unstructured ways. This session will also discuss the role of digital tools and services for health care providers and members of the community during the pandemic, and the need for people to have affordable access to connectivity. It will also explore how health care providers in rural areas have leveraged community networks to deal with the pandemic.

Day 2 (17th November 2021)

Special Session: Synergies between Community Radio and Community Networks

Both Community Networks (CN) and Community Radios (CR) are by the community, for the community and with the community. Both CR and CN broadcast or facilitate infrastructure for information sharing. CRs and CNs also enable huge community participation and can often be found in localised (and underserved) remote areas. Both CRs and CNs are people technologies.

Operationally, while CRs produce lots of content for broadcasting, CNs allow the Internet to reach the hands of the people and open access to information and content. Both CRs and CNs use the public spectrum for public use. Interestingly, besides producing large amounts of locally relevant public content, CRs also use radio towers. Such radio towers are also a primary requirement of CNs to enable localised Internet connectivity using WiFi.

During the first CNX APAC held in 2017, the synergies between CRs and CNs were explored, and have continued to be discussed in subsequent events. The following key points emerged from those discussions between CR and CN practitioners:

  • Community radios are already present in the most difficult and remote regions. Established manpower at community radios can be used for community networks as well.
  • Since community radio works within a local community, providers understand the local dialect and language, which is crucial for community network providers as well.
  • Community radio stations can provide a wide range of content and services to community network providers. Community network providers and community radio station owners can collaborate and work together to produce content of local interest.
  • Community network providers can seek help from community radio station audiences and create and deliver the content on the basis of their audiences. A community network could act as a repository for content in their server that radio stations already put out.
  • Community radio stations find it difficult to sustain themselves since subscription models are rare. There is a possibility that community radio subscriptions could include access to the Internet through community networks.
  • Technical assistance is still a challenge since these rural areas have a dearth of experienced technicians.

This session will be an interactive discourse on the synergies of Community Networks and Community Radio in association with The Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD). This special session will be focused on the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of CN and CR. The two hour session is divided into three parts:

  • Session 1 (45 minutes): Why CN and CR are Twins: Discussing the synergies CR and CNs have between them, and examples of their impact on the local (and typically unconnected) community.
  • Session 2 (20 Minutes): CR & CN Case Stories: Discussing and showcasing a couple of case studies of CR+CN in terms of their modus operandi and execution on the ground. The examples would be that of:
    • Barefoot College in Tilonia Where the entire campus is WiFi and they have Community Radio and they both work in tandem
    • DREAM project of APC and DEF: Where content and training material developed on misinformation and through the use of Chatbot and Community radio outreach took place at the time of Covid19
    • How Mew Community in Haryana in the district of Nuh using Community Networks to connect themselves and also use Mewat Community radio to reach out to villagers.
  • Session 3 (45 minutes): The How and Future of CN and CR Collaboration: Further exploring how CR and CN complement each other, how they can operate together, how they can leverage each other, what are the building blocks of working in synergy, and how they could work together in the future to provide enhanced information and content for local communities.

Anchors: Philomena Gnanapragasam; Rajnesh Singh and Osama Manzar

Day 3 (23rd November 2021)

Session 3 : Community Networks: Media, Misinformation and Misuse

Access to credible information is crucial during crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this, messaging apps and digital platforms have been asked by Governments to help disseminate accurate information related to the pandemic. However, without a proportionate response to provide the same information through other channels, including traditional media, those who have no access to digital technologies struggle with differentiating between fact and fiction. This is more important as often hearsay comes into play in many communities. This session will discuss how community networks in underserved areas can be leveraged to disrupt misinformation and how traditional media – including community radio – can be leveraged.

Session 4 : Rural Changemakers and Innovators: Community Networks as a Catalyst for Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation is on the agenda for most policymakers, but that is typically focused around urban centres and industries. Developing countries have also put much emphasis into rural development programmes, yet these do not always appear to prioritise leveraging digital connectivity. This points to an obvious disconnect. Community Networks can serve as a foundation for helping build the digital economy at a very local level. They can also serve as a catalyst for digital transformation by empowering the local community to embrace digital technologies in their locality e.g. with agriculture and other local industries that may be present. Equally, Community Networks can also serve as a rural makerspace, where the community can learn new skills and be innovators in their own right. This session will explore how Community Networks can be leveraged to create the next generation of rural change makers and innovators.