Participating in the e-Borneo Knowledge Fair 6 held in Ba’Kelalan, 25-27 October 2017

Far too many ICT4D initiative are thought up by the rich and privileged, often, but not always, with the intention of using technology to improve the lives of poor and marginalised peoples.  More often than not, well-intentioned researchers and academics in Europe and north America, or those living in major urban centres of economically poorer countries, try to develop new “solutions” that will help to eliminate poverty or deliver on some aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the global elite.  Invariably, they have little understanding of the real needs of poor people or marginalised communities, and all too often such initiatives prove to be unsustainable once the initial funding for them has dissipated.

Some initiatives do, though, run counter to this all too familiar tale of woe.  One of these is the work of the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, which has over many years sought to work with local communities in some of the most isolated areas of Sarawak.  This action research started almost 20 years ago with the creation of the e-Bario telecentre initiative in 1998. It was therefore a real privilege to be invited to give a keynote presentation at their 6th e-Borneo Knowledge Fair, held on the theme of community-based sustainability in Ba’Kelalan from 25-27 October (EBKF6).  The first e-Bario Knowledge Fair was held in 2007, and a decade on the change of name indicates a broadening of its focus beyond the village of Bario to be more inclusive of other initiatives across Borneo.

The central belief underlying these knowledge fairs has been the importance of sharing understandings between communities and researchers in co-creating new knowledge.  In a fundamental reversal of the normal conference format, where participants usually meet in major cities of the world, the e-Bario and now e-Borneo Knowledge Fairs have been held in isolated rural communities, with participating academics being encouraged to learn as much from those living there as the latter do from the conference and workshop speakers.  To emphasise this difference, outside participants were encouraged this year to travel to Ba’Kelalan on a nine-hour journey along roads cut through the forests initially by logging companies.

The knowledge fair consisted mainly of a series of workshops that placed as much emphasis on the views of the inhabitants of Ba’Kelalan and other isolated communities in Malaysia as they did on the experiences and knowledge of outside academics.  Great credit is due to the Co-Chairs of EBKF6, Narayanan Kulathu Ramaiyer and Roger Harris, and their team, for having brought together an amazing group of people.  The pictures below hopefully capture something of the refreshing energy and excitement of these workshops (link here to the official video).  Many things impressed me about them, not least the commitment of all involved to work together collaboratively to focus on delivering solutions to the needs and wants of people living in these very isolated communities, and ensuring that “development” does not irrevocably damage the essential elements of life that they wish  to maintain.  It was also very impressive to see three community healthworkers present, who were offering a free service of health checks (blood pressure and blood sugar levels) for those participating.

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The most important feature of the Sixth e-Borneo Knowledge Fair for me was that it was all about working with isolated communities rather than for them.  I came away  I am sure very much more enriched by the experience than will other participants have been by my keynote!  For those interested in what I had to say, though, the slides from my keynote are available here: Safeguarding the interests of the marginalised: rhetoric and reality of global ICT4D initiatives designed to deliver the SDGs.

Thanks again to everyone involved for making this such a special event!


Filed under Conferences, Development, Environment, ICT4D, ICT4D conferences, ICTs, Inequality, Malaysia, Photographs, Sustainability

5 responses to “Participating in the e-Borneo Knowledge Fair 6 held in Ba’Kelalan, 25-27 October 2017

  1. Hey, great to hear something from eBKF, I tried to go in 2015 and got as far as Miri airport and there were problems with the light aircraft going the rest of the way so I didn’t make it in the end, sounds like I missed out!!

    • Tim Unwin

      Yes, I had read your comments about your attempt to get there. It’s definitely an event that people working WITH rather then FOR isolated communities should try to attend!

  2. Pingback: Ba’Kelalan and Bario in the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak | Tim Unwin's Blog

  3. Thanks Tim for your comments and contributions to eBKF, which gave us much food for thought as well as re-enforcing our convictions around why we organise the event. The message from your keynote was well received and resonated throughout the rest of the proceedings. To summarise, these are the topics that we covered during the Knowledge Fair, relating to contemporary issues that concern the indigenous residents of the highlands in the Heart of Borneo, with a view towards using ICTs to address:-
     D4ICT- Development for ICT – economic growth aided by ICTs, alongside growing inequality
     Tagang – traditional conservation for environmental protection and sustainability combined with with economic development
     Service learning for global citizenship – overseas students learning from indigenous communities
     Telecentres for global citizenship – a continuing role for mobilising local knowledge
     Resolving disputes – among various authorities with differing practices
     Preserving language – for the sake of the culture, lifestyle and ultimately the environment
     Area zoning – to protect the land, for everyone’s benefit
     The Digital Economy – what does it mean for isolated communities?
     Agro-entrepreneurship – optimising productivity with sustainability
     Oroo’ digitisation – technology to preserve the traditional forest-based sign language, which is fundamental to indigenous culture
     Geomorphology maps – what’s under our feet?
     Tourism and culture – which helps which?
     Climate change resilience – coping with new weather
    These topics shape a rich agenda that will help form the basis for our continuing research with our partner communities. We would certainly welcome your further participation in advancing our efforts towards realising the full potential that ICTs can play in sustaining the traditional lifestyles of these marginalised indigenous communities within a 21st century context, not least for their sake but also for the sake of their environment and the many other similar vulnerable communities and ecosystems around the world.

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