Google’s Ory Okolloh: Working For Access and Transparency for sub-Saharan Africa

Ory Okollah - Google's Policy Manager for sub Saharan AfricaHer credits alone are impressive. She?s a Harvard-trained lawyer, activist and blogger?and Google?s policy manager for sub-Saharan Africa. But what is most impressive is that Kenyan-born Ory Okolloh is trying to make a difference . She is also the founder of Ushahidi, a revolutionary crowd sourcing utility which enables citizen journalists and eyewitnesses all over the world to report incidences of violence through the Web, mobile E-mail, SMS and Twitter. All of this is why Okolloh is considered one of the most influential women in global technology. Why is the monitoring of the elections so important to you?

Ory Okolloh: It?s not simply about monitoring elections – it?s really about improving access to information, which is at the heart of what Google does. The Internet is playing increasingly an important role in transforming the way that citizens participate and engage in the elections. As a technology company, we?re playing our role by ensuring that users can have access to information that is relevant and useful to them. Our elections tools directly support this mission. We want Kenyans to be empowered with information during the upcoming elections so we?ve organizing information to make it easy for voters to find everything they need, in one place — the Kenya Elections Hub. We?ve also created elections hubs for other countries in the past, including Ghana and Senegal.

We?re hoping that all of Google?s projects (the Elections Hub, the YouTube channel with Storyful, the mapping technology on the IEBC site, supporting young developers to create elections apps, elections-reporting training for journalists, etc) are helping empower users and voters, and helping them get involved and participate in the electoral process. ? Obviously, you have found the Internet to be a powerful tool in exposing corruption and violence. Are you finding others in Africa taking your lead?

OO: The Internet is a powerful tool for better access to all types of information. I actually think that many players both in Kenya and across the continent are enthusiastic about the uptake of technology, and the possibilities that it presents. In Kenya, for example, we?ve worked with various partners on our various elections projects including IEBC, Storyful, and the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD). It?s also been great to see many young developers getting involved in creating useful elections apps. ? Can you describe some of the things you do as Policy Manager for Africa with Google?

OO: My team works to impact public policy and our users. We promote policies which support a free and open Internet where communication and innovation can thrive and our users? welfare is protected. We?re actively working with government officials, policymakers, NGOs, academics, trade groups and others to shape legislation, and influence dialogue and policy decisions with a particular emphasis on how to get more Africans online and help make the Internet a part of everyday life.

Some specific examples of activities we engage in are:

Showing policymakers the benefits of the Internet for economic development by supporting economic impact studies e.g. in South Africa (Internet Matters Study) and Nigeria (McKinsey Aspiring countries study)

Promoting policies which broaden access e.g. the TV White Spaces pilot in South Africa and an Internet Access Study in Senegal

Supporting digitization initiatives which enhance local content e.g. Open government in Kenya and digitization of Hansards and Kenya Gazette; Mandela Archives in South Africa

Supporting freedom of expression initiatives e.g. training of journalists and bloggers at risk on digital security

Addressing concerns about child safety online e.g. Family Safety Centre campaign in South Africa In five years, where do you hope to see Internet access in the poorer African nations?

OO: We hope to see many more Africans online, naturally. Currently, Internet access, data, and devices are too expensive. While the cost of access and Internet bandwidth is falling, it still remains high for many Africans. So much more work remains to be done. There is limited residential access, eg. fixed line network reach is < 1% (vs 13% emerging mkts and 19% global avg). Among other efforts, we are helping educate developers to create efficient and effective websites and applications that minimize loading and waiting times, we?re expanding Google’s network presence into sub-Saharan Africa, enabling local operators to directly interconnect with Google to reduce their international bandwidth costs and improve performance for users. We are also installing Google caches (Google Global Cache, GGC) around Africa to reduce international bandwidth requirements for ISPs, improving the user experience and reducing latency when accessing Google services.