Malaysia’s Sinar Project wins regional award, seeks to level up

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BEING present in Istanbul for the 9th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) marked a milestone for Khairil Yusof, cofounder and coordinator of Sinar Project.

Sinar Project, established in 2011, is an initiative which uses open technology and applications to systematically make important information public and more accessible to the Malaysian people.

Khairil was participating at IGF as a winner of the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) Awards, under the ‘Rights’ category.

The ISIF Asia Awards seek to acknowledge the important contributions ICT innovators have made to their communities, by addressing social and development challenges using the Internet.

During the 2014 call for nominations, the programme received 93 nominations across four categories, from 16 economies in Asia Pacific.

Along with a grant to attend IGF, each winner received a cash prize of A$3,000 (US$2,787) to support the continuation of the project or the organisation conducting the activities.

Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of IGF, Khairil said that the Sinar Project team had been working on a part-time, volunteer basis for the past year.

This situation was not sustainable as team members were taking personal leave to do the organisation’s work, in addition to working on public holidays, he lamented.

“That was our motivation for applying for the Seed Alliance grant. The [Seed Alliance] provides small grants and awards for Internet development and digital innovation, and is supported by a collection of organisations.

“Working the way we are now takes its toll, and we wanted to allow the team to work and get paid for their efforts, which would also help prevent burnout,” he said.

Khairil  said that the Sinar Project team hadn’t initially planned to submit themselves for the ISIF Asia Awards, believing that what they had accomplished to date had had a minimal impact.

“In terms of open governance in Malaysia, we’re probably five to 10 years behind countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.

“We’ve done very little and have so much more to go in terms of what we hope to achieve. We believe our impact has been minimal compared to what’s been done,” he added.

So when news arrived that Sinar Project had won, the team was understandably surprised. “We really didn’t have much hope of winning anything, to be honest,” Khairil quipped.

However, the victory would certainly boost Sinar Project’s profile and aid in its efforts to move to the next level.

“This is where the award and recognition comes into play – this will help us source for funding and donors to help us take the next step,” Khairil said.

That next step is the biggest immediate challenge for the Sinar Project team as it moves from being a part-time volunteer project to a proper non-governmental organisation with full-time staff to deal with all the issues at hand.

“This way, some team members can be full-time and we can dedicate proper focus to produce at a level that the people who use our work demand,” Khairil said.

There is also another mission, intertwined with Sinar Project’s next step to maturity, which is the quest to find new, young blood to join its ranks.

“Civil society has a limited capability in Malaysia and one of our plans is to bring in new blood should we get a grant that will fund full-time staff, instead of sourcing from our existing pool of advocates.

“We’re looking forward to training younger people, to build them up to be the next generation. We want to show them that there is a career path in civil society, including technical and legal work.

“You don’t have to join a law firm or tech startup, you can do similar work for civil society, on a full-time salary and get recognition for your work on an international level – and even locally,” Khairil said.

[Gabey Goh is one of four journalists supported by SEAPA to cover the Internet Governance Forum 2014 in Istanbul. She is a reporter for the Malaysia-based Digital News Asia, where this article originally appeared.]

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