Manju Chen - APrIGF 2020 Fellow, APIGA 2018 Fellow and ICANN67 Fellow
Continuing my blog on the ICANN APAC-TWNIC Engagement Forum, someone made a counterpoint to my comment about participating in ICANN’s multistakeholder community – I had said as a Forum panellist that becoming a community member is easy, but much more commitment and time are needed to participate meaningfully.
Kenny Huang, TWNIC CEO and a long-time ICANN community member, countered in the session’s Q&A that there is no harm in keeping participation light and easy. He suggested newcomers start with topics that interest them, and encouraged people to look around at other forums such as APNIC, APrIGF, and IETF, whatever attracts them.
I agree that newcomers should be able to have a taste of everything before they decide to sign up for anything serious. I maintain, however, that meaningful participation is critical – not least because it ensures Asia-Pacific (APAC) views are included – and we should therefore strive to deepen our involvement and contribute to the community work. Because the issues are complex, this usually requires a substantial commitment.
Young people, especially those in the APAC region, face tremendous challenges when participating in ICANN for 2 major reasons: the time zone and the language.
English is the working language of ICANN, and it doesn’t help when most people coming from APAC don’t speak English as their native language. Moreover, the benefit of interpretation service is not as prominent for the APAC community because we are such a diverse demography that speaks so many different languages.
On the other hand, the time zone is frequently unfriendly to the APAC participant. I’m not referring to ICANN Meetings which convene in the meeting host’s time zone; I’m talking about working group calls, webinars, and SO/AC/SG/C meetings. This has been a problem for the APAC community: despite repeatedly raising the issue nothing has changed, and we still have to get up in the middle of the night if we want to attend meetings.
Young people are particularly vulnerable to this problem. As young professionals or students, we do not have the flexibility that older community members have over their hours from being retired or senior company executives. In other words, young people do not often have the luxury of coming into work/class late, or even to work at home, because we had a meeting at 3 in the morning.
We won’t be able to fix the time zone problem as long as we don’t have enough people participating in policy work – we need the numbers to ensure that meetings occur at an APAC-friendly time. This will change only when APAC’s representation in the community is predominant enough that our voices carry the same weight as any other region.
I recall as if it was yesterday the feeling of being overwhelmed when I first stepped into the world of ICANN. The ICANN structure is big and confusing, filled with acronyms and jargon. Young faces are not common at the meeting venues. While opportunities from the Fellowship and NextGen programs are great, many of us share the feeling of being lost after our first meeting, not knowing where and how to continue. One group I participate in, Youth4IG, is helping to create a network for the youth community in APAC to connect and help each other out, making sure that we are not alone. We need more young people to participate in ICANN, and I hope you can become one of us.