Why Big Data is Important to Youth: An Interview with Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior
World Telecommunication and Information Society Day was celebrated on 17 May 2017. The theme for this year’s day was "Big Data for Big Impact" and focused on the power of Big Data for development. To commemorate the day, Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior, a United Nations (UN) Youth Volunteer with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Indonesia, shared his views on how Big Data can be used to inform the work of governments so that youth can better participate in policy-making.
Since August 2016, Cisco and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) have mobilized seven Cisco Networking Academy programme graduates in their countries of origin, namely Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, including Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior. As UN Youth Volunteers, they serve with UNV, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN Country Offices to support information and communication technology (ICT) incubators and labs, apply technology to solve problems, undertake institutional audits of networking and technology needs, and train others to develop their ICT and networking skills.
Question: What are some of the links between Information Technology and Design (big data) and youth engagement for development? Please tell us about your work in the domain at UNICEF and what stimulated your interest in being active in this area in particular?
Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior: At UNICEF Indonesia, I take care of the data collection aspect of the UNICEF’s online polling tool called U-Report. We engage with many youth online to encourage them to become U-Reporters. We hold opinion polls and collect data from across Indonesia and then we analyse the big data to create infographics, stats, and recommendations. Making the data accessible to decision-makers ensures that youth in Indonesia can voice their opinions to government, policy-makers, and the private sector. This participation ensures that youth can be involved in the development process. Nowadays, I think our generation is sometimes unaware of their nation’s development. By participating in polls, young people can contribute their opinions to something that matters and create the future they want for themselves. I disagree when people sometimes say that young people do not know what is best for themselves. Instead, I use examples to show the impact that youth can have, including by contributing to the National Strategy on Violence Against Children for the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, raising their voices on menstrual hygiene management so the Ministry of Education can make sure girls do not miss out, or influencing how the Ministry of Youth and Sports carries out their youth activities.
Question: Why should young people be involved with Big Data, especially for development, and what are some of the effects of their engagement?
Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior: It is essential for young people to be active around big data issues. Big data needs humans at the centre of it to be effective. Young people need to make sure that the big data that is collected and used is actually relevant and representative of the data to inform their future. Since young people provide dynamic perspectives if they are involved, the resulting development efforts would not be outdated. Big data is a massive dynamic dataset and if we follow the pattern correctly, we can influence public policy efficiently. This combination will bring strong and rapid growth for the future.
Question: What are some of the accomplishments in your work to date and what are your goals going forward?
Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior: Together with my team, I engage with various youth organizations in Indonesia. At present, we have 40,000 U-Reporters across the country. Recently, I managed the office’s engagement with Indonesia’s Ministry of Education in order to get them involved in the International Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Day. Together with the Ministry of Education, we collected data via the U-Report. I then analysed the data and processed it so that UNICEF Headquarters and the Ministry of Education were able to understand youth awareness about menstrual hygiene management. I am also proud that I created technological solutions to help collect data, like an information system website for the Indonesian Scouts to share data and make information on air pollution more accessible.
Question: How can youth get involved in their communities, in person and online, in Big Data for greater development and peace? What resources are available to young people?
Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior: Big Data is all around us. I think that youth all around the world need to understand this. Now, you can spread your idea rapidly using social media. In this era, practically all content ends up online, so using that very powerful tool in a responsible and smart way is probably the biggest impact that youth can make on a daily basis. You can also ask other youth to do the same thing as you. By becoming a U-Reporter, youth can contribute to data that directly reflects their opinions and perceptions of the world around them. Using this real data, youth can advance greater development and peace. All of this can be started by simply using your phone, social media or text messaging, if you do not have access to the internet. Use your phone as best as you can to be a smart phone user!
About Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior: Mohammad Ilham Akbar Junior is a young passionate network engineer, designer, and photographer from Malang City, East Java, Indonesia. He started volunteering four years ago by teaching science and English to street children. As a graduate of informatics engineering, he works on networking, the Internet of Things (IoT), information systems, and technology development and also creates visuals, posters, content, and creative content for social media. Mohammad strongly believes in the potential of his generation to be a force for positive change.
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