Helping countries connect and thrive, starting with Tunisia

The Internet is a powerful tool to connect people, organizations, and countries. In a strong partnership with IEEE, the People-Centered Internet (PCI) initiative – a global consortium of Internet professionals and organizations – is dedicated to bringing together a range of stakeholders to connect the unconnected.

However, there are formidable barriers to Internet adoption, within and across countries (figure 1). Together, IEEE and PCI are collaborating to break down these barriers and help to connect the next 1.5 billion people to the Internet.

In April 2016, Secretary of State Kerry and World Bank President Kim convened a variety of finance and other ministers from the international community, asking which countries wanted to receive support for their connectivity efforts. Tunisia requested to be the first PCI Pioneer, for which IEEE and PCI would mobilize their collective networks to support rapid Internet connectivity. Representatives from a broad range of organizations that actively participated in the April meetings, including the IEEE, PCI, the U.S. State Department and its Global Connect initiative, the World Bank, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, and the IEEE, subsequently joined together in a Global Connectivity Corps for Tunisia.

  1. PCI Pioneers: Countries intent on connecting their citizens put their hands up to receive support from PCI, and subsequently designate a Project Team
  2. Global Connectivity Corps: The Pioneer teams are supported with funding, technical support, and policy professionals to create roadmaps, get access to resources by investment-grade project models, track progress, implement effectively and learn from each other
  3. Global Connectivity Council: An institutional oversight and advisory board with senior members from PCI, Global Connect, IEEE, the World Bank, and invited institutions to be substantively involved.
  4. Learning Lab Network: All involved participate within a fully transparent long-range Learning Lab Network for fast feedback on strategy, operations and tactics, (Diagram 2) Learn Innovate Forecast Test or L I F T. 1. Pioneer Project Team work on the How, 2. Global Connectivity Corps on the What and 3. Global Connectivity Council on the Why.

The first step for the Global Connectivity Corps was to mobilize the IEEE-SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology) Volunteer Network. IEEE SIGHT is an organization of young professionals and student branches from across the country who volunteer in schools to engage the new generation to follow a STEM career. IEEE SIGHT’s goal is to foster a culture of volunteering among their peers in order to increase the impact in underserved areas. Tunisian students in rural areas are already getting connected to technology through the IEEE SIGHT volunteer team.

The leaders of some of the 15 IEEE chapters in Tunisia were brought together by IEEE member Anis Ben Arfi, a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary in Alberta, who said, “This is the right time to get involved in this project as IEEE volunteers.
This project is based on a clear vision that we can track with tangible goals and milestones throughout the five years [of the connectivity plan’. In my opinion, considering Tunisia as an example for your upcoming projects is a great choice.” Ben Arfi continued, “The fourth generation LTE standard was put into service a couple of months ago, with a deployment strategic plan specifying that the three telecommunication operators in Tunisia: Tunisie Télécom, Ooredoo, Orange, should prioritize the access to rural and rugged areas.”

As the first PCI Pioneer initiative, Tunisia offers a unique opportunity to develop our methodology for helping to connect the unconnected. Our structure for the teams will be evolving as we seek the feedback and guidance of IEEE members for achieving the outcomes of improving lives, and improving the socio technical architecture for effective teamwork. Current Tunisia PCI Pioneer team members include:

Tunisia Pioneer Project Team Global Connectivity Cor0s Team for Tunisia 
Communication Hub – Anis Ben Arfi People Centered Internet – Mei Lin Fung
Partnerships – Skander Mansouri and Meher Bnouni People Centered Internet– Gary Bolles
Technical Hub – Nesrine Abidi IEEE– Open Position
Finance / Project Modeling – Ahmed Selmi People Centered Internet– John Ryan
Architecture – Socio-Technical – Ayoub Salha and Mehdi Bouguerra Mike Shaver, co-founder of Mozilla
IEEE– Open Position
Project Management – Samar Baba and Khalil Ben Sassi IEEE- Reviewers, Feedback, Mentors

The Tunisian PCI Pioneer project team is working to ensure that a broad range of stakeholders are actively involved. The team is focused on defining the kinds of data-driven outcomes needed to ensure the success of their connectivity initiatives. By mid-summer, we intend to be well along the path in supporting Tunisia’s long-range planning and short-term execution efforts – and to begin the planning process with other countries as well.

In fact, Tunisia is simply the first of what will become a pipeline of PCI Pioneer countries who want the support of the combined resources of IEEE, PCI, and other other partners. We encourage IEEE members who wish to be involved in this project to notify your local IEEE-SIGHT directors, and let us know what areas you wish to be involved in. We especially encourage those who are migrants from other countries to notify us if you want to contribute by working with people from your homeland. If you have visited or have connections with other countries, let us know which countries you are particularly interested in.

If you would like to attend one of our meetings, IEEE and the World Bank will convene twice a year at the IMF/World Bank Spring and Fall Meetings in Washington, DC, to track our progress in harnessing the Internet to improve people’s lives.

For more information, please contact PCI’s Mei Lin Fung.

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