Championing Internet Governance Education: Pavel Farhan’s Empowering Dialogue with DIGRA

Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Pavel, our DIGRA Ambassador based in Thailand. Pavel is a Program Officer at intERLab, AIT, Thailand. Since joining the Internet Governance community in 2019, Pavel has secured multiple fellowships, including those from APNIC48, NextGen@ICANN68, and ICANN75. A dedicated At-Large community member and APRALO, he champions ICT for development and is driven to ensure equal Internet access for minority groups. With a master’s degree in ICT from AIT, Pavel’s roles include being a NetMission Ambassador, Digital Grassroots Ambassador, and a fervent advocate for youth participation in internet governanceNavigating through a realm of digital policy and education, Pavel shed light on his journey since joining Digital Grassroots, the significance of mentorship programs, and the roadblocks yet to be overcome in youth engagement in Internet Governance. As we explore the perpetually evolving digital landscape and the role of youth in shaping it, Pavel’s insightful perspectives serve as both a compass and catalyst.

DIGRA: It is a pleasure to have you with us today, Pavel. To kick things off, would you mind sharing a bit about your current work in the field of Internet Governance?


Pavel: I am delighted to be here. My work currently revolves around key themes of promoting diversity, inclusion, and sustainability in Internet Governance. I work on strategies encouraging youth involvement in this sector, mainly focusing on developing youth-centric programs and initiatives to bring their unique perspectives and drive change in this field.


DIGRA: We often hear about your ongoing projects and initiatives but rarely get a detailed update. Could you share with us what you have been up to in the last two years since completing the DIGRA Ambassadors Program?


Pavel: Certainly. Looking back, right around the time of the program, which was November 2021, I took part in the Asia Pacific Internet Governance Academy, hosted by KISA, Korea Internet & Security Agency , and co-hosted by ICANN. It was the beginning of my journey. I was participating in this academy and the Digital Grassroots program at the same time. The Digital Grassroots program hosted many youths from the African and South American regions, whereas APIGA primarily catered to the Asia Pacific regions, with participants from East Asia, like Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and others. It was an enriching and unique experience because it allowed me to gain insights into how various regions conduct their Internet Governance programs.


DIGRA: Could you tell us more about your involvement with ICANN?


Pavel: I have been involved with ICANN since ICANN 68 in 2020 as a NextGen. In March 2022, I was privileged to be a fellow for ICANN, which gave me a deeper understanding of ICANN’s policy development processes. It went beyond my previous basic knowledge of ICANN policies and digital policies. Unfortunately, I had to attend ICANN 73 virtually due to Covid restrictions and timing issues, but I was fortunate to be a recipient of the fellowship program once more for ICANN75 and was able to attend ICANN 75 in person in Kuala Lumpur in September 2022, after travel restrictions were lifted.


DIGRA: And if we circle back a bit earlier, to the spring of 2022, you also participated in the APAC DNS forum, didn’t you?


Pavel: Yes, that is right. In May 2022, I had the opportunity to moderate a session at Malaysia’s inaugural APAC DNS forum. The session focused on “Establishing a Trusted Notifier Mechanism to Fight  DNS Abuse”. It discussed the partnership between TWNIC, the Taiwanese Network Information Center, DotAsia and .ORG in combating this common issue in ICANN. Additionally, alongside these programs, I was also doing an internship with the UN Office of Information and Communication Technology, the UN OICT, from October 2021 until April 2022. Balancing these commitments was quite a challenge, but also gave me a wide-ranging understanding of Internet Governance.


DIGRA: It is incredible to see how many things you have been doing.


Pavel: Thank you. I apologize for the overlapping recap. It just feels like telling a story to a friend, you know?


DIGRA: That’s how we want our community members to feel when they are talking to us! Could you also share your engagements that happened from autumn 2022 onward? It’s been quite an active period for you.


Pavel: Absolutely. In November of 2022, I attended the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Ethiopia. I was a speaker for one of the sessions I attended virtually. The session was titled “Gen Z and Cyberspace: Are We Safe Online?”. I participated as one of the Civil Society speakers from the Asia Pacific side, alongside another Digital Grassroots Community Leader, Mauricia Abdol, who represented the African Civil Society. After the IGF wrapped up, my journey continued. As a NetMission Ambassador from the 2019-2020 batch, I was invited to present at one of their trainings early the following year, 2023. I spoke on diversity, inclusion, and sustainability in Internet Governance, particularly focusing on digital inclusion.


DIGRA: Sounds exciting, and you also participated in ICANN’s Universal Acceptance Day?


Pavel: Exactly, that was this March. The Myanmar Youth IGF invited me to speak at their Universal Acceptance Day event. I discussed universal acceptance and digital inclusion there, representing both NetMission and as an ICANN fellow. In recent months, I have also been working towards becoming an individual member for APRALO, and I’m proud to share that my efforts have paid off, and I am now an individual member of APRALO. The Asian, Australasian, and Pacific Islands Regional At-Large Organisation (APRALO) is one of the Regional At-Large Organisations (RALOs), which is under ICANN. I have been attending their meetings and recently represented them at the 4th ICANN-APAC TWNIC Engagement Forum. I was invited to be a panelist for the plenary “Empowering the Next Generation: Fostering Youth Engagement and Cross-Generational Collaboration in Internet Governance.”

DIGRA: Since the Ambassadors program, you have also been actively involved in the area of Internet Governance’s education and youth engagement. How do you see the landscape of youth engagement in Internet Governance in your region, the Asia Pacific?


Pavel: That is a great question; thanks for asking. We have been pondering this quite a bit because now, youth are gaining a seat at the table regarding policy development. ICANN provides a seat at the table, as do several youth fellowship programs, like APNIC, NetMission DotAsia, and APRIGF, the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum. It’s fantastic that we have a seat at the table now. However, sometimes I feel like even though we are present, our voices aren’t truly heard. At the end of the day, policy development is still dominated by those in higher authority positions. We seem to be there to fill the seats and quotas, but we still have a long way to go before we can substantially impact policy development. For example, the ICANN policies invite feedback from fellows and the next generation, but the board and the CEO ultimately make the decisions, and there are no youth on the board. Despite this, I believe we’re making progress because at least now we have a seat at the table.


DIGRA: During the Ambassadors Program, you were working on youth and Internet Governance Education research as part of your community engagement project. You then mentioned that about 30% of people who were aware of or involved in Internet Governance got involved through mentorships, fellowships, and such programs. In your opinion, what is the role of organisations like Digital Grassroots that provide entry points for young people into the field through capacity-building programs?


Pavel: I believe that organisations, like DIGRA and NetMission, which attract youth to come, participate and learn about Internet Governance, are indeed doing a fantastic job. However, Internet Governance is not taught in schools because it’s not a curriculum course. It’s something that we just stumble upon while we’re doing other things. For instance, I first learned about Internet Governance in 2019, a year into my master’s. Before that, I was unaware of the term, even though I knew about security, cybersecurity issues, and concepts like fake news. Prior to the APNIC fellowship, I didn’t know about Internet Governance. It was two incredible women, who I now consider my role models in Internet Governance, who guided me and suggested I apply to this fellowship and others. These programs are an incredible opportunity for organisations to attract youth and teach them about this sector, which they may not have heard of before.


DIGRA: You highlight fellowships’ critical role in bringing new people into the world of Internet Governance. But what happens when these programs end? How do we keep the momentum going?


Pavel: That is exactly the question I have been contemplating: how do we keep these people engaged in Internet Governance? Sometimes, people see it as an opportunity for free travel. They might attend a few sessions but spend the rest of the conference exploring a new city that they have never been to before. Accommodations and flights are free, and they even receive an allowance. These initiatives are lovely, but some people don’t return once they’re over because they lose engagement in Internet Governance. This is something I keep pondering: how do we keep these people involved? How do we keep them engaged? And secondly, considering Internet Governance is more of a voluntary task for us, how do we spread awareness about it to the next generation? Which channels can we use to do this? How can we attract more youth, especially the next age? These are a few things we have been discussing a lot.


DIGRA: Would it be more impactful if engagement in Internet Governance was recognized as a legitimate work field? Could this create more pathways for young people attending these conferences to stick with the field and find ways to innovate?


Pavel: That depends. For someone who is already working in the IT community or ICT industry in fields like machine learning, AI, data analytics, or network engineering, being passionate about Internet Governance works in their favour. But people outside these fields, like someone studying architecture, might feel that there is no scope for them. They might struggle to explain their interest to their supervisors and bosses if they want to attend these conferences and engage more with the Internet Governance community. It can be a challenge for those not in the field to understand the relevance of their work to Internet Governance. We are lucky to be in this field, and Internet Governance is like light at the end of the tunnel. However, for others, it may not be the same.


DIGRA: This is something that we have recognized and have been trying to address at DIGRA, creating a community that gathers young people from diverse backgrounds and different sectors, including public health, education, and journalism, among others. We recognize that there may be hesitations among those who don’t come from a traditional ICT or IT background. That’s why we want to emphasise in our programs that all experiences and knowledge bases are not only welcomed but necessary for building a healthy internet environment. It is important for us to make sure everyone feels they can contribute their unique insights to their communities’ digital issues.


Pavel: Absolutely. I agree with everything you said, and I would like to add that what might deter people from getting into Internet Governance is the perception that it is too technical. However, Internet Governance isn’t that technical unless you do the technical stuff, like cybersecurity. Generally, the knowledge of Internet Governance is more anthropological. It’s about the basic understanding of the internet, which, as we know, is now considered a basic human right. It is important for everyone, regardless of their background or field of work, to understand that Internet Governance is not just technical stuff and they don’t need an IT background. They need a desire to understand their actions on the internet and how they can navigate safely around it. The internet is scary, and many people don’t understand that. Topics like the right to be forgotten online are now coming up. It’s crucial to understand that data stays on the internet forever, but many people don’t realise this. They think that clicking delete makes something disappear forever. A basic understanding of these principles is what Digital Grassroots and other regional initiatives have been helping their ambassadors with. These organisations have done a very good job of helping youths from different fields navigate their online life.


DIGRA: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights on youth engagement in Internet governance.


Pavel: The pleasure is all mine. It has been an enriching journey over these past two years, and I look forward to our progress towards greater youth engagement.