While the hustle and bustle of this week's OKCon is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to write down a few impressions. I was lucky enough to be working on communications of the event; amplifying it online, making sure that people could take part remotely and getting the week's messages heard in places that it matters, which meant I had the opportunity to hear from a lot of you!

My take-aways from OKCon 2013:

There were all-women panels – and, wonderfully, they weren't just talking about being women. The session from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative mentors brought 4 brilliant women together to talk on their experiences as TAI mentors, for example.

The voice of the younger generation was valued. Really, really valued. Jay Naidoo's incredibly inspiring speech is still ringing in my ears:

“We need the younger generation to stand up and be leaders.”

His presentation was effectively a call to action to the younger generation to bring a sense of morality back into the world. As a respected leader, he wants to use his voice to represent those who can actually do something – he genuinely wants to hear from younger people, and stop simply talking amongst old men (his words, not mine!) about how to change the world.

And it wasn't just for show, as his comments when he met two of my 20-something colleagues highlight:

“I hope everyone here is as young as you two!”

It wasn't just about open data. That might be where it started- but we've evolved. The range of speakers and topics really highlighted for me how broad the open knowledge movement is, from Jay talking about malnutrition, to John Ellis on particle physics at CERN, to campaigning and storytelling. The open movement really affects everybody, and it's so much bigger than just open data.

The value of face to face meetups. I love the fact that I get to work with a huge virtual community, but being able to sit down with people and talk with them can't be replaced. It's a funny feeling to feel like you already know someone from having had so much virtual contact with them, wanting to hug them like an old friend, but then realising that was the first time you've actually seen them in person. The virtual contact definitely speeds up the 'getting to know you' process, but actually hearing from and seeing people is invaluable. Here's to more face to face meetings, everyone!

Passion within the community – it was overwhelming to see how many people give up so much time to grow the open movement. People who are so passionate about open knowledge that they contribute to the community on weekends, evenings, or even lunchtimes while keeping up a day job in an entirely unrelated topic. Those who took holiday from their jobs to spend the week with us- thank you.

Diversity within the community – for once, I'm not talking about gender diversity or racial diversity, but the breadth of people OKCon brought together. Talking to other participants there I realised just how varied our professional and personal backgrounds were. As you might have guessed, there were plenty of academics, scientists and tech geeks – but also people who had studied topics ranging from philosophy to forestry, modern languages to gender studies, professional harpists (you know who you are!) to literature. This brought, and continues to bring, an incredible richness to the community which I love.

To be honest, I think I probably need at least another week to recover and fully process everything that came up this week. It was inspiring and a true honour to spend the week with you all, and I hope even more people will be joining us next year for OKFestival in Berlin!


NB - we need to get better at making human OKF shapes... thanks to Ewan Klein for the photos! 

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Last week, by a massive stroke of luck, I had the chance to meet Professor Mohammed Yunus, together with Transparency International founder Peter Eigen, talk about a new initiative of theirs, the Garment Industries Transparency Initiative. Details of the initiative are still being worked out, but it was Professor Yunus' speech about the effect that the garment industry has had on Bangladesh that left me thinking.

The story we've all heard is one of exploitation. Especially since the recent and tragic factory collapse at Rana Plaza, which left over 1,100 people dead, hundreds still missing, and devastated the lives of thousands more – injured survivors, dependent family members, and those in mourning, there are (justifiably) negative connotations that come with any item 'Made in Bangladesh'.

But as Professor Yunus insisted, the garment industry hasn't been a source of only evil in the country. The hard facts:

It's difficult to comprehend how these awful working conditions could bring anything other than unhappiness to those involved – but actually, for millions, the garment industry has been a source of empowerment and social advancement.

Professor Yunus made the strong argument that actually, the garment industry has been a catalyst for positive social change in the country. It has, in an otherwise traditional culture where women play the role of housewife and mother, and men are the breadwinners, provided a culturally acceptable alternative.

This opportunity for employment has provided millions of women with their one opportunity to leave their village, to earn their own living, and even to send money back to support their family. That is, in effect, the definition of empowerment. The conditions, however, are the epitome of exploitation.

The challenge now is to keep the first, while getting rid of the second. Pressurising companies to leave Bangladesh and stop employing these women is not the solution – this leaves them again with nothing. Professor Yunus' point was that the global community should encourage foreign companies to keep investing in Bangladesh, while improving working conditions for the workers, not simply giving up on them.

So what does that mean for us, the consumers? We could try and hold companies accountable for their actions. We could ask them to be transparent about where they are sourcing their clothes from. Or, if the Garment Industries Transparency Initiative goes ahead as Mohammed Yunus and Peter Eigen suggested, we could pay an extra dollar or two to make sure that the clothes we are buying were not made with slave labour.

I'm in.  

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<p>My first try using iMovie - a trailer for our upcoming conference, OKCon in Geneva in two weeks time! </p>

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I've been looking for some books to read about Bangladesh for a while now, both fiction and non-fiction, so when a discussion about books covering the historical and political context of the country came up in an online group, I wanted to make sure these great suggestions didn't get lost.

Thanks to Jenny Gustafsson, Uzumaki Kyuubi, Allison Joyce, and Andrew Bostrom for the following suggestions! (And if you needed any persuading as to why you might want to find out more about this gorgeous country, check out this A-Z of what to love about Bangladesh by Jenny Gustafsson)

Non-fiction - history and culture



Memoirs/personal experiences

Any other suggestions, tweet me @zararah! 

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I just finished reading Mohammed Yunus' first book about the Grameen Bank, 'Banker to the Poor'. I'm starstruck, and impressed, and in awe, of the incredible work he's done. He took an idea and turned it into real, concrete action, having positive effects on millions of people's lives, in a tough environment to work in.

The distinction he makes between the poor and the very poor – the most destitute, those who don't have a roof over their heads, or enough food for themselves or their family, is key to the scheme. He rightly identified that identifying the poor and the most destitute together in one bracket generalises over some key differences; namely, that the most destitute have just one chance to get out of their poverty, and they were given this chance by being allowed to borrow tiny portions of money. They had everything to lose if they didn't make the most of this chance; this, as Yunus describes, makes them ideal borrowers, as they needed to pay the loan back if they were to continue on their path away from destitution. (and the figures have proven that his hypothesis was correct, with over 96% of loans being paid back on time – this is higher than in most commercial banks)

Identifying that women were the key change makers in families living in extreme poverty made a huge change, too. At least in Bangladesh, it is/was traditionally the man's role to deal with financial matters for the family; subverting this trend has proven to be a great success, and the associated issues of men feeling threatened by their spouses' newfound 'power' is also dealt with in the book. Receivers of loans from the Grameen Bank are 97% women, and the bank is actually owned 95% by its borrowers.

From the conclusion of the book, one paragraph in particular stood out for me:

Information and communication technology is raising the hope that we are approaching a world which will be free from power-brokers and knowledge-brokers... Any power built on exclusive access to information will disintegrate. Any common citizen will have almost as much access to information as the head of government. Leadership will have to be based on vision and integrity, rather than the manipulation of information.

This book was written in 1999. Nearly 15 years later, these predictions haven't come true, but they should have. In part, I was thrilled to see that the the basic message of the organisation I work for, the Open Knowledge Foundation, is/was shared by Mohammed Yunus; but isn't it sad that we need to be actively campaigning and working towards a world free of 'knowledge-brokers', as he puts it? Shouldn't it have justhappened naturally?

Happily, the tide is beginning to turn, thanks to the incredible open movement across the world, but Yunus' hope that 'any common citizen will have almost as much access to information as the head of government' is still a long way off.

One last quote to think about:

Easy access to credit, and easy access to a global network of information for the poorest women and men anywhere in the world will eliminate poverty from our planet more surely and speedily than anything else will. 

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Somehow I've been living in Germany for just over two years now, and with this experience I've found myself in the position of trying to give friends who are settling advice on coming over here, how to deal with German bureaucracy (argh) and, most recently, tips on learning German. So, just in case these links and resources are useful for anybody else out there, I thought I'd collect them all here.

To be completely up front, though; my German learning has been of the laziest kind. I have (or, had) many excuses; moving to a new country, starting a new job, not wanting to study after 8/9 hours sitting in front of my computer, and, shamefully, when I first arrived, thinking it wasn't actually that helpful, as I wasn't planning on staying in a German-speaking country quite as long as I have done!

But even without hours slaving over vocabulary lists, and grammar rules, and all sorts of not-so-entertaining means out there, there are other ways...

My first port of call was Deutsche Welle, an international public broadcaster based in Berlin. They have an incredible range of online German learning resources- and even better, they're all free.

My favourite: the Interactive German learning portal (click on the box on the right, “Start the Course”. It's an online portal that starts from the very basics (level A1, in language-learning speak); you sign in, and it remembers where you're at each time you leave the platform. It includes a range of activities; matching up words, listening comprehensions, grammar lessons, filling in the gaps.

It provides tests at the end of each mini level so you can assess how things are going, and you can choose whether you want the portal to be in English or in German at the top of the introduction screen. It's a good one to pick up and do for 10 minutes or so every few days until you get the basics, as it doesn't require too much time commitment each go.

If you want something to learn from that doesn't require you actually actively doing anything, I'd recommend their Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten – or, Slowly Spoken News podcast. Every day, a new 6-7 minute podcast is released of a native German man or woman reading out the day's news headlines, slowed down. In terms of language-learning this is a truly brilliant idea, as it gives the listener updated material that is genuinely interesting to hear, has a podcast for the same section of news read out at the actual speed, and you can also find the text that is read out, if you want to follow along.

Listening to this on my commute to work helped me hugely, though it did take me a while afterwards to get used to people speaking at a regular pace! Deutsche Welle also have a range of other resources, though I've never really used the others.

Other resources I've found helpful; this online dictionary from Leo. Before moving to Germany, my foreign language online dictionary of choice was always, always the great – but it turns out their English-German section isn't great. (NB, for French and Spanish though, they're wonderful!)

On my iPhone I have an offline dictionary downloaded from which has proven very helpful when needing to ask for insect repellant at the pharmacy, or double cream at the supermarket, for example.

I also downloaded a flash card app, after hearing that language-learning with flash cards was all the rage. I must admit though, that I'm not such a fan; perhaps it was just the way that I was using it, but coming across new words in conversation and learning them in context worked a lot better for me.

And last but not least; conversation! Speaking to German people. Making an idiot of myself, getting words mixed up, misunderstanding, but making people laugh and having lots of fun at the same time. I started speaking just a couple of minutes a day, and have gradually, over 18 months or so built up to having friends with whom I only speak German (though with many, many grammatical errors, the odd English word mixed in, and frequent confusion on my part!)

Caveat: the methods you use to learn a language depend a lot on two main things; first, what do you want to get out of it? For me, it was just speaking to people, understanding conversations, and not having to ask groups of German people to speak in English just because I was present. Writing good German is way down on my priority list, as I'm fairly certain I won't be needing it extensively in my job.

And second, how do you learn best? If you don't know, then try a few different things and see what sticks. Maybe it's flashcards, or podcasts, or simply writing yourself 10 words of new vocabulary a day for a few weeks. German is the first language I've learned without regular grammar classes and studying a few hours a week at least; but (and again, the excuses!) - I've just not been motivated to sit down and study after working all day. As I've found, though, not wanting to study so much is definitely not an excuse to at least giving it a go, and it really does make living in Berlin a much nicer experience!

**Updated, June 2014**

Learning while singing is easily one of the most fun ways to learn. There are various ways you can do this; listen to the song, for example, try and identify as many words as you can, and write down what you hear. Or, read through the lyrics while you're listening and try and sing along, or have a go at translating the lyrics to check you've understood. (and if you haven't- no big deal!).

I've used the songs of a friend of mine, Alin Coen, a lot for this, as lots of the lyrics are online, which helps a lot: she has some gorgeous songs, including Wolken (lyrics hereIch war hier (lyrics here); the heartbreaking 'Kein Weg Zurück (lyrics here), and the lovely Einer will immer mehr (lyrics here). There's lots more, but those are a few of my favourites, and happily lots have the lyrics already up online

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Recently, I've been coming across a misconception that I'd like to address – that prejudices like racism and sexism don't exist in the so-called “developed” world.

I told some friends yesterday about some blatant sexism another friend of mine has been facing in her job in an investment bank in London.

“Seriously? In the UK?! That's unbelievable!”

Yes, believe it or not, sexism exists in the UK. Crazy, eh? You mean it didn't disappear after the Industrial Revolution?

Another example. One of the worst examples of outright sexism, or racism, or whatever you want to call it, that I've experienced came from a lawyer. Instead of putting out his hand to shake mine at a meeting, he gave me a 20 euro note, and told me to get him an avocado sandwich.

“Oh, you're not a secretary? Err... great. I'm still hungry though. And thirsty, actually. A coke would be great.”

And he, this great human rights lawyer, was from the United States.

One last story. A British friend of mine recently got back from Saudi Arabia, and he commented that while it was a good trip on the whole, he found it difficult to be in a place with such terrible domestic violence and terrible women's rights. Of course, women have far more civil liberties in the UK than those in Saudi Arabia, but are Brits really in a position to be judging others when there were 2.0 million cases of domestic violence in 2011/2012 in the UK?

His comment also reminded me of an article I had recently come across, citing that “More than a third of all women worldwide – 35.6% – will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime”. I've just been back to look at the article, and:

“Even in high-income countries, 23.2% of women will suffer physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lives”

It's the use of the world 'even' that I'd like to talk about here.

There seems to be a belief that people living in countries which are lucky enough to have developed infrastructure, who might happen to be further ahead with the Millennium Development Goals than other countries, who have access to water and high living standards, are inherently less prejudiced than those living in other parts of the world.

This belief is entirely misplaced. The fact you may have grown up with access to energy and water and education and food does not have any relation to the way in which you treat your fellow human beings. In fact, I have faced far more compassion and open-minded attitudes from strangers in global south countries than in the UK, where I grew up, or in Germany, where I live now.

The sexism and racism I've faced in my professional life has overwhelmingly come from people who grew up in, or consider themselves to be from, “developed” countries. Let's be clear here; the word “developed” refers only to living standards- high, or low. Access to water, a roof over your head, enough food to feed your family; that's it. It means that by some lucky fall of the dice, some of us have enjoyed higher living standards than others; nothing more, nothing less. Shockingly, there isn't a magical point at which an economy grows to a certain point and then racist and sexist people suddenly see the light.

Prejudices like racism and sexism transcend borders, cultures and societies. Sure, there are some countries or cultures who have worse track records in these than others; but to assume that wealth and living standard are the deciding factors in this is to ignore a whole range of other considerations. Assuming that we, in what we like to call “developed countries” are immune to such offences is naïve, offensive and plain wrong.

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Yesterday, I came across this article, "What happened when I started a feminist society at school" and it still has my blood boiling. In brief - a group of 16-18 year olds started a feminist society at school, and took part in the brilliant Who needs Feminism campaign.

The response from their male peers was horrific online abuse. The response from the school was encouraging the girls to stop the campaign and take down any photos in order to stop the abuse.

Even worse for me- the school in question is my old secondary school, Altrincham Girls Grammar School. It leaves me almost (but not quite) speechless to think that an institute of education for almost 1000 girls is trying to convey the message that sexist abuse is a problem of the victims and not of the abusers. It's not. 

The school's reaction should have targeted those carrying out the abuse, the boys writing those shamefully ignorant comments. I'm curious to find out whether the boys' school down the road, Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, reacted to this at all, or any other schools in the area.

Trying to make the girls keep quiet to 'avoid the bullying' isn't a solution, and it astounds me that anyone would ever try and make teenagers NOT stand up for the basic human right of equality. In my mind, the appropriate reaction to this horrible incident is speaking to those boys, and educating them about gender equality. Has this happened? And if not, why not?

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I'm preparing for tonight's Datatón, and have been looking up lots of words in Spanish that I've never come across. True to language-student form, I've made myself a vocabulary list of data/internet/programming/punctuation words...

Data geek vocabulary list

to select - seleccionar

to choose - elegir

to look for/search for - buscar

to move - mover

to type - escribir a la máquina

to open - abrir

to cut - cortar

to copy - copiar

to paste - pegar

to extract - sacar

to obtain - obtenir

to inspect - examinar

to substitute - sustituir

to return to - regresar

to click on - hacer clic

to move your mouse over - pasar el ratón sobre...

right click on - hacer click derecho, o hacer clic usando el botón derecho

to scroll up/down - desplazarse hacia arriba/abajo en el texto

code - el código

tag - una etiqueta (eg, html tag = una etiqueta de html o simplemente una etiqueta html)

attribute - un atributo

field (of data) - campo de datos

cell - la celda

column - la columna

row - la fila

tab - una pestaña

top of the page - la parte superior de la página

bottom of the page - la parte inferior de la página

spreadsheets - las hojas de cálculo

mouse - el ratón

datasets - los sets de datos

data repository - el repositorio de datos

brackets ( ) - los paréntesis

square brackets [ ] - los corchetes

curly brackets { } - las llaves

angle brackets < > - los paréntesis angulares o corchángulos

browser - el navegador de internet

forward slash / - barra

backwards slash \ - barra inverso

pipes/vertical bar | - la pleca

@ symbol - arroba

quotation marks ”; ”; - comillas

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“What do you know of Moldovan citizens, or of Mauritanian culture?” Shamefully, very little. This is how Mateo introduced the topic of Uruguayan foreign policy; Moldova, Mauritania and Uruguay all have similar populations and statuses in global politics. They're fairly small, they're surrounded by bigger and more powerful neighbours, and they all have approximately 3 million inhabitants.

But there's one aspect of Uruguayan politics that sets it apart from many, if not all, other countries. Their president, José Mujica. Labelled by many as the world's poorest president, he lives on a little farm, and works on the farm alongside his presidential duties. His evident lack of interest in material goods is a shining (and reassuring) sign to citizens that their head of state is clearly not stealing from the state! His background is also fairly impressive, (and provides a stark contrast between heads of state in other countries – can you imagine Cameron or Merkel standing up next to him?) ; he used to be a guerrilla fighter, who spent 14 years in prison and was shot a total of 6 times, and underwent torture, isolation, and other horrifically inhumane treatment. Now, aged 77, he grows chrysanthemums on a farm owned by his wife, while being President of Uruguay.

His example, and that of other politicians not seeing themselves as anything 'above' normal citizens, means that it is perfectly normal to bump into them in regular spots in Montevideo. Unfortunately, we didn't see any! But this normality, meaning that paparazzi have an incredibly easy job of getting photos and even sitting down with the president himself, has resulted in a distinct, and wonderful, lack of celebrity-fawning.

Though the President is very left-leaning, Uruguay's foreign policy, as I learned, is distinctly middle of the road. I don't mean to make it sound like they have been sitting on the fence, or simply remaining undecided; rather, taking the 'middle ground' is a distinct policy choice. It's important to remember their geographical situation, as they are very much surrounded by 'big brothers' Argentina and Brazil, and their fairly tiny population; at 3 million people, their entire country is a quarter of the size of Sao Paulo, and approximately the same number as Berlin. Pretty tiny!

But they've taken this middle of the road policy, and applied it amazingly successfully; they've recognised Palestine as a country, while remaining on good diplomatic terms with Israel, and they enjoy good relations with both Cuba and the US.

Similarly in terms of society, the 'middle-road' policy can be seen; I heard about how the vast majority of the population would rather identify themselves as middle class, rather than aspiring to be upper class. Moderation, in both politics and society, seems to be the word of the day, and, happily, it seems to be working admirably.

One recent project implemented under Mujica in particular fascinated me; the successful implementation of the One Laptop per Child programme means that every child in Uruguay now is the owner of a laptop. The potential here is truly immense. With kids learning from a young age how to program and write code, who knows what they might come up with in a few years?

Unfortunately, as I heard, the problem now is that many children are far ahead of their teachers in using the technology; there appears to be a big need for training either teachers to work with children, or to go directly to the children and provide more technical assistance, and make sure that these kids and laptops live up to their full potential.

I have complete faith though, that with passionate and intelligent activists like Mariana, Daniel and Fabrizio working on transparency and open data in Montevideo with their organisation DATA, this potential will be fulfilled, and fun will be had at the same time! I'm looking forward to returning to Montevideo in a few days time for Latin America's first Open Data unconference, AbreLATAM. For now, though, Chile awaits!

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