Holding out for internet rights, access and use: Karen Banks recognised with Lifetime Achievement Award

Photo: Karen with Charles Musisi from MUKLA in Uganda and Bill Sangiwa from COSTECH in Tanzania.

By APCNews 16 November 2018

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) Awards celebrate individuals and organisations that have made extraordinary contributions to the development, use or study of the internet for the public good. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) congratulates Karen Banks for being recognised with the OII Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 for her extraordinary, unique and long-lasting contributions towards the development, use and study of the internet for the public good.

Karen Banks, currently operations director at APC, is a networking pioneer who has worked with information and communications technologies (ICTs) and their applications as tools for social change since 1990. Karen is from Melbourne, Australia, but has been a resident of the UK since 1990.

Between 1990 and 1997 Karen maintained an international gateway called GnFido at London-based GreenNet, a non-profit internet service provider founded in 1986. Working with over 60 partners in Africa, South Asia and Eastern Europe, the gateway used simple “store-and-forward” technology (FidoNet and UUCP) providing, in many cases, the only means of cheap, efficient electronic communications to thousands of individuals, NGOs, academics, researchers, universities and governmental departments. GreenNet continues to provide services to hundreds of activists and NGOs in the UK and is a founding organisation member of APC. Karen remains until today a director of GreenNet.

In 1993, along with her colleagues in APC, Karen formed the Women’s Networking Support Programme (WNSP), which led a 40-strong, all-women team to the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. There they built a communication centre, connected to one of the first internet connections from China to the rest of the world, providing email and web access to over 10,000 delegates, some of whom had never before sent an email or viewed a webpage. The APC WNSP, which Karen coordinated from 1996 to 2004, pioneered the use of ICTs for the empowerment of women around the world. To this day, the programme, now called the Women’s Rights Programme (WRP), is at the forefront of the movement to ensure the use of the political and transformative impact and potential of ICTs to end gender-based violence and discrimination, change power structures and relations, address a range of issues affecting gender, sexuality and other intersectionalities, strengthen solidarity and movements, and advance a feminist internet.

OII's Deputy Director Dr. Victoria Nash expressed why the Institute recognised Karen for her work in using ICTs for social change: “She has got the most extraordinary record of intervening to ensure connectivity, free and open internet access to those who traditionally lacked them. If you look at her early work in the 1990s, for example, she helped maintain an international gateway to help connect up parts of Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, groups and individuals that wouldn't otherwise have had internet connectivity. She was responsible for founding a really key women's network programme whilst at APC, again which brought ICT access to groups of women around the world who would not otherwise have enjoyed the benefits.” 

After coordinating the APC WNSP for eight years and coordinating APC’s internet rights work globally and in Europe from 1998 to 2001, Karen took up the position of Network Development Manager for APC in 2004. She led APC’s participation in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and Internet Governance Forum (IGF) until 2008 and was elected as a civil society representative to the UN Working Group on Internet Governance in 2006. 

“If I look at her more recent work role in events such as the World Summit on the Information Society, Internet Governance Forum and ICANN, all very technical-sounding bodies, but the thing that links them all is that they are supposed to have the involvement of voices from all different sectors but traditionally the voices that are least heard are those of civil society actors,” commented Nash, adding, “If you look at some of the academic research on the topic, Karen Banks is actually picked out as the most central civil society voice in those discussions holding out for rights, access and use, and I think that is highly worth celebrating.” 

In 2004 the Anita Borg Institute recognised the work of Karen Banks and the APC WNSP, awarding her with the inaugural Anita Borg Social Impact Award, while in June 2013, along with her lifetime APC colleague and friend Anriette Esterhuysen, Karen was selected for induction into the Internet Hall of Fame

The OII awards were presented during a celebratory gala dinner on 16 November, held at Balliol College in Oxford. The evening began with a public lecture by the second 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Professor Judy Wajcman, reflecting back on how our understanding of gender and technology have changed since the publication of her seminal texts in the early 1990’s. Anasuya Sengupta, co-founder and co-director of the Whose Knowledge? campaign, and Nani Jansen Reventlow, director of the Digital Freedom Fund, were recognised in this edition of the OII Awards as well, under the Internet and Society Awards category. APC congratulates all the awardees and thanks the Oxford Internet Institute for this initiative and for recognising these outstanding women who have made a great positive impact in the internet world, focusing on improving people's lives.

See the profiles of past winners on the OII website.

Read our previous article on this topic here.

Image above: Karen with Charles Musisi from MUKLA in Uganda and Bill Sangiwa from COSTECH in Tanzania. Source: Shared on Facebook by Charles Musisi.

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