Introducing Jafer Ahmad, 2011 BHRP Summer Analyst

The BHRP is excited to have Jafer Ahmad join us as one of our Summer Analysts. Jafer brings with him a variety of experiences including post-graduate research on law and human rights in the Middle East; living and traveling extensively in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia; and working in policy, the investment management industry, development, and the technology startup world. Please read below to learn more about Jafer in his own words:

Jafer exploring the ancient Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan

I am passionate about the role ICT’s (information and communication technologies) play, and have the potential to play, in addressing complex global challenges. A twelve million-strong protest against the FARC in Colombia organized on Facebook in 2008; the “Arab Spring”; the Khan Academy; Roshan Telecom’s M-Paisa service in Afghanistan (facilitating the mobile phone-based payment of policemen stationed in remote provinces whose cash salaries were previously subject to theft); and Ushahidi’s open source platform for anonymous crowd-sourced information mapping (which has been instrumental in crisis, and other, relief efforts in Kenya, South Africa, Haiti, Washington, D.C., Russia, New Zealand, and Japan), are but a few examples of how ICT’s can be utilized to help facilitate citizen empowerment, scalable and adaptive education, economic efficiency, political stability, development, and disaster relief.

While ICT’s have been used to make the world a better place, their effectiveness as tools to do so is often contingent upon open access, free expression, and user trust in privacy. As such, I was thrilled to learn that Yahoo!, an ICT industry leader with almost a billion users worldwide, has a dedicated program (the BHRP), devoted to incorporating human rights considerations in business operations with the ultimate goal of protecting and promoting open access, free expression and privacy on the Internet. In fact, it is the only ICT company with such a program to date. I was also excited by the approach the BHRP takes in working towards this mission; a cross-functional internal team that incorporates various external stakeholders, all with different resources and perspectives, allows for the ability to troubleshoot and iterate solutions in dealing with restrictions on access, free expression, and privacy around the world. It is for these reasons that I believe Yahoo! is uniquely positioned to lead in changing the status quo for the ICT industry when it comes to products that overlap with human rights issues.

My passion for the use of ICT’s in addressing complex global challenges (and thus my interest in the open access to, and free expression and privacy in the use of, ICT’s) primarily developed out my experience in the Middle East. After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, I embarked on a Fulbright Fellowship researching human rights issues surrounding the application of inheritance law in Jordanian courts. While traveling around the MENA region and living in Jordan, a major technology startup hub of the Middle East, I came to realize just how important technological innovation is for economic development and citizen empowerment, and that I had long since taken my relatively open and free experience of the Internet for granted. After returning to the states in 2008 with a newfound appreciation for ICT’s, I have since been involved in emerging markets investing in the ICT sector; mobile-banking projects to increase financial inclusion among the unbanked; and an international ICT startup focused on enhancing social interaction in the offline world. While studying in Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies MA program (’13), I aim to further explore how to best promote the effective use of ICT’s in tackling pressing global challenges, while navigating human rights issues born out of concerns for user privacy and national security.

Needless to say, I’ve been absolutely ecstatic about the prospect of working with the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program since this spring and I am looking forward to what should be quite an eventful summer.