By Safia Khan

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As a young professional venturing into the complex space that is the intersection of ICT and development, a conference on Communications Policy & Research in the global South can be an intimidating space not least because of the plethora of information there is to dissolve. This was precisely how it felt being a CPR South young scholar in 2015, in Taipei, where the theme was big data. As a researcher, the Young Scholar program was exceptionally informative,with a strong emphasis on skills building and rigour.

But attending the conference held immediately thereafter was overwhelming. The technical content owed to the theme was prone to flying over one’s head from time to time, but the large emphasis on the global south and development made it relatable and more importantly aspirational. I wondered how I would write papers of the calibre of those presented and to me, personally, it seemed even more challenging to turn such academic articles into policy relevant briefs.

After the conference, things were busy at work as they tend to be. And when the time came to submit a paper to CPRSouth 2016, whose theme was inclusive innovation – one just as interesting – I did so dutifully. The conference required a policy brief be submitted with the paper, which I did – following the proposed guidelines closely – and hoped for the best.

Arriving in Zanzibar in 2016 was like being reunited with old friends. The new young scholars were eager and a little subdued which I could relate to, and the presenters and more senior board members and organisers were pleased to see a familiar face. The location was exquisite but more importantly, the conference presented a place and space against which I could benchmark my own personal professional progress.

I nervously presented my paper titled “Taking the microscope to ICT gender issues in Sub-Saharan Africa” and despite my nerves and stammering was bowled over by how well it was received – taking third place from about twenty odd papers presented. This was personally meaningful as I conceptualised the paper myself (with the assistance of my co-authors Mariama Deen-Swarray and Chenai Chair) and had full creative control on how it would be presented. I also won best policy brief (and received an exquisite little gift). I was taken aback by how engaged the donors (IDRC) were with the content and how seriously the work was taken by people in the sector and at the conference, across academia,regulation, and civil society.

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My experience as a returning young scholar and first-time paper presenter was multiple times richer than it was as a young scholar. People in this network are impassioned and interested in your work- a message that young researchers need to receive. CPR South Young Scholars prepares one for presenting at the larger CPR south conference and other conferences by easing young researchers into the program and developing them.

The conference attendees encourage progress and are full of useful suggestions about the work conducted, and how to take it forward for publishing. CPRSouth, to me, presents a nurturing environment and one I will be happy to (and very much look forward to) returning to in the future.