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XXXI.1 January - February 2024
Page: 62
Digital Citation

Nurturing Community and Leadership in Cape Town

Naveena Karusala, Neha Kumar

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A key commitment of the current SIGCHI Executive Committee (EC) has been to nurture the global presence and activity of our organization. In the November–December 2023 issue of Interactions, SIGCHI Vice-President for Chapters Matt Jones laid out the benefits to be gained from starting or joining a chapter [1].

We now turn attention to our regional communities, which are strongly rooted in chapters and aim to go a step further, connecting different countries within a region to build stronger ties, commitments, and a shared vision. We began these efforts with our Asia Committee in 2015. In 2021, we set up the SIGCHI Latin America Committee, which has been vibrant, active, and committed to organizing initiatives for and with the Latin American HCI community. And in September 2023, we inaugurated the SIGCHI Mediterranean Committee, aimed at nurturing stronger ties among communities in southern Europe and beyond. These committees steadily take us closer to our vision for a truly pluriversal SIGCHI, where the organization's value fundamentally draws on the value that it adds to communities across the globe.

Another way in which the EC has invested time and energy into engaging with regional communities has been to colocate our periodic hybrid meetings in these regions, engaging with HCI and HCI-adjacent researchers there by sponsoring locally organized events that support outreach and community building. In the May–June 2023 issue of Interactions we wrote about the SIGCHI-sponsored HCI and Friends Symposium held in Mumbai, India, in December 2022, alongside our EC meeting [2]. These types of engagements spur possibilities for future events and interactions, enriching us as a SIG and helping us grow with meaning and purpose.

We have supported events with the African SIGCHI community [3,4], and were keen to do more in the region when ACM COMPASS (Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies) announced its 2023 venue in Cape Town, South Africa. We held our EC meeting in Cape Town, providing support for some to attend COMPASS, and for the organization of the African Leadership Summit for Champions in People-Centered ICT. Following are brief recaps of these two events.

back to top  African Leadership Summit: Supporting Regional Community Building in Africa

The African Leadership Summit was intended to strengthen ties among researchers and practitioners in HCI and adjacent fields across Africa. The event was an outcome of many years of relationship building and weekly planning conversations over many months, with Shaimaa Lazem and Hafeni Mthoko taking the lead on organizing, and Susan Dray and Naveena Karusala supporting them on behalf of the SIGCHI EC. A central goal for this summit organization was to ensure that decisions were community led and honored local expertise. Shaimaa and Hafeni started by holding an open virtual event in June 2023, to broaden participation and cocreate goals for the in-person component. The hybrid summit took place in August, alongside COMPASS, with Melissa Densmore, founding chair of ProteaCHI chapter and COMPASS general chair, hosting at the University of Cape Town. There were eighteen attendees, including early-career researchers and practitioners, from Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania. Geraldine Fitzpatrick, a longtime SIGCHI volunteer and current member of the CHI Steering Committee, supported Shaimaa and Hafeni in facilitating. Many EC members were also in attendance.

Participants in the discussions at the summit contributed diverse definitions of leadership, as well as diverse notions of community building within HCI. These engagements are excellent opportunities for longstanding organizations like SIGCHI, and ACM, to question their structures and make sure that they work for all people. They also remind us that HCI looks different from place to place and region to region, but that there is a lot that unites us too. By the end of the summit, it was clear that there are many opportunities for a stronger relationship between SIGCHI and HCI communities across Africa. Attendees had generated several ideas for next steps, including starting local chapters and volunteering for specific SIGCHI initiatives.

back to top  A Visit to Philippi Village: Learning About Sustainable Societies

SIGCHI community support funds were also directed toward a sustainability grant to foster local engagement with communities. This entailed a visit from COMPASS attendees to Philippi Village, a mixed-use development in Philippi, a community in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town. Philippi Village aims to offer a "safe and vibrant space that connects the Philippi community to necessary services, employment and educational opportunities, and cultural activities" [5]. Bushra Razack, founder of Philippi Village and the opening keynote speaker at COMPASS, introduced us to the initiative and guided our visit.

The visit offered rich insight into Philippi Village's initiatives and the issues of ecological sustainability they face. We toured the Amaqanda Learning Garden, which teaches community members how to grow food—an important endeavor given that Philippi supplies much of Cape Town's fresh produce but also is deeply affected by food insecurity. We learned about the periodic flooding that affects the gardens, homes, and entrance to the development, a significant concern that Philippi Village is seeking to address. Toward the end of our visit, Bushra facilitated a conversation between COMPASS attendees and the owner of a micro business in the community, to help us understand more about his work and business aspirations.

back to top  Honoring the Local and the Global

As CHI 2024 draws near, and we reflect on recent conversations in our community on how our conferences can serve as bridges connecting the local and the global, our visit to Philippi Village offers an excellent example of what we could do more of across SIGCHI. There is a need for more such intentional conversations between local lived realities and how our field's contributions could better learn from and serve them. This becomes critical when we consider the rich, indigenous histories of places around the world.

Both of the above initiatives reinforce the EC's priorities of fostering a globally and locally relevant SIGCHI community. HCI and SIGCHI look and feel different in different regions of the world, and it has been our aim to leverage the EC's learning and experiences toward a more meaningful and situated SIGCHI for all our members. We look forward to more such encounters in our own initiatives, and to reporting back about our engagement with our Latin America community representatives in Rio de Janeiro in December 2023.

ins01.gif Attendees were invited to plant greenery around the skirt of a Thembi sculpture, one of three in Philippi Village.

back to top  Acknowledgments

We thank COMPASS leadership for enabling our activities, including local cochair Fazlyn Petersen and sustainability cochairs Leandro Navarro and Sarah Cooney, who organized the Philippi Village visit; the energetic organizers, facilitators, and attendees of the summit; each EC member who enthusiastically engaged on-site and online; and the staff who supported a wonderful experience.

back to top  References

1. Jones, M. Purpose, passion, growth, and service: Why you should join a SIGCHI chapter. Interactions 30, 6 (Nov.–Dec. 2023), 56–57;

2. Kumar, N. With HCI and friends: Nurturing the interstices of HCI. Interactions 30, 3 (May–Jun. 2023), 70–71;




back to top  Authors

Naveena Karusala is a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Center for Research on Computation and Society. Her research focuses on emerging technologies and inequities in care economies, such as healthcare and social work. She currently serves as adjunct chair for community support on the SIGCHI Executive Committee. [email protected]

Neha Kumar is an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, with a joint appointment in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the School of Interactive Computing. Her work lies at the intersection of human-centered computing and global development. She currently serves as SIGCHI VP-at-large for community support. [email protected]

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2024 ACM, Inc.

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