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Growing the Internet 9 November 2022

George Sadowsky Honored with the 2022 Jonathan B. Postel Service Award

By Agustina CallegariFormer Senior Manager, Community and External Engagement

In the 1990s, Dr. George Sadowsky and a group of Internet Society volunteers set some ambitious goals. They wanted to teach people how to connect their developing countries to the Internet over the phone, build community networks, use the Internet for social and economic development, and manage issues of Internet governance.

It was a time of rapid Internet development. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. In 1996, 45 million people globally were using the Internet. By 1999, that number had grown to 150 million. But in this same time period, the Internet remained inaccessible to much of the developing world.

“We understood there was a lack of communication in developing countries. We saw the Internet as a carrier of education and of information that people didn’t know existed,” said Sadowsky, who directed academic computing and networking activities at Northwestern University and New York University between 1986 and 2001.

Sadowsky estimates that over ten years, he and Internet Society volunteers trained 1,500 people from almost all developing nations, including Mozambique, Egypt, Nicaragua, and Ghana. Participants returned home and began spreading the Internet. Some used their knowledge to rise in the ranks of government ministries, while others founded Internet-focused nonprofits and pursued Internet businesses in the private sector.

It seems only fitting that Sadowsky, a longtime Internet champion who has played a key role in accelerating the proliferation of the Internet in developing nations, is the recipient of the 2022 Jonathan B. Postel Service Award.

Selected for his leadership of the Developing Countries Workshops, Sadowsky enabled the extension of the Internet to almost all developing countries and thereby significantly contributed to a global Internet.

George’s long service in support of the Internet and the Internet Society reminds us of how one person, with a clear vision, can make an enormous difference.”
Andrew Sullivan, President, and CEO, Internet Society

“I came up with the concept and validated it, but it was really the group of 30 to 40 volunteers each year who gave up their vacations to conduct the trainings,” Sadowsky said, humbly. “They made it a reality.”

Looking back, he can see how most of the original barriers to communication in countries without Internet access have now disappeared.

“I remember one of the first workshops, it was sort of like the United Nations,” he said. “For many people, it was their first or second time out of their countries, mixing with other nationality groupings. It was a cultural experience and it ended up starting an active global network of people who could connect by email. It created a critical mass of information they could share with each other.”

“It feels pretty good to be recognized with a Postel,” he said. “I think it really speaks to the importance of the work we did.”

Sadowsky’s career in computing and the Internet has spanned more than 60 years.

Alongside Larry Landweber, a fellow Internet innovator, Sadowsky helped to formulate the United States Agency for International Development’s Leland Initiative that eventually provided Internet connectivity to 20 countries in Africa.

Between 1996 and 2002, he was a member and Coordinator of the Technical Advisory Program for the World Bank’s infoDev program. As a Senior Technical Adviser with USAID’s dot-GOV program for the Internews Consortium, Sadowsky provided ICT policy assistance to the developing world.

More recently, he worked on Internet policy reform projects in more than a dozen countries as the executive director of the Global Internet Policy Initiative.

Looking forward, Sadowsky says he’s observing the influence policymakers and the private sector have on the Internet and paying close attention to issues like selective content moderation and restricted Internet access ahead of elections.

“There’s governance of the Internet and there’s governance on the Internet,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how existing issues in society are affected by the Internet,” he said. “It is governance of human affairs on the Internet that is the most crucial to address right now. Most existing issues in society are affected by the Internet, and that is creating multiple issues for society that we are just starting to grapple with, some not yet successfully.”

About the Award

The Jonathan B. Postel Service Award is presented annually to an individual or organization that has made outstanding and sustained contributions in service to the Internet community. The award is named after Dr. Jonathan B. Postel to recognize and commemorate the extraordinary stewardship he exercised throughout a 30-year career in networking.

Image copyright: © Steven G. Huter

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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