About the Author: Katie Dowd serves as New Media Director at the State Department.
Meeting at the top of the Telefonica building in downtown Santiago, Chile on November 20, we welcomed over 100 representatives from the technology community and civil society organizations from throughout the Western Hemisphere to the first-ever TechCamp. Sponsored by the State Department, "TechCamp: Santiago" built on Secretary Clinton's vision of Civil Society 2.0 to help increase the digital capacity and literacy of civil society groups.
"TechCamp: Santiago" divided participants into small groups to discuss specific issues, including democracy, transparency and civic engagement; health, medicine and disease control; and economic opportunity. The small groups brainstormed how technology could play a transformative role in addressing challenges associated with each issue. Each group then presented the challenges and their proposed solutions to all of the participants. Following "TechCamp: Santiago," we shared the group's ideas with the broader technology community, Random Hacks of Kindness (RHOK), and together they worked to build tech-based solutions to the proposed challenges in a global hackathon in countries around the world from December 4 to 5. You can view some of the problem sets, in Spanish, here.
One group focused on democracy, transparency and civic engagement and identified a common challenge; they all felt civil society groups failed to collaborate with each other. Group members identified that a dedicated network could allow civil society groups to better understand what other groups were working on, could allow them to share best practices, and help build connections among one another. RHOK addressed this issue during their hackathon, and we'll share with you the results soon.
As participants of "TechCamp: Santiago" focused on building software and social media applications for use in Latin America, interest in the event extended far beyond the Western Hemisphere. We connected electronically with tech experts and members of the RHOK community who gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Our colleagues in Jakarta shared how social media applications helped Indonesian citizens share information and locate emergency relief supplies in the aftermath of Mt. Merapi.
"TechCamp: Santiago" also brought together technologists from Latin America with members of the U.S. tech community to conduct hands-on training sessions for participants. Focused on educating civil society, these training sessions provided participants the opportunity to break into small groups and learned how to use Twitter, how to use digital maps to showcase data and how mobile platforms can help in tasks from raising money to amplifying a message. Training sessions looked at open source software education and effective remote working to see how technology could improve work environments. Participants loved the hands on sessions. Meeting with experts and trainers on these tools, allowed participants to drill into their specific challenges.
The most amazing part from these sessions? We are already seeing concrete results. One of the Brazilian participants plans to implement these tools in his work to empower youth in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Another participant from Juarez, Mexico is incorporating ideas from the workshop on how to use these tools to take back his community from narco-traffickers. I am thrilled that "TechCamp: Santiago" is already providing concrete deliverables for cross-border challenges throughout the Americas.
Building the capacity and bolstering the work of grassroots organizations is a core part of Secretary Clinton's commitment to 21st century statecraft. Whether it's helping to protect our planet or providing education and opportunities for children or promoting democracy and civic engagement, we must ensure civil society groups have the digital skills necessary to operate in the 21st century. "TechCamp: Santiago" is just the first of what we hope will be a foundation to educate and help advance civil society groups as they move forward into the future.