Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke last week to more than 100 representatives of civil society, technology trainers, and student activists from 22 countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, who gathered in Vilnius, Lithuania, for a two-day TechCamp on democracy and civic engagement. The Secretary had the opportunity to visit with and speak to the groups, where she offered support for the work being done to build technological capacity in non-governmental organizations.
Secretary Clinton said, “[W]e know very well that for every advance in technology that you can make as individuals, there are forces that will also try to undermine that and will try to use the very same tools as a means of subverting and repressing. So we have to add to our numbers and we have to be willing to keep coming up with new ways of getting over, under, around, and through the walls and other techniques that are used to prevent people from freely communicating.”
Internet freedom, one of Secretary Clinton's top priorities at the State Department, and digital safety were prominent topics among the small group discussions. Many activists working in countries like Belarus are forced to contend with a lack of freedom, a point reinforced by the Secretary's comments the next day at the Community of Democracies Ministerial.
Participants were able to take part in fast-paced training sessions and interactive breakouts designed to build their digital literacy and teach new tech-based tools that can be used to further the goals of their specific organizations. Technologists from several organizations also shared their knowledge and personal experiences on how to use technology to promote democracy and engage citizens.
TechCamp Vilnius identified several common challenges among civil society groups operating in the region and participants, along with technologists and the private sector collaborated to solve some of these challenges through technology. For example, one participant from Ukraine, Leonid Grabov, from the Union of People with disabilities is working with Eric Gunderson, co-founder of Development Seed, to create a detailed map identifying all handicap accessible buildings in his native Ukraine. Milena Nikolic, president of the Serbian City Youth Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, participated in several hands on trainings over the course of the two days. She is using the techniques she learned to teach her membership how to interact online, including ways to protect themselves and communicate safely.
Secretary Clinton told participants, “[O]ne of the things that we're doing is not only these tech camps but also coming up with new apps, new technology, new ways of empowering you." Attendees learned how to effectively use social media, practice digital safety and leverage mobile applications, and are now poised to use connection technologies to grow their networks, communicate more efficiently and be able to keep pace in the changing world.
The next TechCamp will take place in Chisinau, Moldova on July 15-16 2011. If you are interested in learning more about Civil Society 2.0, TechCamps or in hosting a future TechCamp please contact Katie Dowd, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Noel Dickover, email@example.com.