Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the Civil Society 2.0 initiative two years ago to build capacity among grassroots organizations. Since then, the State Department has dedicated itself to increasing the digital literacy of those working in civil society through the TechCamp program, orchestrating half a dozen camps around the world with more planned for 2012.
Our most recent project, TechCamp: Bucharest, was held in the Romanian capital's historic Central Library and hosted in partnership with the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Romanian Ministry of Communications and Information Society, the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The agenda focused on helping working-level staff from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) serving Roma and other socio-economically disadvantaged communities, including people with disabilities and orphans, use technology and digital tools to advance their missions.
Staff from over 50 civil society organizations participated alongside local and international technology experts, as well as representatives from the Gates Foundation Global Libraries Project and the State Department's American Corners in Romania, to explore current challenges they face and understand how technology can help address them. For example, Eric Gunderson from Development Seed worked with Roma NGOs to find ways to collect more accurate data on Roma families to help better inform the communities in which they live. They started by mapping recent census data on the Roma, a population which participants agreed has been historically under-reported. Take a look at Eric's blog about the TechCamp and the map they developed here.
Other participants worked in small groups with technologists to discuss a variety of ways technology could be employed to help achieve their objectives. Examples included:
· Developing a jobs platform for the disabled;
· Working to change the image of the Roma in the media, including highlighting positive role models;
· Using technologies to decrease the high school dropout rate among Roma students;
· Engaging people through technology during emergencies such as earthquakes and floods to increase the efficiency of the response;
· Linking people leaving orphanages to those providing job training or housing; and
· Reaching isolated communities with limited access to technology.
These insightful discussions lead to detailed participant-generated action plans with dates for follow-on activities. We anticipate innovative initiatives from TechCamp alumni in the months to come that yield tangible results for the communities they serve. In the long run, many of the NGOs are now connected with new resources and services available in local libraries that will help them advance their causes, and we see terrific potential for the TechCamp network built among activists, librarians, and American Corners staff to provided a valuable forum for relationships that create new avenues for cooperation -- a critical facet of every TechCamp's success.
Learn more about Bucharest and other State Department hosted TechCamps at techcampglobal.org.