Journey to TechCamp Lima

Posted by Sean Boda
May 18, 2012
Technologists and Representatives of NGOs Pose for a Photo at TechCamp Lima

I stepped onto South American soil for the first time to participate in TechCamp Lima, the tenth such TechCamp. TechCamps are the pillar of Secretary Clinton's Civil Society 2.0 initiative and organized and run by the Secretary's Innovation team and the Office of eDiplomacy in close collaboration with local embassies.

Perched cliff-side, bustling Lima crouches over the Pacific teeming with a third of Peru's population. An incredibly diverse country, Peruvians point out its three major regions: coast, sierra, and jungle, each with starkly contrasting histories and culture. The NGOs participating in TechCamp Lima work in many sectors. However, they share the broader goal of bridging Peru's differences and promoting progress based on social inclusion whereby all Peruvians benefit from the growing economy and global openness of this dynamic country.

In a space that ESAN University generously made available May 10-11, 33 representatives from civil society organizations that operate throughout the coastal, Andean and eastern jungle areas of Peru convened with technology experts under the theme Democracia Intercultural, or intercultural democracy. Over the course of two days, participants posed problem statements and worked toward solutions to issues such as, "How can we keep anti-corruption activists connected in the 23 regions of Peru?" and "How can we extend our coverage with the same budget?" As part of the interactive model of TechCamp, technologists shared success stories with NGO representatives during a "Speed-Geeking" session (see a short video example I shot here). Technologists then held training sessions on simple and effective technologies that organizations can easily implement, such as mapping open data, or using SMS to reach a wider audience. Steve Long, a colleague from the Department of State's Information Technology organization taught sessions on quickly producing and editing quality videos on participants' own mobile phones.

My favorite aspect of TechCamp is not that NGOs come and listen to tech experts, but rather that civil society members and technologists engage each other on an equal footing, with representatives of the different organizations "owning" the problems they address every day in their work. The incredible synergy of TechCamp is difficult to describe, perhaps best left to the participants themselves, who do an exceptional job in this series of video interviews I recorded on their experiences.

And there were coffee breaks! These served not only as a venue for fostering connections but were necessary to sustain the energy of the participants who braved the famous Lima traffic to get an early start on solving their organizations' challenges through technology. On day one, participants developed problem statements and on day two they worked in small groups to tackle the problem. Technologists whose expertise ranged from visualizing open data and SMS to geo mapping and social media strategy partnered with Peruvian NGOs that focus on issues of social inclusion, language, land justice, and transparency in government. Together these groups did much more than identify issues that could be better addressed through the use of technology. They initiated measurable progress toward solutions. This is precisely what TechCamp is designed to do.

As an entry-level officer in the Foreign Service, I felt privileged to contribute both by supporting the Embassy's social media outreach and stepping into the role of "tech trainer." On both days of the conference I worked with several participants on how to set up a Ustream account as a simple way to broadcast to an audience, or connect with team members in disparate areas. I never imagined that I would have something to teach veteran organizers in my first tour as a diplomat, but I saw two participants take the lesson to heart and create an impromptu interview moments after creating their own Ustream channel.

During TechCamp Lima I had the privilege of experiencing first hand Peruvian hospitality and to savor Peru's world-famous cuisine. I survived the daredevil taxi driving, and even managed to enjoy these sometimes wild rides through the city. On my first trip south of the Equator I'm happy to have had the chance to meet and work with people dedicated to improving the lives of Peruvians, including an incredible team from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Peru as well as their local partner Escuelab. The excitement from TechCamp Lima continues online as participants use social media to collaborate. I invite you visit our storify page to get a sense of how TechCamp Lima unfolded in real time via social media, and watch this short video which effectively summarizes the experience.

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