TechCamp Empowers Civil Society Leaders in Central America

Posted by Katie Dowd
July 31, 2012
Women Participate in TechCamp Guatemala

Last week, Guatemala City, Guatemala, played host to the first "Do It Yourself" (DIY) TechCamp. TechCamps are a signature program under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Civil Society 2.0 initiative; they aim to build the digital literacy of civil society through two-day, interactive training events. To date, the State Department has coordinated 11 TechCamps around the world, convening more than 1,000 participants. So, how did Tech Camp Guatemala differ from past ones?

Civil society leaders and technologists in Guatemala used "TechCamp in a Box" to organize the event themselves. In the spirit of encouraging innovation and empowering civil society organizations to create change in their own community, we have made all of the planning materials for our TechCamp model available online.

Hosted at the Intecap Training Center,TechCamp Guatemala (GT) (techcampgt.com) brought together 23 Guatemalan technologists with 84 education-focused civil society leaders from both Guatemala and El Salvador. The technologies taught the civil society leaders how to use a variety of low-cost, easy to implement technologies to help advance their organizations' work. Trainers focused on a several different tools including mapping, SMS, crowdsourcing, social media, free and open source software options, and website construction with Joomla, a popular website management system.

As an observer, rather than organizer of TechCamp Guatemala, our team participated to learn how our TechCamp model would be implemented by an outside party. It was exciting to see many local solutions applied to local challenges. For example, a project titled "Communities Against Violence" identified the problem of violence against women and children in urban and rural communities. Technologists worked with civil society leaders to brainstorm on solutions that would leverage technology tools not only to increase awareness about this problem but also to better collect, aggregate, and distribute data which would help lead to a better advocacy campaign through story sharing. The hope is to empower more people to speak truth to these crimes to the government and international organizations. Several other interesting projects were created at TechCamp, including ideas on how to mobilize volunteers and youth for social good campaigns, how to develop community centers for learning information and culture, and how to use free and open source software for educational purposes.

Many participants commented that this was the first time that technologists and civil society were convened together at an event to address challenges their societies face. A key priority for Secretary Clinton and the State Department is to continue to build the capacity of civil society and harness digital tools for good. Over the past year, TechCamps have educated civil society organizations on the transformative impact of putting new technologies in the hands of people seeking change. TechCamp Guatemala shows that this model can be broadened to empower local communities and organizers to bring their own change to their own community. You can learn more about TechCamps, both DIY and State Department organized, by visiting techcampglobal.org.

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