US Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske opened the TechCamp with a welcoming speech that voiced strong support for the use of new technology and social media in civil society to tackle issues of corruption and violence. Her enthusiasm helped set the tone for the event, which attracted more than one hundred participants and technology trainers for the next two days, as well as a substantial contingent of local press.
Day 1 was run by the technology trainers, who ran rapid-fire “speed-geeking” sessions, where small groups of TechCamp participants gained exposure to the different products and practices available at the event. A variety of cutting edge technologies were on display, including crowd mapping programs, digital radio and video production techniques, the latest in early warning SMS technology, platforms for digitizing data in practical applications, as well as internet and smart phone security practices. These quick presentations lay the foundation for more detailed training sessions that followed, with some trainers attracting more than 20 participants.
The “breakout sessions” that continued into the second day of the program were directed by local civil society representatives and focused on the most pressing problems they identified in the area of citizen security. A well-known blogger from Ciudad Juarez Mexico reviewed possible ideas for blogs that could help to document accounts of everyday violence. Another tech trainer, with extensive experience working in Syria and other conflict environments, explained how open source programs could help provide online security to counteract retaliation by organized crime or corrupt officials.
Collaboration between civil society representatives and technologists offered a window into the collective frustration with the Honduran government’s inability to address urgent concerns about local safety and security, as well as with corruption among the political elite. However, what began as frustration quickly turned to excitement as the participants began to incorporate software and mobile technology into practical, low-cost solutions to their problems. One group suggested creating a blog as an anonymous anti-corruption tip line. Another popular session helped activists learn better narrative techniques to develop video content for YouTube that could enable anyone with a cell phone or camera to document and publicize their grievances for external audiences.
In Honduras, CSO funded the TechCamp as part of its in-country engagement on citizen security, working closely with the Embassy and a local NGO to organize it. The local IBM subsidiary and Cerveceria Hondureña also supported the event. CSO and eDiplomacy also worked with local World Bank representatives on a regional “hackathon” the weekend after TechCamp that enlisted technologists to write the actual computer code that could turn conceptual solutions into fully functioning platforms in the area of domestic violence.
TechCamps facilitate an organic process that has to be directed by civil society representatives themselves —identifying a serious problem, brainstorming practical solutions to address that problem with readily available technology, and eventually, implementing that solution in the community. In Honduras, the people that are affected most directly by a pervasive culture of fear and violence are the owners of these solutions, and now, they are equipped with both a means of fighting back, as well as a new network of fellow citizens, activists and organizations to lean on for support.
As part of Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative, the Offices of eDiplomacy and the Senior Advisor on Information Technology (SAIT) have successfully organized TechCamps in more than twenty countries around the world. Additional information on the project and other TechCamps around the world is available athttp://techcampglobal.org/.
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