Posted by on August 01, 2014 in Blog

By Hanane Lahnaoui
Summer Intern, 2014

TechCamp is an initiative launched by the U.S. Department of State’s office of eDiplomacy. It is part of Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 Initiative, which she launched in 2009 as Secretary of State. The purpose of this initiative is to “help grassroots organizations around the world use digital technology to tell their stories, build their memberships and support bases, and connect to their community of peers around the world.” It also urges to strengthen the sense of entrepreneurship in communities and combine it with the use of technology.

In 2012, TechCamp launched two conferences in the cities of Ramallah and Tel Aviv under the same theme “Empowering Women and Girls in the Middle East” and it focused on how digital tools can advance the performance of NGOs in the region.

Eighty women-focused NGOs from Palestine were represented in the Ramallah conference. Those NGOs were from various cities from across the country such as Hebron, Nablus and Jerusalem in addition to Ramallah. This event brought together international and local technologists in addition to American and international trainers from companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Meetup to cover varied topics such as social media in relation to education, domestic violence in the region, hurdles facing women bloggers as well as funding and financing opportunities for their organizations.

This event was a great opportunity for its women participants to interact with experts from the fields of technology and entrepreneurship and was also an important platform to meet other women who share the same interests and who could become potential partners.

23% of internet entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa region are women. In the Gulf, this percentage is even higher at 35% whereas, only 10% of all internet entrepreneurs are women. A female Middle Eastern entrepreneur stated in an Economist article that explains the reasons behind the rise of women’s internet entrepreneurship in the Middle East,  that for women in the region “running an internet start-up from home is the perfect compromise”. It is even expected that women entrepreneurs will outnumber men in Gaza.

Techcamp themes vary depending on the needs of the region. The Arabic American Institute spoke to Pritam Kabe, a technology analyst within the Diplomatic Innovation Division, office of eDiplomacy at the U.S. Department of State who noted that “the topic/themes of a TechCamp are chosen based on the needs/issues in a region/country/community. Our local partners (the US Embassies/Consulates) recommend and assist in picking a topic that is in tune and aligned with US diplomatic missions and local efforts.”

The 2013 TechCamp Ramallah covered the topic of “Mobiles and Youth”. Similar to the previous one, this conference also lasted for two days. This conference included workshops on social media, crowd funding and micro finance and digital story telling among others.

The 2013 TechCamp Ramallah gave birth to many entrepreneurial projects such as startupramallah.org, a website that serves as a platform for entrepreneurs in Palestine and internationally. It provides advice on the latest news related to entrepreneurship. It also allows entrepreneurs to meet and discuss their ideas. The startups featured on this site range from ecommerce to social networks for food and from websites for kids to learn Arabic to projects on renewable energy solutions. The blogs on startupramallah.org are available in both Arabic and English and are also written by nationals and internationals who work in the field.

When asked about how Techcamps impacted Ramallah the most, Mr. Kabe noted that “technology helps break down barriers, and helps create ways to collaborate, learn and share knowledge. It was very powerful to see the TechCamp participants in Ramallah (including participants in both the 2012 event focused on women’s empowerment, and those who attended the 2013 event focused on youth and mobile technology) explore and expand their use of technology for collaboration, learning and information sharing.  Apart from empowering the participants in Ramallah by raising their digital literacy, TechCamps also fostered collaborations/connections between the tech-community and the civil society organizations, and provided avenues for groups and individuals who would likely never met to share ideas/knowledge with each other.”

TechCamp conferences are held in various cities around the world from Indonesia to Honduras. In addition to Ramallah and Tel Aviv, TechCamp also held another conference in the MENA region in Rabat, Morocco in 2012 under the theme of “Youth and Employment”.

eDiplomacy focuses on entrepreneurship because according to Mr. Kabe, “entrepreneurship is the key to empowering a community. It not only helps fosters creativity, innovation and prosperity, but it also serves as the engine for economic growth and stability in a community/region.”

Although TechCamp events last for one to two days they provide interactive sessions and hands-on experiences that allow attendees to seek solutions to their society’s problems. In addition, they are an important networking opportunity that enables participants to enlarge their circles of professional networks.

Furthermore, the knowledge that participants acquire during the TechCamp conferences is conveyed beyond the organizations these participants represent. It rather has an impact on the community as a whole seeing that women, the youth and civil societies benefit from the expertise presented.

TechCamps help transmit the United States’ role in promoting economic development and stability in the region. They emphasize on finding solutions from one’s society while providing the necessary tools and expertise that organizations need in order to prosper. The United States is moving beyond the traditional means of reaching out and helping other countries by focusing more on technology and entrepreneurship. More importantly the United States is emphasizing more on civil society and sees that the later is as powerful as governments if not more in achieving development and stability.

Mr. Kabe also spoke to the importance of technology in impacting the State Department’s outreach in places like Ramallah by stating that "the U.S. State Department has realized and embraced the rise of the new media (low-cost, easy-to-implement technologies) tools/concepts, and have been leaders amongst other government agencies in terms of actively using these technological tools/concepts. Apart from assisting in easily sharing and receiving information to/from citizens, technology and tech-based initiatives like TechCamps have helped the US State Department in following ways:

  • building relations/collaborations with various entities like civil society organizations, local governments and private sectors
  • connecting and building trust with the local communities
  • being better aware of local issues and initiatives, thus helping the State Department better assist in efforts to advance civil society in these locations
  • supporting overall US diplomatic efforts, including sharing the US values/goals, and helping support democratic values/principles.

This is true not only for places like Ramallah, but any place/region around the world.”

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