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Finding technological solutions to society’s toughest challenges

Luke Deese, group leader, goes over the challenge issue with members Anna Spelman, Bopharan Chum, Harriet Dwyer and Sokharun Sam, as Jesse Orndorff (tech trainer) observes. Photograph: Soma Norodom/Phnom Penh Post

EARLIER this month, March 13-14, I had the pleasure of hosting the first TechCamp Phnom Penh, a program under former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative – an effort to use the technology community to assist NGOs. Thanks to the official partners of the US Embassy and Open Institute, and sponsors EZECOM and Norton University, the workshop brought NGOs, civil society groups and technology professionals together, creating an educational forum for discussion and advancement.

US Ambassador William E Todd opened up TechCamp and reminisced about when he received his first technology gadget; a Texas Instruments calculator in 1975.

Technology has made incredible strides since and has become a vital part of our lives. So he time was right to hold TechCamp.

The two-day technology conference addressed issues such as education, fundraising, women’s empowerment, advocacy and accountability, youth, entrepreneurship and online communities.

 “We were able to gather over 100 NGOs from around Cambodia doing a variety of work”, said Tony Lim, organiser and IT manager for the US Embassy. “At the end of day one, the participants came up with 13 important social challenges in Cambodia. The groups were mentored by our core group of technology experts who provided them with ideas on using the latest technology to solve those challenges,” said Lim.

 “On day two,” Lim said, “the groups came up with innovative and creative solutions to meet those pressing issues. The Grand Challenge Award winner went to Group 6.”

Group 6 focused on women’s empowerment, and took up the challenge to find a solution to the question: How do we encourage, educate and inform women to become effective leaders in Cambodian society?

 “The solution to our challenge is to implement a national kiosk network for distributing information to rural communities and getting information from those communities”, said Luke Deese, Group 6 leader.

 The kiosks, equipped with an iPad or android tablet, would have voice commands for members who are illiterate and would be set up in health centres. The basic setup requires a protected tablet and 3G coverage, allowing for information to be sent and received by women living in isolated communities.

Anna Spelman, communications consultant and photographer for Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA), found the workshop invaluable.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to meet a diverse group of people from many different NGOs and groups around Phnom Penh,” Spelman said.

Other members of Group 6 also praised the workshop.

“I attended TechCamp because I am a student and wanted to meet the trainers that have experiences with new technology [social media] and learn about youth empowerment and capacity building,” said Bopharan Chhum. “TechCamp was worth attending and I hope this event will happen again.”

“TechCamp was a great opportunity to network, learn and collaborate about what role technology can play in development in Cambodia. It demonstrates that technology can be used to enhance development programs and empower people through increasing access to information around the world,” said Harriet Dwyer, communication support officer for Marie Stopes International. “Many thanks to the TechCamp team for running an informative, collaborative and innovative couple of days.”

“I really liked TechCamp, especially the breakout sessions with the experts from the IT fields. I think for the next TechCamp there should be more breakout sessions,”said Sokharun Sam, communications technical officer with RACHA. “I thought the other group presentations were awesome and creative.”

Congratulations to the TechCamp Phnom Penh team for organising an educational and successful event. It was an honour to host the first TechCamp, and to finally meet Ambassador Todd.

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