By Michael Suantak
Just after the voice of the people was truly heard in the November Elections and the newly elected democratic government was installed, a major event for civil society leaders took place in Yangon last month from 8-9 March. The event, TechCamp Myanmar, focused on developing strategies to use technology to strengthen transparency and citizen engagement.
TechCamp Myanmar was a two-day intensive workshop to help participants and technologists develop strategies to address citizen participation and governance challenges using low-cost, easy-to-implement tools. Phandeeyar, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy are the organizers of the event.
The TechCamp Myanmar was organized to provide civil society organizations interested in technology to explore how they can use the internet and digital tools to strengthen and deepen broader citizen engagement on critical issues to be considered by the new government was organized with the total participant 77 of 56 leaders from 30 organizations from 9 states & regions of Myanmar, 28 were women. The main tracks covered were Data, Communication and Security. There were 20 trainers pair international with local trainers.
The recent and rapid expansion of mobile connectivity the last few months makes this national event possible. By the end of March, the country’s three mobile operators predict their networks will cover 60-90% of the country’s population.
A participant as well as a well-known cartoonist, Salai Thawng Lai Lung from Chin State said, “The use of internet and mobile phones will be more advanced in the future. I think it is the right time to utilize the technology in terms of communication and also to express our voices on the current situation… The previous election is a good example of utilizing the technology and we can hear the real voices of people from it.”
The participants were interested in incorporating low-cost technologies such as smartphone data collection, digital data mapping, and community radio into their work. The diversity of issues covered were very impressive, from land rights and gender issues to digital rights and civic education. Leading regional and international experts including technologists from BBC, Change.org, the Centre for Internet and Society (India) and VOA News were also participated in the event.
Building on the momentum generated by the November 8 general elections, improved communication between the government, civil society, and the general public is essential to continuing the long process of democratization.
US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Kristin Bauer said in her TechCamp opening remarks “the voice of the people was truly heard in the November elections, however, that does not mean you should stop speaking out and being heard. Using technology and digital tools during Myanmar’s digital revolution to empower your fellow countrymen and women will go a long way to sustaining the momentum of this democratic transition.”
The TechCamp Myanmar event is followed by some small grant that to allow implementing the outcome concepts.
TechCamp is a Public Diplomacy initiative, hosted in the bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. State Department. More: www.techcampglobal.org