State Department Convenes Tech Conference for NGOs in Latin America

Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative is bringing tech experts to Chile to help grassroots organizations learn how to use the Web, cell phones, and social media to promote democracy and create economic opportunity.

Venezuelan student protestsWith all the online tools available these days, and the ease with which developers can create new apps and mashups, grassroots organizations trying to solve social and economic problems around the world can do a lot with a little. But what they often lack is knowledge and expertise. The State Department thinks it can help. As part of an ongoing effort to pair up technologists with civil society groups around the world, the State Department is hosting a "TechCamp" in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday.

The TechCamp, which is being produced for the State Department by the New York-based Personal Democracy Forum, will show representatives of non-governmental organizations from around Latin America how new tools are helping promote democracy, promote economic opportunity, protect the environment, and help with disaster response. Twitter, Blogger, and Ushahidi are all sending representatives to the day-long workshop, as are Open Street Map, Frontline SMS, Grassroots Mapping, and Baytext.

The program is part of State’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative, a joint effort of the Office of Innovation, led by Alec Ross, and the Office of eDiplomacy, led by Richard Boly. Although some have warned of the perils of digital diplomacy, TechCamp is more about tools than tweeting. The hope for the workshop is that it won't end with the experts passing on their knowledge, but that it will also spark some actual collaborations, either between the technologists and the NGOs, or among the NGOs themselves, that will lead to real-world projects.

"The purpose of Hillary Clinton's Civil Society 2.0 initiative is to digitally empower grassroots organizations so that they can compete and succeed in the 21st century," Ross tells Fast Company via email. "By leveraging tech and innovation to help strengthen civil society the world-around, we are advancing America's foreign policy goals."

[Image: Flickr user a-Andres]

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