On the evening of February 19, more than 150 people gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Powai, Mumbai. This was no ordinary gathering: These people had come from all across South Asia, representing eight countries, and were the leaders in youth empowerment or technology in their respective countries. These were young achievers that work to transform the social landscape in their respective areas. They were NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, social enterprise leaders and corporate citizens. It was a special night, and it was the kick-off of TechCamp Mumbai, organized by the U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai in collaboration with Samhita Social Ventures and Global India Fund.
TechCamp Mumbai was the 21st in a series technology training camps being conducted by the U.S. Department of State across the world as part of the Department’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative. Past camps were held in Israel, Kazakhstan, Romania, and Guatemala. The effort aims to galvanize the technology community across the globe to assist NGOs by providing low or no cost technological capabilities, resources and assistance to build their digital capacity. From February 19 -21, 100 NGO representatives from India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka came together in Mumbai to be mentored and guided by 30 technology experts on low-cost technology solutions for the NGOs.
The inaugural ceremony on February 19th featured a keynote speech by Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Global Community Affairs at Microsoft Corporation, Ms.Rita Soni, the head of Nasscom Foundation, and U.S. Consul General Peter Haas. Mr. Badshah told the attendees “I’m a firm believer in the transformative power of technology and that through embracing tech you can bring change” and encouraged them to continue to change lives through the use of technology.
Over the next two days, the participants and trainers shuttled from one session to another, having intensive discussions focused on subjects relevant to their areas. Trainers included experts such as Samantha Barry (UK), a reporter with the BBC and an expert in multi-media and youth broadcasting; Hanny Kusumawati (Indonesia), the Head of Raconteur, Creative Director in Maverick Public Relations and Founder of Coin A Chance; Rikin Gandhi (New Delhi), Founder and CEO at Digital Green; Gautam John (Bangalore) of Pratham; Raheel Khursheed (New Delhi), the India Director of Communications at Change.org, the world’s largest online petition platform; Anshul Tewari (New Delhi), Founder and Editor-in-Chief of YouthKiAwaaz.com, an online platform for youth; and Arjun Venkatraman (Bhopal) of CG-NET SWARA who believes in designing for efficiency and economy.
The agenda was to define a set of common problems and challenges faced by the participants, to brainstorm in groups to find plausible technology solutions and finally, to present the findings and take-aways to the community at large. By the end of the third day, participants were not only inpsired and informed, but also excited about the networks they had created that would allow them to reach out to the trainers for long-term mentoring and support. To top it all, participants learned about the TechCamp Mumbai Grand Challenge sponsored by the U.S. Government and Microsoft Corporation and providing small grants to NGOs to assist in adopting technology to support their activities. NASSCOM Foundation also announced that they would provide tech mentors to participant NGOs.
TechCamp Mumbai was a resounding success. It was the first time that this many NGO leaders and experts converged on the same platform to address issues specific to the South Asian region. This was also one of those rare gatherings were solutions were discussed and tried instead in a hands-on environment rather than demonstrated from a podium. The participants, trainers and organizers left feeling educated, positive and optimistic about the road ahead. And they got to do the Harlem Shake as well!