The FINANCIAL — Increasing penetration of the internet is becoming a major tool for social media to push for social change in Georgia. Recent developments such as the first social innovation camp in the Caucasus is proof of what can be done by brainstorming ideas and then turning them into real web-based projects that will bring about needed change for the whole society.
Around this idea were united various non-governmental organizations, social activists, bloggers, and namely the experts of social media to showcase the untapped potential of social media in this region. Primarily to let this event be an eye-opener for those who have a problem accessing the right information at the right time.
Organisers of this event claim a camp of this kind is the first in Georgia that will increase media outreach all across the country and become fully integrated in society.
Hatia Jinjikhadze, Media Support Programme Manager of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, organizer of the social camp, has been surprised by the smart minded people of this spectacular event who worked for just 48 hours to create projects based on the web that could push social media one step forward in this region and the outcomes are apparently clear, two projects winning from which one was Georgian GiveMeInfo and the other SaveTheTree from Armenia.
To better find the roots of the social innovation camp we tried to investigate how the idea was being thought of first.
Q. Ms. Jinjikhadze how long in advance was this event planned and where did the idea to organize a social innovation camp come from?
A. Actually we wanted to do it last autumn but to be honest we didn’t have enough time to organise the event. So what we did instead was a new media forum which was thought to be the first stage for those interested in new media and social media as they call it today. The purpose was to orientate traditional media, students, NGOs and other individuals to tell them what social media is about. We had foreign as well as Georgian speakers in Mtatsminda Park October last year and people liked it a lot. There were around 200 participants.
Then it was the summer of last year when I attended a workshop run by Transitions Online which is a very famous NGO based in Prague, the Czech Republic. They organised this workshop for the Media and NGOs here in Georgia which was where I first listened to Dan McQuillan, one of the authors of the Social Innovation Camp, who presented the impact social media can have on the public.
This is when I started thinking about bringing something similar to Georgia, that’s why I attended a social innovation camp in Bratislava with my colleague. There I saw how it all worked in action, which was quite fascinating. In Bratislava the same format was used as in the Georgian camp, they had a civil society forum running at the same time and they had participants from all central European countries. The number of projects were approximately the same there as in Georgia. There were two winners, one chosen by the jury and one by the audience. And when I saw how the audience responded to those presentations I was very excited and this was the most appealing part of the whole civil society forum.
Q. What was the outcome of the abovementioned event that made you think of its further development in Georgia?
A. I saw that it worked there and the outcomes were pretty meaningful. That’s why I started thinking that it was the right time to do it in Georgia, though I can tell you that many people were sceptical about it, as they thought it would be too early for Georgia to host this kind of event and we aren’t ready for such a challenge. But anyway, Open Society Georgia Foundation took the plunge and did it.
There was also a lucky coincidence, because at the same time that social media for social change was running, a representative from PH international, which was one of the organizers of the event, Berdia Natvslishvili addressed us, asking whether the Open Society Georgia Foundation would be interested in co-funding it. We agreed to stand by it instantly and also to be the organisers of the parallel event.
Q. What did the total funding amount to?
A. The total funding amounted to 30,000 USD which included hiring the venue of the conference, banners, posters, coffee breaks, and prizes for the winners (3,000 USD each). Apart from our funding, the projects that won were so impressive that I think they should be able to self-sustain themselves simply by donations or by other means of finance they’ll obtain.
Q. Do you consider providing funding for projects like this in the near future that can bolster the motivation of other smart minded people, like those present at the event, to start their own projects?
A. With great pleasure. Projects like this will also push cooperation among the countries from the Caucasus to run more and more conferences and we’ll be ready to finance them. As we are already funding a project which is done by the company Singular Group, they are arranging in Tbilisi the first ever internet television conference www.itvc.ge . The first session was held on April 16 in the Old Tbilisi Hotel, Avlabari. The conference was technologically advanced with live-streams. At the first day of the conference Social Media experts from Singapore and Georgia discussed effects of the internet television, clarified the concept of blogging and video blogging, introduced standards and guidelines for online broadcasting. This event will also be followed up on 29 April with another group of experts arriving.
Q. What were the Jury’s criteria for choosing projects?
A. They were mainly four: at first they had to know about the problem they were going to solve, then the technology they were going to use to do it, how they would sustain their idea, and lastly how they would get people to use their idea. Based upon the criteria the two most distinguished projects were chosen by the outstanding jury.
Q. Out of the winning projects there was one GiveMeInfo which was quite well performed in front of the Jury. Could this project really be used to put pressure on governmental agencies from whom getting information has become difficult?
A. If this project is well implemented it could be a really useful tool. It also depends on the author of the idea, supported by team-members who were not only from Georgia. And this will be not only to put pressure on the Government but also to show the public the statistics of how different agencies respond, and this web tool could be used by journalists for research, because they are going to have ratings by the weekend from which relevant measures will be taken against all “wrong-doers”. In addition there will be given a chart of who didn’t respond, gave information partially, denied access or gave it late. It could also be published in different newspapers in order to show the public what’s being done, but the latter step is of course up to the newspapers, whether they want to publish it or not.
Q. How do you see the role of traditional media in this initiative and what can be done in places where internet access is limited?
A. As you know growth of internet access is associated with the growth of spread of information but there are also other means like traditional media that we can’t ignore so this format can also be appropriate for them in case they have any problem while getting information or report any problem regarding different public and governmental agencies’ activities in order to bring it to the public attention and then react to it accordingly.
Q. Project participants were mainly from three countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. Does it mean that these two winning projects will be carried out all-together in the three countries?
A. As you know from the two winning projects, one was from Georgia, and the other from Armenia, unfortunately Azerbaijan didn’t win. So to clarify, GiveMeInfo will be implemented in Georgia, in the Georgian language, and SaveTheTrees will be done in Armenia.
Q. How do you think this kind of project could be directed to added transparency of elections, or would this kind of project be likely to ensure the relevant conduct of elections?
A. Well, that’s a very good question because there are lots of methods for monitoring elections but most of them are very costly. In turn, nowadays, by the development of web-technologies it has become far easier to do hard work with easy tools and have the same effect as for example those two projects.
Q. What about the Jury, what was their first impression about the projects and in general of the Georgian media advancing to such a level?
A. I have to mention that the Jury was surprised by the attention they got from the media because they remarked that they got more attention from the media from this camp than any other camp ever. They enjoyed and liked it very much. In the end Dan McQuillan said that this was the best camp he had ever participated in.
Q. Could these kinds of steps lead to positioning our country as successful when fighting for the freedom of media and more transparency?
A. That is a very ambitious goal to achieve, but if it develops further then we can see the impact. I’d add that social media is something that can’t be controlled and is not controlled in Georgia, despite the fact that there are countries that have censorship in the internet.
Finally I have to allege that all the projects presented were very close to challenges that social media and the public faces nowadays which is why I want to name my favourite projects besides the winner ones. There were two which I thought were equally good, these were about schools which could be really implemented successfully by all three countries and could really help the public to better access needed information about schools, and the other was about reproductive health which is also important for society as a whole.