TechCamp Bucharest (see Agenda here), started today at the Central University Library of Bucharest, focusing on connecting technologies with the Roma and other socio-economically disadvantaged communities across Romania to address social inclusion and civic engagement issues. The two-day event was initiated by the US State Department and the Romanian Embassy in Washington, DC, and gathered more than 100 participants from civil society groups to interact with local and international technology specialists, librarians, tech trainers working in the Biblionet program, American Corners staff, and a number of private sector and foundation representatives within Romania. Participants will receive hands-on training in a variety of areas ranging from online organizing, mapping, and social media use to effective use of mobile applications. As a result of TechCamp Bucharest, these civil society groups will be poised to use connective technologies to grow their networks, communicate more efficiently and be able to keep pace with the changing world.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconschi recognized the importance of social networks that, throughout the past couple of years, were used to organize protests and helped marginalized groups express their views. “Two billion people have Internet access,” Mr. Baconschi emphasized, “but this is still too little for the 7 billion people living on earth. The digital divide creates a duty for the more developed countries to help the less favored. This is why the European Union has a digital agenda.” The minister saluted the idea of organizing a Tech Camp for marginalized groups, and added that some Roma communities in Romania are closed and isolated, with the digital divide adding to their separation and experiences with discrimination.
US Ambassador Mark Gitenstein mentioned the projects supported by the embassy, especially Restart Romania, which was financed by TechSoup. “You have the talent,” the ambassador encouraged participants, “you have the demographics and problems to be solved. You have computers in libraries, so the Roma community will have access to information and a space to meet. And do work together offline as well as online.”
“My personal challenge is to have only one Romania, a digital Romania,” Minister of Communications Valerian Vreme told the audience, explaining that there are communities where access is poor, although Romania ranks among the first in the world in terms of Internet speed. “But we are on the way to covering the last ‘blank spots’ on the internet map. The ministry has an e-learning program, for the least technologically trained, to help e-inclusion and we allocated 55% more funds for research and development next year.”
The day continued with participants working in small groups with tech trainers, discussing the use of social networks, library resources and various applications to help build communities. We will be back tomorrow with solutions to some of the issues identified today and follow-up activities. Apart from providing trainers and inviting librarians to talk about their experience in working with Roma communities, IREX is organizing a competition for three grants of up to $2,000 to be given to partnerships between libraries and NGOs working to develop communities.