I think in this day and age, when a lot of people are cynical about government, when they’re cynical about technology, it is incredibly valuable for us to combine the two. People like us, young people from the U.S. and from the MENA region, are able to affect the change that they want to see in their government and in their politics. Civic tech is using technology in a way that solves problems in society at a civic level.
Meaning things that make the lives of your neighbors measurably better. Civic tech is all about empowerment. Empowering citizens, ordinary citizens, to translate their desire to change into an actionable plan. NDI’s mission is to strengthen democracy so we are very interested in tapping into the creativity of young people. We designed the Civic Tech Leadership Program to bring together young civic innovators from the Middle East and North Africa and the United States. It started with an online course called the Tech for Accountability Lab in collaboration with Stanford Online, then we launched a virtual exchange where cross-cultural teams can work together and collaborate on civic tech pitches.
Top pitches were selected and teams responsible for those pitches were invited to Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley. The Stevens initiative is a public-private partnership that focuses on building the field of virtual exchange and ultimately connecting young people in the United States with young people in the Middle East and North Africa region. After his tragic passing, there was a desire to honor Ambassador Stevens in a lasting way and what better way to honor him than through a people-to-people exchange program. Technology makes all of this possible in a way that was not possible before and so having you all be part of this initiative, I think is very important and especially as kind of the first group of people in a program, that I think is going to have some very important and serious duration.
The whole trip, since the beginning ‘till now, has been very very rewarding in terms of personal development for myself. Meeting a lot of people, technologists, people in power, people from Congress that that’s a very important intake to to have from this program and it has definitely helped us to develop our project in a massive way on such a short span of time. We’ve met a lot of people who gave us a lot of advices on how to pilot it, how to conduct user research and how to design our user journey. I think it’s interesting to speak to the different stakeholders and to see where they agree and where they disagree and what are the gaps between policymakers and sort of the industry. I think we have the technological solutions for a lot of problems but the issue is not the technology, ‘cause it’s usually there it’s always there but it’s the civic part where we can take their concerns their issues and transfer it into a technological format that can be used to benefit them. We’re going to start a movement, a civic tech movement, in our region.
It’s going to be hard but interesting. If you’re trying to do something, you hit a block, you give up but if you’re doing something it doesn’t matter that you hit a block. You, you work a way around it and that gives you this creative, bigger opportunity. I always felt that Silicon Valley was something that wasn’t for me or for people who look like me and I think through this program, the amazing thing is, I’ve come to realize that I can make a difference and I can affect the change that I want to see through technology. .