Captricity at TechCamp in Honduras

February 06, 2013 by Brian Busch


You've probably seen headlines about violence and corruption in Central America, mostly due to the drug trade. But did you know that Honduras has become by far the most dangerous country in the entire world? Its murder rate of 91.6 (per 100K) is almost 50% higher than that of the second-most-violent country in the world (El Salvador), three times higher than in South Africa,  and more than four times higher than in Mexico.  Between the day-to-day violence, crushing poverty and political instability, it's hard to see how the average Honduran maintains hope.

Yet amazingly they do.  And not only do they hold on to this hope, but average citizens are teaming up with NGOs to affect real change.  Just two weeks ago, many of those groups came together for the first time at the US State Department's TechCamp.  By bringing together local NGO leaders and technologists, the Camp aimed to help the NGOs find no/low cost technology tools to help them exponentially increase their impact. Captricity was honored to be invited to participate.

One of the first things that struck me at the TechCamp was the amount of paperwork these already under-staffed and under-resourced NGOs are dealing with. If you're dismayed at the amount of paper forms you still have to fill out at the DMV, imagine day-to-day life in Honduras.  Nearly all the NGOs have handwritten paper forms of one type or another, from medical records at a hospital they're working with to attendance records tracking teacher absenteeism. Organizations repeatedly voiced their frustration: at the limits to adopting technology tools, the time and cost to access that information, and at the hassle of getting the information they need.

Luckily, the TechCamp series (global) was created to solve these problems. Teams excitedly pieced together various technology tools to develop end-to-end solutions for these NGOs. We were happy to see Captricity fill an important need.  Here's an example of a solution one team crafted for an NGO working to provide better health information resources to teenagers.  First, the NGO could mount a Facebook campaign to let teens know about your service. To aggregate information about at-risk youth, they could send out a team of "scouts" to collect data and use Captricity to aggregate information.  Then, they could establish a virtual "call center" with trained professionals, perhaps combining a custom platform with Frontline SMS to manage text message and phone communications.  The team, composed of experienced technologists and NGOs, was able to develop this solution and clear steps to implement it in just a few hours, solving challenges that had proved too daunting for the NGO to solve previously. Certainly the next weeks and months will continue to bring new challenges and struggles, but the important thing is seeing the NGO set off on the right path with clear and ongoing guidance. That is the magic of TechCamp.

I wanted to end by describing one of my favorite NGOs: Jovenes Contra la Violencia (Youth Against Violence).  They shared their work at TechCamp as a model of how technology can empower positive change. The problem of violence is particularly severe for young men. In just three months last year, almost 1,000 youth were killed. Ths national chapter of an international program works to combat that, targeting positive messages to teens at critical moments (for example staying in school during the years when gangs begin recruiting).  With government funding they have a one-hour TV spot as well as a few live events.  But they needed to find ways to more effectively engage teens.  What better way than with smart social media campaigns? They're on track to set up a facebook page, Twitter handle, and YouTube channel and implement a system of badges and other status indicators for participation and increasing engagement. This will open up a two-way conversation to help the weekly TV spot, produced by youth volunteers, keep a finger on the pulse of the community.  They know there is still lots of work to do, but the energy and enthusiasm they showed was encouraging and made the couple of days in Honduras lots of fun.

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