At the ICT Mekong Camp 2017 where more than 120 participants from the Mekong countries convened, five key issues continuously cropped up in conversations and break out sessions: hate speech, fake news, digital security, information privacy, and tech knowledge and support.
Although the five Mekong countries are in very different stages of economic development, with Thailand leading the GDP at USD3,841, and the other four countries just under the USD1,000 mark, these key issues underline a common denominator: the emergence of technology is rapidly changing the role of civil society.
In view of the evolving needs and roles of civil society, and the challenges affecting the sector, TechSoup Asia-Pacific was invited to conduct a break-out session “Understanding NGO Needs” to help participants identify their capacity-related needs. With economic and political restrictions, many of these nonprofits are only just slowly becoming accustomed to externalizing their challenges in a group, learning how to develop collaborative solutions.
Topping the list of challenges in the breakout session was a lack of funding, and the ambiguity of nonprofit legal frameworks. The participants, representing various nonprofit sectors, felt that given a choice on how to access consistent funding information, they would like to see a platform that matches grants and projects. Ideally, a platform like that would be able to screen the opportunities available, alert the interested organizations, and also highlight projects that require funding.
Across the region, the uncertainty and absence of legal frameworks for the nonprofit sector poses the biggest challenge. Not being recognized as a legal entity, not being allowed to register in the nonprofit sector, not being supported or allowed to carry out any kind of advocacy work – these factors reflect closing spaces in civil society.
In seeking TechSoup’s help, the sector understood that TechSoup represents more than just technology donations. Collectively, the group shared their hopes of seeing TechSoup continue expanding its role in empowering civil society organizations in the Mekong region, focusing on four key areas:
i) Address shrinking spaces in civil society : Globally, TechSoup has experience in increasing awareness of transparency and good governance, creating citizen participation channels such as forums and websites, and advocating for regulations that support the nonprofit sector.
ii) Training : Among the biggest challenges was their lack of access to training. Viewing TechSoup as their main tech marketplace, and the ‘go-to’ for all tech-related needs especially training for nonprofits, the sector collectively asked for more face-to-face training, online content and resources, discounted consultancy not just on ICT tools and adaptation, but other areas which could improve their organizational development, efficiency and productivity.
iii) Networking : As the TechSoup partner network organizes various events, and smaller convenings, the participants expressed their interest in being part of these events. Their networking goals are to establish potential collaborative partners, regionally and internationally, learn about new resources and available tools, as well as adopt best practices in their respective sectors.
iv) Developing thinking processes: For many of these entities, the first step to better organizational development is to frame their thoughts and ideas in a logical manner. One such example was a challenge a group had to address : given an end goal, the group had to explain in a 60 second pitch, how they planned to train 20 people in communities around Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia about digital security so that these small pockets of communities, could in turn train more people to explain the importance of Internet privacy and security. Although the group had a defined mission and an end goal, they were unclear how to formulate an action plan.
This break out session in the ICT Mekong Camp certainly brought light to the issues that new democracies and globalized communities are facing. Tackling these regional issues certainly requires more on-ground research and more face-to-face sessions with the sector.
TechSoup Asia-Pacific hopes that given time, the right resources and adequate support, it can continue to develop impactful projects and strengthen civil society in the Mekong region.