Switch: How tech can solve social issues

How would Switch, a call to the region for tech based solutions to social issues in Eastern Europe and Central Asia go?

Switch is designed for anybody with an idea that uses technology to transform their society, spread their message, push for change or improve their community. Switch looks to kick-start new ideas, turn prototypes into projects, and help civic tech initiatives scale-up.

When we launched Switch, an open invitation for civil society in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to pitch us their tech-based solutions for social problems, we didn’t know what to expect.

It was a leap into the dark; would we get any applications? Would they be any good?

Over 200 applications later, it was clear we had nothing to worry about. The creativity, diversity and ingenuity of the proposals demonstrated the extent technology is being embraced by civil society across the region.

Shortlisted ideas ranged from apps that provide legal aid for IDPs in Ukraine and promote blood donation in Moldova to chat bots for NGOs and games to tackle disinformation in Georgia. Other projects included bots to search open data in Kyrgyzstan and virtual reality headsets to combat prejudice towards people with Down syndrome.

In total 21 projects were invited to Prague to pitch in front of our expert jury. The participants came from all over the region including Moldova, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Before presenting their ideas, participants had one day to polish their pitches and receive guidance from the Prague Civil Society Centre’s expert mentors.

PCSC Switch 2018 from Prague Civil Society Centre on Vimeo.

The five-person jury was a tough group to impress. Technologist and software developer Douglas Arellanes was joined by Veronika Divisova from Sourcefabric, a Czech NGO that creates open source software for media organisations and Dr Gregory Asmolov who is researching the role of digital platforms in crisis situations at Kings College London. Filip Noubel, the Prague Civil Society Centre’s Innovation Adviser and Gabriela Svárovská, Deputy Director and head of the Centre’s grant’s programme                                                                      made up the final two members.

Although tough nuts to crack, the quality of the pitches and variety of ideas managed to impress even the most sceptical judge. Jury member Gabriela noted how the participants represented a “diverse picture of civic activism” and that their projects were “fresh, clear and sophisticated.” Fellow member Veronika was particularly impressed by the amount of projects led by women and the personal stories behind many of the ideas.

Pitching gets underway

Veronika also spoke about the importance of finding a good balance between activists and technologists when integrating technology and activism. She said the strongest projects were those where the technology and activism complimented each other. This is an important point, as it is crucial that the social issue is not lost in the tech yet there remains sufficient vision and innovation in the team to develop a genuinely new approach to tackling the problem.

In total 15 projects won the support from the Prague Civil Society Centre and we are excited to work with the winners as they take the next steps to realise their ideas.