In December 2008, the Arab Techies collective convened for the first time in Cairo around the objective of promoting techies’ support and engagement with community-based projects and initiatives. The underlying belief is that communications and information technology play an instrumental role in grass-root social and political development and hence a strong connection needs to be bridged between techies all over the Arab world, to share experiences and knowledge, learn from each other and collaborate on solving common problems.
As the first meeting in December wrapped up, a thorough evaluation was conducted. The participating members were happy to be brought together to form the seeds of the Arab Techies collective with a cohort of techies engaged with digital activism and citizen media initiatives, media aggregators and social web portals managers, techies providing training for activists, artists and social entrepreneurs, software developers involved in innovative startups, graphic designers and more. Debated issues include Arabic content on the web, citizen media, open source software, digital activism, mobile telephony, aggregators and social networks.
While many commented on the uniqueness of the event, being the first Arabic event of its kind; which doesn't just translate to using a common language but also meant common concerns and similar struggles, there was criticism to the lack of gender balance in the gathering. The same criticism sprang out at the end of the following Arab Techies event, which was a more specific programmers’ workshop, whereby techies worked on Arabic language support issues and natural language processing problems, producing applications and libraries to improve issues such as search normalization and text indexing. Out of 16 software developers, there were only two female participants.
With this recurrent issue in mind and on-going concern about extending the Arab Techies objectives to female techies in the Arab world, a meeting was held to discuss the issue. In that meeting it was acknowledged that this was a global problem; the ratio of women's participation in technical communities has been far less than their representation in the information and communication technology industry. But although data reveals that in Egypt for example, the corporate technology market includes a high percentage of women, who show more stability and less turn over rate compared to their male counterparts, their participation and contribution in any technical community is even less than the global figure.
From there, the idea of organizing a women only Arab Techies gathering came. As part of the Arab Techies initiative, the Arab Techies women gathering’s crux is to promote the contribution of female techies to communities concerned with social change and who are in dire need for technical support. This contribution is believed to be significant in strengthening the role of ICT in social and political change and cannot be sidelined for trivial reasons such as the lack of assertiveness amongst female techies in male-dominated communities.
- Create a friendly environment for technical women to meet and transfer their skills
- Discuss challenges to women's participation in technical communities
- Promote technical women's support to community initiatives concerned with social change
- Integrate a growing network of socially-concerned technical women with the established Arab Techies initiative
- Venture into actual projects in need for technical support such as initiatives working in human rights, arts, social development and media
A four-day workshop will host 30 female participants from all over the Arab World. The workshop will be a space where the participants feel comfortable to show off their technical skills through skill sharing sessions, where each participant can offer to teach others about a specific tool or approach in applying technology.
Our observation is that women shy away from becoming active members in technical communities even when they have the skills. There are a lot of female bloggers or active women on social networks, but most are just users, very few of them are innovators or community leaders. This event will try to counter this phenomena and improve the balance of women lead initiatives that utilize technology for development and social change.
Thus the common denominator amongst participants is interest in technology and in community engagement. Participants will be selected through research in countries’ networks and recommendations by the Arab Techies and Social Media Exchange networks.
The selection process that we used before and proved to be very effective in finding new people out of the circle of people already known to Arab Techies, is done through finding potential participants through our networks, then going through their own networks and so on.
We start by asking in our network for recommendations and we send invitations to the recommended list, whoever replies from that recommended list is then asked to send us her recommendations and so on until we get the required number of participants.
The recommendations will be balanced to span as many countries and as many skills and areas of expertise as possible.
While there are some discussions for which slots will be reserved during the event, such as challenges to women’s community participation in different contexts, and a session on the last day to brainstorm ideas for future collaborations and see what activities and events the participants want to start or participate in, the forum’s undertakings will be formed through an open-agenda one month prior to the event, where invited participants will pitch their ideas for discussions as well as initiatives they work on.
Participants will then vote on all suggested topics, suggestions from Arab Techies will include Free Open Source Software, Digital activism, Arabic content on the web, Arabic wikipedia, and training and equipping NGOs on using ICTs. Moreover, women already working in the field of technology support to social initiatives will be invited to share their experiences and present their projects.The programme will consist of 3 types of sessions:
- Topic discussions:
- Topics will be selected from the suggestions of the participants with the highest votes.
- Session format: one or more speakers then a group discussion including all participants.
- Project presentations:
- Participants will pitch to present a project or initiative they work on.
- Session format: short presentation (10 mins) then questions from the rest of the participants.
- Mini workshops:
- Participants will offer to teach others a specific skill, or facilitate a discussion on a specific topic.
- Participants will be asked to write on a chart/post-it note skills they wish to learn during the gathering and also technical skills they have and are willing to share or hold a workshop on.
- Session format: 3 to 5 workshops can take place at the same time, participants will choose which workshop they want to attend.
- Participants of the Arab Techies women gathering will become active members in the Arab Techies community.
- Participants of the Arab Techies women gathering will be subscribed to the the Arab Techies general mailing list and to the website, where they will share news, announcements, opportunities and resources, ask for and offer help or support to other techies, learn and get involved about new projects.
- Participants of the Arab Techies women gathering will collaborate with other Arab Techies members on new projects within Arab Techies or outside it.
- Forming a big pool of female speakers, lecturers and trainers in the field of using information and communication technologies for development and social change.
- Increasing the number of women led projects and initiatives within Arab Techies and outside it.
- Participants of the Arab Techies women gathering will give technical support and training to exiting initiatives and organizations working in human rights, arts, and social development.
Arab Techies (www.arabtechies.net):
Arab Techies is a collective that started with the goal to bring together a varied group of techies who vigorously utilize their IT skills to support their communities on the route of development and social change, to share experiences and knowledge, learn from each other and collaborate on solving common problems.
Arab Techies will be responsible for creating the event agenda and shaping the content of the workshop, through communication with the participants one month prior to the event. Arab Techies members will also be responsible for the general facilitation and moderation of the event, along with leading specific workshops and topic discussions.
Social Media Exchange (www.smex.org):
Social Media Exchange provides training and consulting to civil society and nonprofit organizations in Lebanon who seek to use media to advance their missions. Social Media Exchange mission is to make sure that the Internet lives up to its promise to expand each individual and every community’s agency over their own lives.
SMEX will be handling all the logistical details including invitation letters, flight reservations, accommodation and venue booking, etc.