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Connecting Disaster Managers and Human Rights Advocates with Technologists in Manila and Jakarta

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

TechCamp in Manila was a bustling event filled with provocative and exploratory conversations between disaster managers and technologists. Curiosity co-founder Birdie Salva and I were here to represent the technology community, with our expertise in design thinking considered as technological expertise. TechCamp, a public diplomacy program of the US State Department, in its Manila iteration was comprised of a series of talks and interactive sessions, the highlight of which was a "speed dating" event where disaster managers and technologists are given several 5 minute-rounds to exchange disaster management challenges and technological expertise until every disaster manager has basically had the chance to sit down with all technology teams in the room. The event was part of the surge in design for disaster activities that emerged after the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), arguably the most destructive storm in the Earth's history .

Image 1: With Curiosity Co-founder Birdie Salva, making last-minute tweaks to our speed dating presentation about design thinking for disaster. Image credit: Ros Juan.

Image 2. Several disaster managers and technologists exchange ideas in Manila's version of TechCamp. Image credit: Ros Juan.

Technological Limits and Possibilities

It was interesting to understand the limits and possibilities of technology form the point of view of disaster managers. Technologies that could simulate various disaster scenarios for disaster resilience planning and gamify disaster preparedness activities were particularly interesting to disaster managers. However it was clear that some disaster challenges are too wide-scale and deep-seated to be addressed by technology, such as corruption in the distribution of disaster assistance and the lack of attention to human rights in humanitarian activities. Disasters, after all, are primarily political phenomenon, with technological issues as only secondary to challenges concerning good governance and justice. That is key lesson behind the often quoted phrase "There is no such thing as natural disaster".

From Manila to Jakarta

The possibilities technologies might hold for human rights lingered in my mind as we wrapped up TechCamp Manila. It was therefore a great privilege to be invited back as a technology mentor at TechCamp Global in Jakarta where human rights advocates from across Southeast Asia were invited to learn about Empowering Civil Liberties. This time, the US State Department partnered with the Community of Democracies, global intergovernmental coalition comprised of Governing Council member states that support adherence to common democratic values and standards outlined in the Warsaw Declaration.

Image 3. Snippets from TechCamp Global in Jarkata on 'Empowering Civil Liberties', a joint project between the U.S. State Department and the Community of Democracies. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.

I continued to discuss the design thinking techniques we use at Curiosity, as Birdie and I had done for disaster managers in Manila. However, this time I emphasised our use of the approach for work to address Violence Against Women and Children through our partnership with the Women's Education Development and Productivity Research Program (WeDpro). I found plenty of common ground with fellow activists in the field of human rights who were working with marginalised communities: women, LGBTs, and indigenous groups. As regards technology use, there were several interesting conversations around encryption technologies that allow activists to organise safely and effectively.

Jakarta was a significant location for TechCamp Global. Joko Widodo had just been elected as President of Indonesia in a historic and hopeful election. One of the highlights of the talks was from those who led the youth in exercising voters' rights for the first time via social media campaigns.

My experience in Indonesia opened my eyes to the many injustices in Asia that we don't hear enough about in mass media. Much to do, much to think about, but one thing rings loud and clear: while evil lurks in many corners of the world, there are so many passionate and dedicated individuals and communities who are bravely doing the demanding work required to fight for a just and peaceful existence for all .

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