My background is in social sciences. I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t involved in community projects, whether volunteering for organisations like Red Cross Georgia and UNICEF, or leading initiatives in areas such as healthcare and the environment.
But I long ago understood that technologies were the gateway to bringing communities together. In a country like Georgia, with a recent history of conflict, that’s an invaluable tool.
The real sweet spot for me is tech communities. Which is why, seven years ago, I co-founded a Georgia chapter of Google Developers Group. It was a big thing because it was the first tech community in the country that followed the culture of tech talks, workshops and hackathons. All these things are now natural for a Georgian audience.
1. There is no place for discrimination in tech
I’m an advocate of bringing more women into the STEM fields, and especially into information technologies. So I have set up the Georgia chapter of Women Techmakers, another global campaign supported by Google with local volunteers in many countries. The idea is to bring more girls and women into the fields of technology because if you look at the trends in Georgia, the US, the UK and anywhere, girls are less interested and involved in technology and yet these professions are the most highly-paid and are in big demand.
Two weeks ago we held our annual Women TechMakers Camp, with 80 girls coming from all around Georgia, including from small villages. We brought them together to listen to speakers and talk about careers in technology. During the three-day camp they learned about coding and created games and animations. We wanted to show them that technology can be fun and that you can create something yourself in a couple of days.
2. Tech can disrupt any sector
When I and my colleagues at our non-profit organisation Elva began developing a web-based platform for farmers two years ago a lot of people were sceptical. They wondered how we could engage such a traditional group of workers using new technologies.
Today Traktor, a mobile application and a website, has 10,000 users and an online store from which farmers buy products including fertilisers and seeds. The platform has 200 instructional videos on different crops. There are farm calendars that remind you of farming activities that need doing, and give weather information.
I joined Elva in 2014 because it uses technology for social good. Team at Elva builds web and mobile solutions for international development.
Traktor has been well-received by its audience, which is diverse and includes not only farmers but people who are interested in farming and in technology. The platform has a lot of potential. Not all Georgian farmers are online so we have integrated SMS-based services and call-center which are common ways of communicating with users and giving them the right information.
3. Tech is not just for entertainment and business - it can be used to resolve conflict and crisis
Georgia is a divided country containing the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that have been occupied by Russia since the wars in 1992 and in 2008.
Since 2014, Elva has been using gaming to teach conflict sensitivity skills to young players.
We partnered with Games for Peace, an organisation based in Israel with experience of using computer games as a way to engage inter-ethnic groups in addressing areas of conflict. We decided to replicate that in our context in the Georgia-Abkhazia post-conflict situation and foster inter-ethnic engagement among school children affected by this situation.
This is the audience which is least involved in the peace building processes. We wanted to connect with a generation that was born after the war. We wanted to show them that the other kids are not so different and are as much into gaming as they are.
We brought together more than 100 kids, aged 13-17, from six cities. They played together online in mixed groups over weekends. It was a good way to melt the ice and start interaction. Gaming was their common language but we integrated translation modules so that they could talk to each other, which was a success in not only breaking geo-political barriers but also linguistic ones.
Using Minecraft groups in different cities came together to achieve tasks; a scavenger hunt or a creative project to build a statue or a house.
We have also partnered with local games designers and developers in Georgia and developed a game called Peace Park to increase empathy and supporting peace education.
It shows a player how important it is to tip the balance and support engagement among the different parties and that the interests of everyone should be considered when making decisions.
Quite recently our initiative PeaceVR has brought together artists from South Caucasus region to collaborate on VR short-films and increase empathy among the audiences divided by conflict.
The project has resulted into 12 short films addressing diverse social issues and human stories from conflict to isolation. The VR films were then shared via engaging VR exhibitions and screenings to more than 500 viewers.
I really believe that the small initiatives of individuals can be the steps we need to build peace and bring back trust. And technology is the tool that enables that to happen.