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Can We Empower Young People Through Technology?

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Enda Griffin, a participant of Comhlámh’s What Next Course, recently attended an event in Belgrade, Serbia called Urban Hackers: Making Ideas Work. He shares his thoughts and learning from the week-long engagement with youth workers, young IT workers and designers to explore technology as a tool to empower and engage.

The idea of the Urban Hackers workshop was to bring together a mix of youth workers, young IT workers and designers in a bid to come up with ways in which technology could be used to empower young people and to help NGO’s appeal to youth in a more efficient way. The workshop was hosted by the Balkan Initiative for Tolerance (BIT) and supported by the European Commission with 10 countries sending 3 representatives: Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, France, Slovenia and Northern Ireland.

After volunteering in Tanzania in 2012, I attended Comhlamh’s What’s Next course last year and discovered I had a passion for applications. I also began work recently as a Web Developer so this workshop really appealed to me as an opportunity to contribute my skills as well as to learn a lot from others about turning ideas into reality. A huge thanks to Comhlamh for hooking me up with Inside Out (Co. Derry) and Children in Crossfire (Derry city) so that I could attend.

The week was broken up into two parts with the first being a large brainstorming session to highlight the issues facing youths in each of the 10 countries represented. These issues then became the basis for more ideas on how to address them through the use of technology. It became evident pretty quickly that a lot of the issues discussed were not region specific and similar problems are prevalent all across Europe. Some of the issues included: management of public services; sex education; skills sharing of young people; local trading by farmers; attracting tourists to create local jobs; and opening up access of information to NGO’s on other NGO’s in their area/ enthusing more volunteers.

The whole group discussed each idea and distilled it down to its basic value so that a minimal viable product could be achieved by the end of the week. We also had demonstrations of good examples of apps that currently make a big difference in the world as a source of inspiration.

Then came the second part of the week, the “Hackathon”, where we broke into groups and began work on bringing our ideas to life in the form of web and mobile applications. There were 6 ideas that made it through heavy critiquing and debating and for a rundown on all the applications that were developed within the week check out this link

I was part of the group that worked on Project Up and it was amazing to see what was only a general idea at the beginning of the week take shape into a fully functional website by the end of the week. The idea of the application is to connect like-minded people in the local community so that they can share their skills and passions to complete projects that mean a lot to them.

There is still plenty of work to be done however and the group is keen to keep working on the idea and make improvements to the site. We will then think about user testing to get some feedback about what works and what doesn’t and then comes the next hurdle –funding so we can launch the product.

Many of the other groups have also expressed their desire to keep developing their ideas beyond the workshop so the week really inspired the participants to tackle issues that they believe can be improved. It was a week in which I really saw how far passion and hard work can take you in a short space of time.


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