Hack4Democracy Supports Tunisian Youth Civic Engagement

By Samer Elchahabi, Program Manager, Middle East and North Africa 

Tunisian youth played a significant role in the lead up to the 2011 revolution. Despite being at the forefront, many young Tunisians now feel that the gains of the revolution were stolen from them, with the older generation benefitting while youth remain politically and economically marginalized. As a result, young people have become increasingly disillusioned with political processes and disengaged from civil society. That said, young Tunisians continue to voice their grievances through protests and social media platforms.

Thanks to the “Voter Outreach for Inclusive Civic Engagement” (VOICE) project funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the “Supporting Democratic Gains inTunisia” project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the Tunisian Youth Forum are working to transform Tunisian youth’s online engagement into active civic engagement through an innovative new initiative called Hack4Democracy Camps.

These camps are a hybrid of IFES’ trademark Democracy Camps, which are combined with a hackathon –a collaborative endeavor among computer programmers and other stakeholders, conducted over several days to develop a project. They bring together teams of Tunisian men and women aged 18 to 30 to learn about their civic rights and responsibilities, build an entrepreneurial mindset, and collaborate to develop “hacks” – prototypes of captivating technological tools that promote civic and political engagement.

The teams are comprised of young people who specialize in computer science, marketing, business, civil society, good governance and communications. During the camps, the teams work alongside experienced coaches to develop a business proposal, marketing plan, and communication strategy for their tools. On the final day, teams pitch their projects to a jury of high-level representatives from both the public and private sector, who then select the best project. The camps will take place throughout Tunisia to ensure that young people from all 24 governorates, including the marginalized interior region, can participate.

The first Hack4Democracy camp took place from March 31 to April 2, 2017. The winning projects selected were: “Elect Bot,” a chatbot  that aids users in registering to vote and learning about candidates and their platforms; “Balad’App,” a smartphone application that helps Tunisians learn about civil society projects happening in their municipality and awards bonus points for participating in or initiating civic activities; and a smartphone application called “Charek Min Darek” that explains electoral processes in a simplified manner and provides information on each candidate as well as the candidate’s contact information.

Five additional Hack4Democracy camps will be held in July and August 2017. Subsequently, IFES will organize a finale event in September where the top teams from each camp will compete for the grand prize: having their project funded and developed by IFES and then used in public outreach campaigns. Government officials and businesses will be invited to attend the event in the hope that they may be interested in funding some of the projects or mentoring the teams to help them establish their own startups. Major tech companies like Microsoft have already offered to give the winning team with training and internships.

Though the Hack4Democracy camps are currently only offered in Tunisia, the program could potentially expand to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region in the near future. 

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