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Social media for social change comes to the Caucasus

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Tbilisi, Georgia, and a conference on using social media for social change. Nothing new in that for many people reading this blog, perhaps, but low Internet penetration thanks to high costs and slow connections makes the situation somewhat different in the South Caucasus. A 4 mb/s connection in Georgia, for example, costs around $19 per month. In Armenia, a 256 kb/s connection costs $35.

However, as connections improve and prices drop that will eventually change and especially in Georgia where connection speeds are the fastest and cheapest in the region. Azerbaijan is also experiencing a huge surge in Internet use while Armenia looks set to soon benefit from $4 million in U.S. Government funding for "alternative media resources." 

In addition to the conference, where Arzu Geybullayeva and I once again presented on the use of new media in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict transformation (see slide show above), there was also a Social Innovation Camp where participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia worked together to realize ideas as online projects to achieve social change. 

Anna Keshelashvili worked hard on the main arrangements for the camp and particularly on the Georgian side while I engaged in outreach on the Armenian side, and not least because both of us had participated in a camp in Bratislava last year. In particular, my encouragement of environmental activist Mariam Sukhudyan to submit an idea worked wonders.

Her project, Save The Trees, won the jury prize and is already online. Other ideas from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia constructed by teams mainly comprising members from all three countries are here. Anyway, great event and a great time was had by all. Read more about the camp here and my own social media project on conflict transformation is here.

Photo: Social Innovation Camp Caucasus, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2010 on Nokia N82

1 Comment

Onnik Krikorian | April 19, 2010 10:25 PM | Reply

On a related note, the Caucasus Analytic Digest has just published an edition on the use of the Internet in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, including one report by yours truly:

Internet in Armenia: Slow, Expensive, but Increasingly Important

By Onnik Krikorian, Yerevan

Armenia’s geopolitical situation in a region where it is in conflict with two of its four neighbors and the troubled privatization of the ArmenTel monopoly in the late 1990s mean that, in regional terms, the country’s Internet connection speeds remain the slowest, prices remain the highest, and actual penetration remains the lowest. Nevertheless, Internet coverage is increasing in Armenia, especially with the arrival of three cellular phone companies in the market. Additionally, blogs moved in to fill the information gap when a 20-day state of emergency in the aftermath of the bitterly disputed 2008 presidential election imposed restrictions on the mass media. As a result, international donors, such as the World Bank and USAID, are interested in expanding and improving existing infrastructure, and especially using it to empower marginalized groups and communities in society. Even so, it remains to be seen whether such plans can succeed before Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and especially Turkey are reopened.

The Internet in Azerbaijan

By Alexey Sidorenko, Moscow/Warsaw and Arzu Geybullayeva, Baku

Azerbaijan boasts the greatest Internet penetration rates of the three South Caucasus countries thanks to government support. The government, political parties, and civil society organizations are developing their on-line presences, including the use of social media. Especially for some progressive youth, the Internet has become a window to the outside world – an opportunity to learn, share, promote and discuss. In particular, blogs and video blogging have become increasingly popular tools for civil society activism in Azerbaijan.

Internet, Society and Democracy in Georgia

By Alexey Sidorenko, Warsaw

Georgian Internet penetration reached 16.5 percent in 2008 and has been growing rapidly in recent years. Georgian users typically access odnoklassniki.ru as their preferred social networking site, but relatively few are bloggers. For most, the Internet is a source of entertainment rather than a tool for political debate or mobilization. While the government promotes a liberal media policy, encouraging Internet use, it maintains the ability to censor the web, a capacity it used during the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.


What do you think?