Can there be social innovation in post-conflict countries?

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My name is Bernard Nikaj and in the next couple of weeks I will come to you with a number of posts providing updates on the work we are doing in the Balkans region - and more specifically in Kosovo - to foster cooperation between non-governmental organizations and information technology sector and individuals.

I come to this project after many years of work in the intersection of the two sectors. I started off as an IT manager in an international NGO working to provide shelter and food to returnees after the Kosovo conflict in 1999. Since then I have been involved in a number of projects, mainly advising the government and private sectors on information technology enabled organizational change. When I was proposed to work on bringing both sectors closer, I couldn’t wait but to start the work.

This project aims to basically understand and provide answers to the following questions:

  • What do current tech-help resources look like in region?
  • Who are the leaders, facilitating access to help?
  • What organizations and systems are in place? And finally
  • Where are the gaps, and how might we complement existing structures, systems and approaches to providing NGOs and activists with technical support?

We are trying the answer the above questions by using Kosovo as an initial case study. This undertaking holds the promise of enabling us to explore and understand these issues in a very peculiar setting, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Kosovo has become an independent country in 2008 making it one of the youngest countries on earth. The very process of statehood has been marked by a large input from the international community, including NGOs, multilateral and bilateral organizations and individual governments.

Secondly, due to high international presence, Kosovo has benefited from quite a vivid not-for-profit sector with around 7000 registered organizations. While not all of these organizations are active, there a respectable number of professional and highly productive organizations working with different groups of people as well as government to advocate for issues ranging from human rights to European integration.

On the other side, again due to international presence and the demand created by the various organizations, Internet penetration in Kosovo is around 38% and growing. Combined with the young population (more than 50% of Kosovars are under 25 years of age) and a sustainable IT industry, the potential to use the information and communication technologies to foster social change and economic development is unprecedented.

Having in mind the above mentioned facts, I have embarked on a campaign to start a dialogue between the IT and NGO communities in Kosovo, with the aim of transferring applicable knowledge and practices  gained in Kosovo to the other countries of the region as well. The initial step, in the last couple of weeks, has been to talk to NGO community and understand their IT usage patterns: software, hardware and networking, most importantly I tried to understand their IT support patterns and their linkages to the IT industry. At the same time I talked to the IT community to see how they might best respond to the identified needs in the NGO sector.

My initial round of interviews has already identified a couple of cases where IT stands at the heart of social innovation. In the coming weeks I hope to build on these experiences to enable sharing not only within the NGO community but also across communities, especially IT and NGO ones.

So far it looks like both sectors are very much eager to talk to each other. In the weeks to come it will become clear whether this eagerness materialises and what’s the best way to achieve that. Stay tuned for more.

This post is part of a series exploring social innovation in Central and Eastern Europe. We hope you'll follow the series, ask questions, and share your experiences! To view all posts in the series, follow the tag cee-innovation