The Open Cambodia 2011 conference was met with strong youth enthusiasm this September in Phnom Penh. Bringing together scores of young IT professionals and human rights NGO staff, Open Cambodia aimed to broaden the reach of open source social media technology and the human rights data it delivers. EWMI’s USAID-funded Program on Rights and Justice 2 (PRAJ) organized and hosted the event in collaboration with leaders of the global movement for an open web – the Mozilla Foundation and Aspiration Technology from Silicon Valley, and the University of Washington’s Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA) in Seattle. The Open Cambodia conference was held September 16-17 at the Sunway Hotel and featured experts such as Allen Gunn of Mozilla/Aspiration, a recognized leader in the Open Source movement and an advisor to the U.S. State Department’s Tech@State division, and Joe Sullivan, a TASCHA research scientist whose work on ICTs in international development has spanned four continents over the past decade.
Open Cambodia was planned locally with leaders of the Cambodian Open Source movement, as well as representatives from the successful human rights web portal Sithi.org, which is supported by EWMI-PRAJ grantee, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR). The conference brought together these two active civil society groups, along with young private sector IT professionals who share a similar interest in Open Source technology, in order to mainstream human rights data tools, revitalize the Open Source systems in Cambodia, and focus on how the Internet can facilitate access to free and open information. More specifically, the conference directed the energies and knowledge of Cambodia’s vibrant open source community at resolving core problems in the development field, including: localization of Khmer language for SMS on smart phones and cheap mobile phones to improve the reach of development work, protection of the web and its users from Internet censorship and monitoring, and design of tools to improve civil society data security. Conference organizers also sought to accelerate the success of the open source human rights data tool Sithi.org by mainstreaming the web portal to ICT opinion leaders outside the NGO community, many of whom tend to be open source advocates: bloggers, coders and developers from the private sector, universities and media outlets.
The conference was a high-energy two day exchange, and a series of pre- and post-conference working sessions that led to a continued focus on civil society IT tools at the thousand-strong annual BarCamp held for the broader IT community in October in Phnom Penh. EWMI will follow-up the conference with an impact assessment to measure various effects, including increased traffic to the Sithi.org site, the adoption of open source security tools by human rights NGOs, and new blogging about civil society issues in the mainstream cyber sphere.
In a country where most media outlets are openly aligned with various political factions, access to information and communication are vital to the efforts by civil society organizations to build an open society in Cambodia. The worldwide Open Source movement is at the vanguard of protecting the free and open web, and is embraced by the U.S. State Department as integral to civil society and to its work through Tech@State: www.state.gov/statecraft/tech/index.htm.