Digital Steps for Syria

The Digital Steps program is a partnership between Build Up and the British Council Syria to support Syrian organizations working to promote peaceful values and change perceptions of Syria.

Out of a total of 113 impressive applications, Build Up and the British Council selected 5 organizations working on diverse projects inside Syria. Each organization is now undergoing a rigorous process to refine their idea and integrate a digital element into their work.

Over the nine-month program, each organization works on a concrete initiative to design, test and pilot a technology, communications tool or process, with support from Build Up. Teams are working on projects ranging from job-matching platforms to connect refugees with host communities, animation films that promote a culture of non-violence to an innovative platform to document memory of places within Syria. While each group is working on distinct projects with diverse audiences, all share a common commitment to promoting peaceful values and to changing perceptions of Syria for those both inside and outside of the country.

Last month, teams received intensive training on topics including best practices in technology for social change, conflict sensitivity and stakeholder management, user-centered design and monitoring and evaluation. They are now receiving tailored support from Build Up, mentorship from carefully selected experts who will provide guidance and insight to support their work, and grant funding.

Build Up’s support to each team is tailored to their needs, and ranges from providing strategic communications advice, to helping teams build chat bots or digital games that enhance their work. For example, Build Up is providing digital skill-building support to one team as it designs a service to match job seekers with jobs in areas highly populated by displaced populations. The service will provide much-needed livelihoods opportunities, but the digital element will also enable interaction between previously separated, and at times hostile, communities.

Another team uses documentary films to break stereotypes between communities in Syria, in an attempt to rebuild the fabric of coexistence between Syrians. As they are already skilled filmmakers, Build Up is supporting them to improve their digital communications strategy and broaden the reach of their films. Similarly, we are supporting a team using animation films to promote non-violence by enabling them to better engage their audiences through the use of a Facebook chat bot.

Many teams are using art as a tool in their work, including one that is working to build a digital game that enables Syrian children to gain artistic skills and exposure around the theme of peaceful coexistence. By adding a digital element to their work with the help of the Digital Steps program, the organization can broaden their scope and increase the number of children they can reach. Art is also key to the work of one team working to to document memory of places inside Syria on an interactive map that will serve as a collective visual and oral history, whose presentation will challenge existing perceptions of Syria as defined by conflict.

The diversity of projects is testament to the wide-ranging interpretation of coexistence in Syria. This can be viewed through multiple lenses — from increasing livelihood opportunities that support interaction between host and displaced communities, to breaking misconceptions between areas within Syria, to working to develop a shared history of Syria from diaspora communities around the world. Whether it be through art, animation, films, livelihoods or historical presentation, all the Digital Steps teams are designing impressive interventions that harness the power of digital technology to challenge preconceptions, build coexistence and support the development of a peaceful values in Syria.

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