Digital Democracy Uses Technology to Help Marginalized Communities


SEATTLE — Many people consider technology such as smartphones, tablets and computers a necessity; but for many human beings across the globe, these devices are luxuries. Digital Democracy (DD), an organization based in Oakland, California, is on a mission to “empower marginalized communities to use technology to defend their rights.” This organization believes technology should be used to raise more voices into the spotlight. By partnering with groups that represent communities across the globe, Digital Democracy supports marginalized groups with the strategic use of technology.

Digital Democracy

Digital Democracy uses technology to help marginalized communities defend their rights in three primary ways: direct implementation, tool building and local to global engagement. The organization trains communities to use basic digital tools (cameras, phones, data collection tools) and conducts ongoing support for their partners who use this technology to defend their human and environmental rights.

Digital Democracy provides tools for communities in hard to reach areas of the world. Remote communities face many threats including oil contamination, illegal land grabbing and forced labor. DD builds technological tools that can work offline and in extreme environments, and can document government threats and map their land.

A 2015 TIME article discusses Digital Democracy using drones to enforce property rights in GuyanaMacLennan— the program director for Digital Democracy, a non-profit focused on empowering marginalized communities through the use of technology — spent several months working with the people of Guyana to construct a drone that they could independently fly, repair, and use as a “tool of reflection” to start community discussions on land use and resource management.”

Quest to Raise International Awareness

DD creates technology to raise international awareness about complex issues in foriegn countries. Since 2008, Digital Democracy has worked with citizens of Myanmar as well as people along the borders in Thailand, India, Bangladesh and China to bring awareness to the ethnic violence, forced labor and political incarceration in Myanmar.

By working with community partners All Burma IT Student Union, All Burma Monks Alliance and Burma Information Technology Team, DD has co-created mapping and media solutions. They helped create Handheld Human Rights, an online tool that helps organizations communicate and track details of human rights violations.

Using Tech for Good

Digital Democracy uses technology to help marginalized communities defend their rights, such as harnessing gadgets to address gender based violence in Haiti. In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many cases of rape and violence increased exponentially in tent camps around Port-au-Prince. Between 2010 and 2013, DD brought technological training to women in Haiti to support their fight against gender based violence.

Their community partners in Haiti included Commission of Women Victims for Victims, Women Victims Get Up Stand Up, and National Coordination of Direct Victims. Digital Democracy helped build a secure system to collect gender-based violence data; in two years, over 1,000 incidents were reported to the police and government. DD also helped launch Haiti’s first emergency hotline for gender-based violence. They also helped co-create media solutions that enabled Haitian women to document their experiences via journalism, photography and blogging.

Creating Change

In November 2017, Digital Democracy received a $525,000 grant from the Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation — a foundation founded by actor Leonardo Dicaprio — which focuses on wildlands and ocean conservation and restoring balance to threatened communities. This grant helped Digital Democracy launch their offline mapping tool, Mapeo.

This app makes it easy for individuals or teams to create maps and organize knowledge. Mapeo is building with indigenous communities in the Amazon, who need an easier way to create and edit their own maps to defend their lands and culture. Digital Democracy uses technology to help marginalized communities defend their rights, with gadgets such as Mapeo.  

Change does not come from technology, it comes from how people use technology. By having core values such as self determination, autonomy, accessibility and social justice, Digital Democracy is able to help create a more equal world.

– Ariane Komyati
Photo: Flickr


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