DIGITAL STEPS FELLOWS 2017 – 2018
In 2017, we received 113 applications to the Digital Steps program. Over 9 months, we worked with 4 selected teams on diverse projects inside Syria. The teams have turned their initial ideas into working initiatives, and have now begun to pilot these initiatives. They are starting to see results and have concrete plans for carrying them forward. All their initiatives are digital, creative and have the potential to deliver on peaceful coexistence in Syria. Read about them below.
We Open Windows (WOW)
Wow, or ‘We Open Windows’ is a Syrian initiative that seeks to connect job-seekers with employers through a Facebook messenger chatbot. With the support of Digital Steps, Wow has gone from an idea into a functioning chatbot that will launch on Facebook in the coming weeks. In preparation for the launch, the Wow team have collected information from over 200 employees and employers and conducted outreach among potential users.
“We want to change the way services are provided and accessed in Syria. We want to show people that technology can be used to improve service delivery, that it can make it possible for people to reach services that had previously been closed off to them. We want to change the way people find jobs and employees, so they don’t have to rely on relationships anymore.Our future Syria is one where services are delivered in a new way, where jobs are found on the basis of experience not relationships, and where coexistence is fostered in the workplace and beyond.”
PeaceLens is a youth-led project that trains Syrian youth on documentary film-making. The team aims to support young Syrians to use film to express peaceful ideas and to rebuild communications between youth from different areas in Syria. Through the Digital Steps program, PeaceLens have developed the concept of ‘Channel 3’, a digital platform for Syrian youth to create, watch and interact with non-violent media content that highlights common ground rather than difference. The process of developing Channel 3 was itself a journey in which the room to discuss, deliberate and test provided by the Digital Steps program were crucial.
“This space is often lacking in Syria, stifling creativity. Yet we have a right to fail. That right leads us to learn, to dream bigger and wilder.”
“Youth are the most used in the war, they are the fuel for the conflict. At the same time, there is nowhere for them to meet, debate and share common ground. We are trying to create this common ground.”
Bebesata, meaning ‘simply’ in Arabic, is a youth-led organization that seeks to promote the value of non-violence in Syria through animation films. Through Digital Steps, they are developing an interactive animation series: people watch a short episode on Facebook that ends with a dilemma about the use of violence, and are then prompted to talk to the main characters via a Facebook messenger bot. The bot asks the audience questions designed to provoke a discussion, building on the theme of the series. It is both a way to deepen the message, and to allow audience members to collaborate in the story-writing process — the outcomes of the conversations are used by the Bebesata team to write the next episodes.
“Violence isn’t a problem that only armed people have. It’s part of the culture of the whole community in Syria now, it’s taken for granted. If we truly want to create peace, we have to add something to the culture, something that is missing.”
Open Art Space
Open Art Space is a Syrian initiative that seeks to promote peaceful values through art, providing a safe space for children to express themselves. Led by two female artists, Open Art Space runs regular free art workshops for children in Damascus. As part of the Digital Steps program, they have developed a website that allows children across Syria to play a game associated with art for peace, and to upload and share their artwork with others from diverse backgrounds. Through the website they hope to expand the reach of their free workshops, combining art, technology and education.
“Children are sometimes unable to express themselves through words, but art can give them a chance to express their inner feelings and thoughts. As a result of the war, children keep wanting to draw things about war, but we are helping them think of things that exclude war, that promote peace.”