The World Bank says that in Venezuela it’s more difficult to be entrepreneurial than in Syria. But who does achieve it, accumulates a learning that is worth gold.
From the 26th to the 30th of November, we were able to open the chapter of Chicas Podererosas Venezuela with a Data Journalism Workshop for 25 professionals and we did a Hackaton of Open Data with 25 other programmers and designers that were annexed.
It took us almost a year to organize it, due to the increasing vicissitudes in the country, but we also succeeded in developing six prototypes of data journalism, of which three have an almost certain future.
We want to share the experience, because we think it can be useful, regardless of the country and the circumstances that we live in. This is what we learned:
Take advantage of Venezuelans abroad. In SDI we had dreamed of connecting with Chicas Poderosas, because it opened the possibility for us in Venezuela to set up a training events for journalists with international guests. Nathalie Alvaray , our partner and fellow of the JFK program at Stanford University 2015- 2016, made contact in California with Teresa Bouza and this one with Mariana Santos. Also, Anamaría Carrano, another Venezuelan in Miami, joined the team from the beginning, presenting for our hackathon a challenge, a prize and a sponsorship, from the NGO where she works ( IAM Venezuela ). Many Venezuelans complain about the talent that emigrates, but few think how to take advantage of the ones that stay in the country.
The experience is gold. With Teresa Bouza we had already organized two previous international hackathons, so we had gained their trust and support: one we did in 2013, in the Redacción Única de Cadena Capriles – the first to be made in a medium in Venezuela, and another of Intelligent Cities that we organized in Wayra Venezuela. Carmen Riera, my other partner, had also led for seven years the organization of the Information Design Seminar, Cadena Capriles, all during Chavez’s unstable government. This accumulated learning allowed us to grow muscle, have most of the answers to the concerns of allies and sponsors, and alternate solutions to many of the problems.
Take a chance. We would never have won this experience if we had not dared to do these events from the first time, in the middle of such bad omens. And this was worth in the case of the Data Journalism Workshop and the Public Data Hacking that we organized in November to open the chapter of Chicas Poderosas in Venezuela. The situation in the country, including the triumph of the opposition in the National Assembly last December, painted a year of great political instability and possible violent street demonstrations. We said, “Let’s risk it. We’re not going to lose anything by trying. ”
Ask for help. Mariana Santos always suggested that the type of workshop should be defined by us based on the needs of the community in the country. We plan to do so on transparency, due to the opacity in the Government with data that should be publicly accessible, but we consulted the potential beneficiaries of the workshop about their training needs in this area. Through the database of Ipys Venezuela, which had already given workshops on data journalism, we passed a survey to understand why the ideas planned in previous workshops had not continued to be developed and were not published. Out of the result came three proposals: ask the ideas in advance to the workshop to chew them, design a workshop for a more advanced level and make the hackathon to invite programmers and designers to drive the projects in a collaborative way.
Seek allies for your purpose. It is very difficult to do a training event, such as these, without institutional and multidisciplinary support. Inspiring potential allies for the purpose of training journalists and allowing citizens access to public information was our magnet. This was how Ipys Venezuela joined us in organizing the event. This NGO not only has experience in training (in data and research journalism), but in setting up projects to request funds to carry them out. In order to summon the developers, we teamed up with two programming schools: Hack Academy and 4Geeks Academy, who advised us, mentored and disseminated the hackathon on their social networks and throughout their databases. Also Wayra Venezuela, Telefónica’s startups accelerator, joined our goal and lent us its inspiring headquarters with powerful wifi (remember that our country has the worst Internet connection on the continent).
Set up a fundraising project. In Venezuela, companies have limited sponsorship, and traditional means are also not an alternative of monetary support, because independents barely survive to buy inputs in dollars and pay wages. That is why we set up a project and requested resources from the United States Embassy, which was soon connected with our objective. Also, IAM Venezuela supported us with a contribution in this sense. We are not going to tell you here what it means to enroll as a service provider of the State Government, whose task is almost like doing a diploma. Nor will we count on the pragmatism we should have applied to the whole logistic issue, with the food shortage and the restrictions of basic services that we live in the country. This may already be a separate article and much has been told.
Join a team of warriors. Carmen Riera, Marianela Balbi, Marjuli Matheus, Danisbel Gómez, Elsy Torres, Claudia Furiati, Phalon Gómez and who writes the two events from Caracas. Almost all of us have several jobs or activities, because we are restless and because we need to do it to keep the level of income close to inflation. So we had to organize the workshop and the hackathon in parallel to our multiple functions. We did a single face-to-face meeting, many in remote -by skype or hangout-, we divided the tasks, we did a schedule, we communicated by whatsapp and emails, edited documents by Google Drive, but above all, we worked as a team, putting the shoulder when necessary. The important thing was that things went well and the result was optimal, according to the feedback we received from the participants.
Invite engaged instructors. It was not easy to decide who to invite as responsible to dictate the workshop. They couldn’t be Americans, because the Venezuelan Government must approve the visa and in the last months they had been delayed in this process and even in some cases, there were people to whom they were not given. It must be, then, someone with dual nationality or native of an Ibero-American country, to save us the simultaneous translation. Then we understood that they also had to be warriors themselves, because the political conflict in Venezuela and the restrictions on foreign journalists did not help us. That was how we met with brazilians Natália Mazotte and Álvaro Justen, from the Brazilian Data School. She, journalist, leader of the portal Gender and Number, and Chicas Poderosas Brazil; And he, programmer, free software activist, and teacher. Both, very committed to our cause, understood our restrictions, even with the currencies, taught us a lot and contributed a lot to the projects.
Bring together a multidisciplinary group. In Venezuela, 60% of newsrooms are occupied by women, but very few are in leadership positions. One of the most difficult tasks was to choose the group of journalists who would form with the workshop and then to call the programmers and designers who would join them to promote the projects that they would begin to work in the first phase. Choosing them among those who had already done the Ipys data journalism workshops was already a guarantee of the level of training they had. Then, we considered that they were working in investigative journalism or were formed in this area and that they came from diverse media (traditional and digital natives). But the most difficult thing was to make programmers and designers fall in love with journalism. Although we did an intense media tour and a campaign on social networks, the difficulty of having planned the hackathon for weeks and the fact that many of them have left the country or worked for foreign companies limited us. However, those who arrived were enough to support the six projects that went ahead. We already know that for the next event, we will seek to ally with a design institute.
Call for mentors. Having experts in areas of programming, design, data management, user experience and investigative journalism and data that can support teams and work with them at their working tables and in micro presentations, allowed the prototypes to be enriched and come out in two intense workdays. We also chose three jurors, specialists in the same disciplines, who debated intensely in defense of the five criteria to choose the winning projects: newsworthiness, innovative and scalable technology, usability, technical difficulty and future sustainability.
Target relevant and feasible projects. Doing a workshop and a hackathon in a country where there is no access to public information was the biggest challenge. This without adding that we had two latent risks: that the government infiltrated people to spy on the projects (we had information that one was registered) and that the political police (Sebin) criminalized the event, claiming that we were hacking data that State agency maintains in reserve, although it should be public. For this reason, we decided not to disseminate the details of the projects in media and networks and to work only with databases that were published or that had been collected by the journalists who participated in the workshop.
Still, the result was incredible: the two projects that won were #CriminalData and #VoteObierto. The first is an application that will allow journalists to upload the standardized data of homicides they have verified (the body responsible does not provide this information). The second worked the database of the Parliamentary elections 2015 to define an electoral search engine that facilitates the location of public data on voters, standardized and geolocalized to download.
#PoderopediaVE received an honorable mention for the solution presented by a search engine to identify the “contractors of power” in the National Registry of Contractors, and whose initiative was to improve the one that this year had already developed the digital portal El Cambur.
The team of #SOSMetroPatrimonio also won a special award from IAM Venezuela (Institutional Assets and Monuments of Venezuela) for specifying the #Dañómetro, a technology solution that will allow users of the underground system to report alerts and assess the state of art Of the Caracas Metro.
The other projects were: #DeQueMorimos, a prototype that seeks to optimize the visualization and interpretation of statistics on mortality in the public health system. And #Bio_Venezuela, a tool in development with geolocation technology to report the alert and citizen monitoring of threatened environmental zones, such as the case of the Venezuelan Mining Arc.
Spread and share what you have learned. The key to achieving allies, sponsors, collaborators and participants is to communicate everything through the channels we have at hand. Telling it to anyone who finds it, communicating it in social networks, through the mail databases and in the mass media will always help in this regard. The Forum Media team supported us in the objective of taking the message to radio and TV. The result was more shocking, because in Venezuela it becomes almost subversive to dare to do this type of events. The audiences, even juveniles, value it very much, because it shows that it is possible to rebuild the country from initiatives like these. In the end, it ends up being a lot more inspiring.
That’s how we opened the chapter of Chicas Poderosas Venezuela, despite everything.
In Caracas, girls are super powerful. We have no doubts about this.
Yelitza Linares (journalist, entrepreneurship and innovation coach, co-founder of SDI and leader of Business and Alliances of El Pitazo.com)