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US State Department's TechCamp introduces Belfast to 'speed-geeking'

By Ricky Thompson

Published 18/05/2015

Belfast businesses are being encouraged to harness the technology available to them and 'do something for themselves' at a two-day event in City Hall.

TechCamp is an initiative set up by the U.S. State Department which builds the technological capabilities of civil society organisations around the world and is running on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Leaders in the technology community are paired with civil society organisations to provide training, resources, and assistance that allow civil society organisations to utilise the latest connection technologies to improve their functionality.

Jennifer Walsh, acting director of the US State Department's Office of eDiplomacy said it's great to hold such an event in Belfast: "Tech camp started under Secretary Clinton and is a way to bring technology into civil society and really increase the level of synergy and engagement between those two communities.

"There are many ways in which low cost and easily accessible technologies can be brought in to help solve social and civic issues and make things better for the entire community in terms of open government or better access to information."

One of the events being held over the two days is 'speed-geeking'. The concept is similar to speed-dating but instead of meeting a new potential partner at every table, participants are welcomed by different presenters who talk them through various aspects of technology and how it can be used to make positive changes.

"Each of the eight training teams has five minutes to give a quick breakdown of the type of programming or activity they specialise in", Jennifer said.

"It's a way to give a taste of everything so that people can start to think about the possibilities and problems that can be solved with this technology."

Journalist Jim Fitzpatrick is proud to be a part of something making a difference locally: "It's all about inspiring people to do something for themselves.

"The technology's there. We probably have the resources to ensure that people have the internet connection that they need because of the initiative by Belfast City Council - putting superconnected wifi out across the city - creating community hubs which are specifically internet enabled.

"Technology is one thing but what we need is for people to work together and be creative. This is about unleashing that creativity and I have every faith that the people of Belfast are creative enough to come up with some brilliant solutions to some of the problems that they face.

Ambassador Matthew Barzun, from the US Embassy in London, said: "President Obama believes in the incredible power of the open internet and what it can do to unite societies, empower communities and citizens and expand economic opportunity.

"The US State Department is taking that concept and trying to make it very practical and concrete in communities and facilitate things like Tech Camp.

"Bringing together civic organisations and civic leaders with tech experts to help teach them the tools of the trade and to do what they do and to do it better through tech."

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