Georgia has undergone major political and economic reforms since the 2003 Rose Revolution. After years of rapid transformation, the recent decrease in speed seems only natural. Still, many problems are left to tackle. At this stage, donors and investors should keep a close eye on young, tech-savvy social entrepreneurs, whose engagement can inspire change in Georgia and abroad.
A Comment by Sonja Schiffers
Those who visited Georgia last before 2003 might hardly recognise the South Caucasian country, which has undergone a major transformation over the course of a decade and a half. Many successful reforms have ensured progress in democratic governance and economic development. According to the Worldwide Governance Indicators, on a scale from -2.5 to 2.5 government effectiveness has improved from -0.24 in 2006 to 0.51 in 2016. Georgia ranks 70 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index. Still, 16.4 percent of households and 21.7 percent of children live in poverty. After a period of rapid transformation the pace of change has somewhat slowed down during the last years. Now, digital natives are pushing fresh ideas for good governance and development, made in Georgia and increasingly independent from donor’s money.
Visual Warriors: ForSet’s Data Journalism With a Cause
Nino Macharashvili is one of those young professional Georgian leaders who keep pushing for social and political change through technology. At age 27, she is the co-founder and director of development of ForSet, and founder and team leader of DataFest Tbilisi. ForSet is a newly established organisation using data, design and technology for communicating social issues. Part NGO, part business, ForSet uses a hybrid model to finance its activities like the upcoming DataFest Tbilisi, which is the first international data event in the South Caucasus. Linked to DataFest is the initiative “Ministry of Data, Black Sea edition”, where young professionals develop “innovative mobile and web tools for improved institutional accountability and stronger civic engagement” in three tracks: gendering data, using technology to visualise state budgets and migration.
Having worked at the nexus of technology and journalism for several years, Macharashvili points out that “in civil society work you can do so much with the use of emerging technologies.” With her passion for data and fact-based political discourse, she aims to improve decision-making processes and ultimately living standards in the country. One of the challenges Macharashvili and her colleagues face is to actually influence policy. Visualising data and putting it online is not enough. What you need is a community that is “ready to use the tools that you create” as well as politicians that are responsive to criticism.
Making Agriculture Profitable (and Sexy) Again
Another young ambitious entrepreneur from Georgia is Nino Nanitashvili, who co-founded Traktor, a new initiative at the nexus of tech and development. She is equally motivated to transform Georgia as her namesake Nino (Macharashvili). Back in 2012, Nanitashvili founded the Georgian Google Developer Group. She is also part of the Women Techmachers community, she is the Country Director at Elva and the Head of Marketing and Business Development at Traktor. At age 23, Nanitashvili received the U.S. State Department’s Emerging Young Leaders Award. At Elva, Nanitashvili works with technology for peacebuilding and for local community development and data mapping, and in this way helps citizens to make their voices heard. A current Elva project, for instance, uses 360° video recording technology to enable Georgians, Armenians and Abkhazians to experience each other’s worlds. A previous project brought Georgian and Abkhaz youth together through computer gaming.
Elva’s spinoff “Traktor” supports agricultural development and growth in Georgia through the creation of instructional videos for farmers and the first Georgian online marketplace for agricultural supplies. Through the use of technology and design, Traktor wants to “show that farming is easy, that you can make a business out of it, and that it’s actually cool to be a farmer.” According to Nanitashvili, these are the key arguments in a country where farming became more about subsistence than profits, and thus is regarded as a thing of the past. Traktor collaborates with a phone operator to make sure that all interested farmers can benefit from their services, which are mainly offered through a mobile application. Their online platform counts already 30.000 unique visitors each month, a high number given the small Georgian market. Next year, the team wants to push the company towards exploring new markets and finding local and international impact investors.
Women in Tech: Rare, But All the More Inspiring
Nino Macharashvili and Nino Nanitashvili are not only successful social entrepreneurs who try to change the fabric of governance and development in Georgia. They are also truly inspiring women who can serve as role models for many girls in the country and abroad. Although Georgia scores much higher in economic participation and opportunities for women than in other fields of gender equality, the country still ranks 90 out of 144 countries in the 2016 Global Gender Gap report. As Macharashvili describes, societal expectations significantly circumscribe opportunities for personal growth. “In Georgia, it is very hard to be a woman and at the same time be proactive in society. People do not expect you to be successful, but just to get married, have kids and be a good housewife.”
Macharashvili stresses the importance of mentors who empower young women to grow and lead. Nanitashvili adds that there were no female role models in the field that she could look up to when she was young. “But that is changing now because of more space for women in tech.” Macharashvili’s and Nanitashvili’s projects demonstrate the great potential of technology for good governance and development, and the potential of young entrepreneurial women to move the country’s transformation forward. Society, investors, donors: reward this extraordinary engagement and help push Georgia and Georgian women to new frontiers. And you will reap the fruits of it all!
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