Digital transformation, youth engagement and cross-sectoral cooperation

An analysis by Esther Kern
with Gvantsa Sikharulidze, Nino Uturashvili, Piqria Lomjaria, Nutsa Karseladze, Giorgi Tchabukiani, and Vasil Karseladze

The ongoing digital transformation has profound impacts on our economies, politics, and civil society, including youth engagement. Where and how young people engage changed over time,requiring new skill sets and partnerships. Cross-sectoral cooperation with private companies and other actors can help to equip young civil society actors with the necessary skills to lead the changes they want to see in society and politics.

 

Digital transformation is a central buzzword of the 21st century. Most of the time, the focus is on the transformation of businesses to incorporate digital technologies in the way they work, produce, and deliver to their customers. Additionally, there are now new business sectors that would not exist without the respective technologies. This includes everything in the social media industry, but also online retail and e-commerce as well as web design. 

However, digital transformation goes further than just digitizing certain processes. It is also about the changes these digitization processes follow, and how we as a society communicate, consume, work, and interact with each other. Furthermore, this has an impact on political and civil engagement as well. US-President Barack Obama’s election campaign of 2008 is often described as the first actual digital political campaign due to its effective use of online advocacy on social media platforms, through its own website and online grassroots engagement. However, it is not only a change in campaign style, but also engagement with the public throughout the election cycle on diverse social media channels. Additionally, news consumption over the last decade changed drastically from newspapers to online news, from radio to podcast, from live TV to social media platforms.

 

Digital transformation and youth engagement

This changed pattern of news consumption is most visibly within a younger generation and it impacts how young people practice civil engagement. Already in 2012, a study by Bennett et. al. noticed that “the image of a citizenry whose interaction with traditional public information involves passive consumption of topdown mass communication content” is no longer true for most persons under 30. Rather, there is a shift towards multiple sources of information and active engagement with the content, as well as own content production. This might lead to a  more “actualizing citizenship model”, which “emphasizes new repertoires of political action based on personal expression through social networks often using digital media.”

However, this new form of civil engagement requires a different skill set than classical activism. Even though younger generations are often labeled ‘digital natives’, this does not mean that they automatically have the necessary skills to engage digitally in a sustainable and effective way. A survey conducted in 2020 by the International Telecommunication Union and the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University about youth engagement found that young people across the world most wanted to learn digital skills when international organizations would engage with them. Other aspects young people appreciated was assistance in entrepreneurial activities, engaging youth through meetings and conferences, as well as support in the form of mentorship, financial aid, or skill cultivation. 

 

Cross-sectoral cooperation towards youth engagement for digital transformation – A Georgian case study

Following this outline, we will examine a case study on. how engagement with private businesses as well as international institutions was helpful in the current phase of #GEONext for young people across Georgia to develop their own initiatives and implement them in their communities, focusing on the value of cross-sectoral cooperation for the implementation of one of the projects in the area of digitization The digital application Anidabani is a Georgian language learning mobile application especially designed for ethnic minorities in Georgia. Knowledge of the state language is key for the social and cultural integration of ethnic minorities. The aim of this project is to facilitate Armenian and Azerbaijani speaking civilians’ integration to Georgian society, and simultaneously to digitize Georgian language teaching. With the support of #GEONext, it was possible to create 3000 new exercises to enhance the application’s content

During the project, the project team cooperated with Sweeft, an international software development and digital marketing company. They received extensive advice in two fields: digital marketing and web development. In terms of digital marketing, the Head of Marketing of Sweeft, Tako Nibladze, assisted them to define the target audience more precisely and recommended content variations through social media platforms. She provided guidance to enhance App Store Optimization (ASO) of Anidabani to increase the visibility of the app in the search results of app stores, and suggested developing spell-checker features in Anidabani. 

In their own assessment, the project team stated that the cross-sectoral cooperation helped them tremendously on the way to develop a user-friendly and highly functional application. This case shows how digital and marketing skills of businesses can directly benefit youth engagement. Crucially, as digital transformation does not only affect the business sector but every aspect of our lives, cross-sectoral cooperation and common learning processes should be incorporated comprehensively in efforts of youth and civil society engagement. In the long run, this will benefit both sides, and can help encourage necessary societal changes

The other project in the area of digitization and entrepreneurship within #GEONext focused on business pre-acceleration, i.e. providing assistance to participants in drawing up business plans. For this there were several workshops which included representatives from the different business sectors and Innovation and Technology Agency of Georgia. They agreed as well that cross-sectoral cooperation was useful within their project, but also pointed to an important aspect: the importance of a mediator to establish trust between different sectors. 

Learn more about our project #GEONext here!

 

#GEONext is funded by the Federal Foreign Office in the framework of the programme “Expanding Cooperation with Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership Countries and Russia” and kindly supported by the German Embassy Tbilisi.

#civilsocietycooperation

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s & OpenTTN’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

Image by Nutsa Karseladze

 

Esther is a research fellow at the Brandenburg Institute for Society and Security since August 2019. She works in national as well as European projects on various societal, security policy and economic issues related to technology and security. Her research focuses in particular on cyber and space security. She holds an M.A. in North-American Studies from the Freie Universität Berlin and a B.A. in political science and history from the University of Freiburg. Since fall 2016, Esther has been an active member of Polis180 and she was the program lead of The America(n)s from 2017 to 2020. Esther is the #GEONext co-mentor for Digitalization.

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