Thus, a long awaited event that representatives of a few countries were preparing for has taken place. On 21-23rd of May, 2017 the Media and Social Innovations Lab was held in Dushanbe. The project became possible owing to ARGO’s “Partnership for Innovations – P4I” Program and Internews Network’s “Supporting Access to Information” Program with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Innovation for Change (the Global Initiative for Innovations in Social Sphere).
What is an “innovation lab”? What do we understand under innovations? How to make social projects more innovative, topical and high-demand? All participants of the Lab received answers to these and other questions. They had three eventful days: discussions, presentations, generation of project ideas and their analysis by experts were held nonstop. And, of course, communication between them ran far beyond the program frameworks. As Nurali Saidov, Coordinating Secretary of the Public Council of the Republic of Tajikistan noted, “the events like this contribute to establishing contacts, supporting a balance of opinions, developing pluralism”.
International expert Philipp Reichmuth gave a high rating of the Lab too. “The Lab dedicated to innovations in civil society is an innovation in itself. South America is starting to approach this format, but you in Central Asia are doing it already now. It is indeed the case: while for mass media, social media, IT sphere such format is common, it is know-how for civil society organizations. And I can say with confidence that you are the first in this regard”, Dr. Reichmuth stated in his speech.
According to “Partnership for Innovations -P4I” Program Director, representative of the Global ‘Innovation for Сhange’ Initiative Kaisha Atakhanova, “the Lab format is creativity, it’s an experiment”.
All the Lab participants spoke of a necessity of the event. For many Central Asian countries’ NGOs a social effect of projects depends today upon how innovative will be methods, instruments and approaches in addressing the tasks set forth. The Media and Social Innovations Lab is a unique event that allowed the non-governmental sector to have an insight into social problems in a new fashion and study innovative practices to be used in their work. It should be noted that more than 100 people took part in the Lab, among them being representatives of NGOs, mass media, IT sphere, as well as experts and mentors from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The Lab was held at a very lively pace arousing high interest and active involvement. It should be mentioned that this year the Lab format was unique.
“I thought there will be conducted classes, group discussions and various role plays – all that we got accustomed to. And what we actually had included presentations by experts and mentors, and an opportunity for seeking ideas, and then one more, the most interesting thing – defending own ideas not only before experts but before peers from other NGOs. It was very difficult, I must admit it, but it was much more interesting than just sitting and listening. Together with peers from youth NGOs of Dushanbe and Khatlon we managed by joint efforts to put forward a very interesting idea. And the credit is due to experts that they pointed weaknesses and strengths of the idea to us and prompted us how to strengthen the project”, noted one of the participants, representative of the Tennis Academy Farkhod Sharifi from Tajikistan.
For many participants the Lab became an absolute discovery.
“Personally I believed that innovations are merely new techniques, new types of communications. It turned out that we can and we must understand an innovation in a much broader sense – for me it’s the most important outcome of the Lab. I was involved in discussing the project idea “Love Makes the World Go Round” but I have one more idea how to make easier the life of blind and hearing-impaired people of our town. To put it into life I have to work much and hard over this idea. Therefore, one more very important result of the Lab is that I have gained information about a lot of new tools”, shared her impressions representative of the branch of PO “National Blind and Hearing-Impaired Association” Ozoda Kurbanova from Sughd Region (Tajikistan).
The uniqueness of the Lab format is that the participants could not only acquire new knowledge and skills in developing innovation projects, discuss social innovations best practices but practically work through projects with mentors. During three days experts were consulting, helping and bringing projects to a working status, introducing innovative elements. The most important thing is that the participants learned how to speak about social problems in a new fashion, get the public involved in tackling them, and use modern media for correct coverage of their work. The Lab allowed approaching wider understanding of innovations not only as high technologies but new approaches, a new glance at old issues, introduction of new experience from other areas.
One of the main outcomes of the Lab were final presentations of working groups – these were ready social projects that the participants created together with mentors and that they will be able to successfully implement in practice.
As noted by Vice President of “Tel Aviv University Friends Association in the Republic of Kazakhstan” Saniya Arapova, “now it is necessary to be permanently in touch with the Lab graduates, help them as experts, where possible, and introduce a practice of getting the Lab graduates involved in mentorship during next labs. Such an example will not only show substantiality of the project but will also inspire new participants.”
“I am sure that the main outcome of the Lab is real partnership between organizations that earlier knew almost nothing about each other. And if we look over the long term, the most important achievement for my peers and myself will be if our youth and teenagers use new technologies and approaches to work for the benefit of themselves, their families, the society”, stated representative of the Tennis Academy Farkhod Sharifi.