#HuriLab: Human rights and social tech – a mashup

Jul 11, 2013

Last weekend nine teams from eight countries converged on Armenia to build ventures that advance human rights and increase access to justice. HuriLab is the first Social Innovation Camp to explicitly address these issues – quite simply, it rocked Yerevan!

The finalists were selected from 111 ideas – submitted by citizens and activists from across Eurasia and the Arab world.

The best nine applicants were met in Yerevan by a mob of hackers, designers, entrepreneurs and creatives.

The finalists’ daunting task was to pitch their idea to the assembled mass of specialists and win teammates for the coming 48 hours of prototyping. A slip at this stage could set them back….

By Sunday evening (the last day) all nine teams had to present their ventures to a panel of judges… the atmosphere was supercharged!

Interesting things happen at boundaries

Boundaries and barriers created by current institutional frameworks were the unspoken target of many teams’ attention. This emerged from a shared understanding of human rights as a lived practice and not just a governance structure.

The teams were rapidly prototyping platforms to tap into the power of the social web. They were trying to aggregate the daily experiences and frustrations of people and turn them into communities and constituencies for change. They were tackling their problems directly, without waiting for permission from incumbent institutions.

Win, lose or draw… do it!

HuriLab isn’t about winning. It’s about getting an idea out into the world and seeing how people respond. It’s about circumventing blockages. It’s about campaigning by doing.

But to generate the level of intensity necessary to prototype an entire venture in a weekend, there has to be a competition….

So, first up, Sarhang’s team caught the judges’ attention with a tool to monitor symbolic violence against women in Iraq through crowdsourcing and data mining. (Amedia Watch is already up and running)

Web page prototype from Iraq

Read the interview with Sarhang about the winning project: Amedia Watch

Volodymyr’s team was the runner up with a project to engage citizens in urban planning in Ukraine.

Screen shot of a website prototype from Ukraine

Read the interview with Volodymyr about Urban Monitor

And Jan’s team won the public vote with a platform to source accessible services in Belarus for people with disabilities.


Read the interview with Jan about Ease of Access

Much more important than the prizes is the need to launch the ventures and get these brilliant ideas into the world. So help us to encourage the teams by posting a comment on their blog posts.

Hybrids in strange places

Although HuriLab has the distinct feel of a hackday, the tech aspect is not the focus. Much more important are the insights generated by the teams concerning what is wanted, or needed, or useful to people.

What is also important is the shift HuriLab represents within bureaucracy like UNDP.

It represents the growing appreciation of the need for hybridity – the need for a combination of institutional frameworks and platforms for self-organization enabled by the networked era.

What I like about HuriLab is that UNDP didn’t come in saying that its experts know precisely what is right. Instead, the initiative made it easier for people to address challenges by themselves and before institutions can even sense their existence.

Although some the projects created at HuriLab may crash and burn, this principle, if given time, will generate the kind of sustainable change we love to write about in our logframes, but which we seldom see emerging from our projects.


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