“We have pretty ironclad evidence that social media can help people take down bad governments,” said Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, US State Department’s Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies. “But can social media help replace those regimes with better governments?”
That question was at the center of a conversation at the Social Good Summit on Sunday night. Tilleman was joined on stage by Javier Marin, managing partner at Dialcom Networks; Maria Leissner, Secretary General of the Community of Democracies; Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador of Estonia to the United States; and Peter Michalko, Political Director-General Slovakia Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The latter two helped successfully navigate their countries’ democratic transition over the past 15 years. They made plenty of mistakes along the way, but ultimately learned the right lessons for managing a transition from autocracy to democracy. In the process, these two leaders — and leaders across eastern Europe — became a reservoir of expertise in managing peaceful democratic transitions.
The question before the panelists was how to best share that accumulated know-how with leaders of emerging democracies today. Enter the LEND Network, a new experiment in social media championed by a partnership housed at the Community of Democracies and lead by the USA and Estonia.
LEND, which stands for Leaders Engaged in New Democracies, was launched this summer at a meeting of the Community of Democracies in Mongolia. It is essentially a social network for connecting people with experience in managing democratic transitions with leaders engaged in that current struggle. Users from government or civil society create a Facebook-style profile in which they list their expertise (e.g., rule of law; training judges; writing a constitution; or de-centralizing utility companies.) A mid-level bureaucrat from Tunisia who is charged with, say, training a police force to comply with human rights standards, can browse the network and find someone in Estonia who once held that job. With a few clicks, the Tunisian bureaucrat can connect with his Estonian counterpart. They may even be joined by an expert from a human rights NGO in a three way video conference.
It get’s better: The network taps into some cutting edge translation technology that obviates the need for human translators, making this system even more efficient. The explainer video below offers some nice screenshots of LEND in action.
We still don’t know the answer to Dr. Tilleman’s question. But initiatives like the LEND network suggest that democratic governments around the world are committed to leveraging social media to advance the cause. I will be interested to see where this goes.