Building Central and Eastern Europe’s Civic Tech Ecosystem | Why We Invested: 1991 Civic Tech Center, ePanstwo Foundation, and Seedstars CEE
Communication between government and citizens couldn’t be a two-sided process under communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. However, as the region has made the transition to more democratic market economies, citizens have been learning how to participate in public decision-making, while governments have been researching how to be more responsive and effective in their delivery of services. We see civic tech as a critical element that could help to enhance communication and cooperation.
At Omidyar Network we believe that civic tech has the power to improve the dialogue between government and citizens, increase people’s participation in the decisions affecting their families, communities, cities, and countries, and enhance government service delivery at all levels. Civic tech projects and tools can be built by for-profit and nonprofit organizations and are forming a growing and important part of the global tech ecosystem. For example, we’ve seen how innovative civic tech hubs such as Civic Hall in the US, CCHub in Nigeria, and Phandeeyar in Myanmar, all investees of Omidyar Network, have been critical to the development of entrepreneurial and tech ecosystems in their regions.
There is an equally large opportunity in Central and Eastern Europe. Countries in the region, such as Ukraine and Poland, have the resources needed to develop a thriving civic tech sector. Skilled tech-professionals, an engaged civil society, entrepreneurial communities, and a willing partner in government all combine to create the basis for impactful projects. To catalyze this growth, Omidyar Network has supported several initiatives working to establish the region’s civic tech infrastructure.
Our latest investee to develop a dedicated civic tech hub is SocialBoost, a tech NGO that has helped drive open data reforms and tech development in Ukraine since 2012. It has already had considerable success with the 1991 Open Data Incubator, which helped to create more than 50 startups and to raise over $500,000 in funding between 2015 and 2017. The Open Data Incubator showed the demand for support provided by the SocialBoost team and the opportunity to deliver impact at greater scale. This led to the creation of the 1991 Civic Tech Center in Kyiv, the first dedicated civic tech hub in the CEE region, with $480,000 of funding over the next two years from Omidyar Network.
In developing their strategy for the center, the SocialBoost team and its founder Denis Gursky consulted with entrepreneurs from Omidyar Network’s existing civic tech portfolio to gain insights on best practices including around business model structures and capacity building. As a result, the center will operate as a membership-based co-working space with a number of accelerator and mentorship support programs, as well as an event space with a schedule tailored to the needs of a community of civic tech professionals.
The 1991 Civic Tech Center, named for the year that Ukraine became independent, opened its doors on December 8, 2017, with a ceremony that included a panel discussion on cooperation between government and citizens with participation from the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Dmytro Shymkiv and the Deputy Minister of Justice Sergey Petukhov. The Center is the first of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe, and we believe that it has the potential to significantly contribute to the region’s civic tech movement.
Since 2011, Omidyar Network has also supported ePanstwo Foundation (EPF), a Polish organization that initiated TransparenCEE, a network of nonprofit, IT, and media organizations using technology for better transparency, accountability, and governance in the region. EPF started TransparenCEE in 2013, and in cooperation with their partner TechSoup Europe and others, they work with more than 80 civic tech projects in 19 Central and Eastern Europe countries. EPF will also host the annual Personal Democracy Forum CEE in April 2018 where civic tech will be on the agenda in Gdansk. We were proud to renew our support to EPF earlier this fall with a $400,000 core grant for 3 years.
Supporting entrepreneurs and working to grow the tech ecosystem have always been at the heart of our work at Omidyar Network. We are proud to be supporting Ukrainian entrepreneurs as the national sponsor of the Seedstars World series in Ukraine and the Seedstars CEE Summit. Through these events, entrepreneurs will compete for the title of best seed-stage startups and may qualify to receive pitch training or funding of up to $500,000. Civic Tech will be one of the topics of Seedstars CEE Summit in Kyiv. Our aim is that these events will not only provide advice and resources to civic tech startups from across the region, but will enable these organizations to collaborate with one another, growing and strengthening the sector as a whole.
We hope that 2017 will be remembered as the pivotal year in which the civic tech sector and a new wave of talented entrepreneurs and technologists in Central and Eastern Europe got the boost they need to drive a new wave of growth and impact across the region.