Digitalization has started to occupy a growing place in our working and everyday lives with the Covid-19 pandemic, which began with the first case in Turkey on 11 March 2020. The global pandemic has become the driving force of digital transformation and the trend of digitalization, and Turkey has started to experience this process simultaneously as the whole world. Perhaps a digital transformation that will spread over the years has taken place in just a few months.
This forced transformation has begun to drastically change the way and method of working in all areas and forced sectors to leave old habits behind. Education, banking, e-commerce, the fashion industry and dozens of other sectors are still trying to adapt to this rapid transformation in the second year of the pandemic. All these indicate that digitalization will be at the center of the new social order after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Civil society, too, has a significant role in this digital transformation and adaptation in Turkey. Everyone is very keen on digital transformation. But, how ready is and how quickly will civil society adapt to this transformation? Is there sufficient capacity both in terms of technical resources and human resources? Is there enough knowledge to integrate digital transformation into institutions?
It is a fact that individuals and public institutions cannot remain out of this transformation. It is possible to say something similar for civil society actors. Another important point that should be addressed at this stage is that the areas in which civil society organizations (CSOs) and all active citizens operate in the field, such as education and advocacy, are severely narrowed along with digitalization. Effective use of digital platforms also allows CSOs and activists to organize much more easily, make their existing activities more visible, and communicate effectively with their target audience.
During the period of digital transformation that we have been experiencing for more than a year, it has become clear that the key point of keeping up with this transformation is to have the necessary tools and a certain level of technological literacy. In this sense, factors such as their unique structures, internal dynamics, and differences in the functioning of CSOs operating in different areas in Turkey are also reflected in their digitalization capacity and sometimes pose an obstacle to digitalization.
Looking at the functioning of CSOs before the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of digital tools and platforms relied heavily on voluntary participation and support. After the pandemic, it has become clear that CSOs should urgently address their shortcomings in this regard.
Sivil Düşün is a program designed by the European Union Delegation to Turkey to support the rights-based initiatives of civil society organizations and activists in Turkey in a flexible and innovative way, and WEglobal Turkey is the leading organization of its fourth term. Facing the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, when the pandemic began, the Sivil Düşün Team developed an alternative support plan to support civil society during this period. The Sivil Düşün Team shared different scenarios on how to carry out program activities during the pandemic with the European Union Delegation to Turkey and prepared a target group-oriented plan. It announced that it would support works conducted for the elderly, refugees, women, children, persons with disabilities, and health workers as priority groups whose rights are most fragile during the pandemic and whose access to rights has been reduced. A special call for support titled Things Connect Us was announced on 11 May 2020. 353 civil society organizations and activists applied to the support, which remained open for a month. With the special support, 213 activities conducted in seven regions and 38 cities of Turkey to protect rights were supported by a total of more than 600 thousand Euros. Most of the time, support was sought for efforts to protect the rights of children and women. The top three regions with the most support applications were Marmara, Aegean, and the Mediterranean.
With the support of Sivil Düşün, an activist living in Istanbul drew attention to the difficulties experienced by artists during the pandemic period with a video campaign, while another activist prepared leaflets and distributed them in camps to inform refugees about access to health care.
Fragile groups were informed about their rights, and new and creative channels were opened for access to rights with the support of Sivil Düşün.
On the other hand, from the first months of the pandemic, Sivil Düşün said #ingoodandbaddays and brought up good civic actions taken in these trying times to the public agenda. It inspired civil society and activists, sometimes from Turkey, sometimes from different parts of the world, with these works for rights.
Sivil Düşün’s support for the protection of rights during the pandemic was not limited to the abovementioned. Expert support was provided under the titles of media relations, social media management, digital content, use of social media tools and technology applications, digital transformation, gamification, digital mapping and monitoring of digital performance in order to ensure that the civil society was able to adapt to the digital transformation forced by the pandemic. Sivil Düşün met with different rights groups, listened to their problems, and came up with solutions. Sivil Düşün also prepared a guide to digital transformation to support civil society in this process.
The Sivil Düşün Team, which has been experiencing this digital transformation itself as well since the Covid-19 pandemic is still continuing in the middle of 2021, moved civil society capacity building training, information meetings, Sivil Düşün forums, and round table meetings, which were planned as face-to-face activities before the pandemic, to digital platforms with the approval of the European Union Delegation to Turkey. Although digital platforms fail to deliver the joy of meeting in person, these digital events have reached thousands and allowed them to meet new people, share experiences, learn from each other, and build new partnerships.
Although we have adapted ourselves and our supports to the digital transformation experienced by the entire worlds as the Sivil Düşün Team, we look forward to holding face-to-face events in the same place with our target audience, civil society organizations and active citizens.
Author: Zeynep Karakülah, WEglobal Project Manager