Last week, I was in Rosario, Argentina with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and their partner in Argentina, Fundacion Libertad. I was there delivering a two-day training workshop on monitoring, evaluation and communication, and using technology for those M&E and advocacy activities.
CIPE strengthens democracy worldwide through private enterprise and market reforms, and in Argentina works with Fundacion Libertad to build national and regional private sector networks and strengthen the private sector and business voice in policy making and decisions.
This is the first time Panoply Digital has worked in Argentina, although we have worked in South and Central America, including Colombia, Venezuela and El Salvador. I actually started my career in San Jose, Costa Rica, so it was a wonderful experience to dust off my (very rusty) Spanish and think about M&E, advocacy and technology in an Argentinean context.
And Argentina is a fascinating context for advocacy, technology and market reform. A change in government in 2015 ushered in a more pro-business government after previous governments for years favoured a more centralised economic policy, so there is more opportunity for private sector to play a role in market reform and therefore advocacy and democracy.
Creating a technology and M&E training curriculum for this environment was an exciting challenge. We could quite literally pick and choose from the more advanced tech tools, as in terms of technology, after years of working in much more resource-poor contexts such as South Asia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, opportunities for digital engagement with people in Argentina were very different and much more of the ‘high-resource’ environment side.
It is a mature market: the third-largest in Latin America, 61 million mobile connections, with a 90% penetration rate. 40% of the population have smartphones, though this is projected to rise to 70% by 2020, and with the strongest 4G take up in Latin America. Social media use rivals only that of the Philippines, with people spending on average 4.3 hours per day on social media - the most popular of which is Facebook and Whatsapp. Free public wifi is prevalent, particularly in Buenos Aires, where you’re never far from free wifi hotspots set up by the city council.
As Fundacion Libertad were keen to use technology to collect data and to engage with their audience across the country in different ways, because it is a high-tech environment, the training included topics such as online engagement tools like Google Hangouts on Air / YouTube Live for webinars and live streaming, data collection tools through smartphones and survey tools such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, and making the most out of backend analytics of technology platforms and channels as another form of M&E.
However, despite the wide range of tools that could be used in Argentina, there are a few challenges - but not for the reasons I usually encounter in other contexts. High taxes for smartphones, due to extremely high (and rising) inflation (something that people are hoping the new administration and its pro-business stance may be able to address) means that most people have Android phones: import taxes for Apple products stand at 50% import tax plus shipping fees, making a 64GB iPhone 6S Plus on the black market in Argentina the most expensive in the world, at almost $2,000USD.
Even the customs form when entering Argentina had a particular question about whether or not you were bringing in a mobile phone, in order to ascertain whether it was new and brought abroad, and therefore subject to high import duties. What this means is that the (free) tech tools that Fundacion Libertad want to use in their work are usually Google-based - Google Forms, Google Hangouts, YouTube Live - or at the very least, compatible with the Android platform.
It was a hugely enjoyable week - not only because delivering training in a fascinating context in a subject area that I know and love is immensely rewarding, but also because there were so many opportunities to learn and understand a huge amount about the Argentinean context from the extremely bright and enthusiastic Fundacion Libertad team.
The workshop in Argentina is one of several Panoply Digital is doing globally around M&E and technology, as CIPE’s training partner - my colleague Michael was in Nepal a few weeks ago, and in the next few months, Lauren will be in Jordan and I will be in Kenya. Stay tuned for more!