Latest News from Transitions (TOL)

Past Events

Getting Googled

No matter what kind of work you’re in, it feels good to get recognition from people and organizations in high places – especially when that organization is Google.  That’s why we were especially thrilled last week when a post on Google’s “Europe Blog” highlighted our work monitoring press freedom in our region.

William Echikson, who wrote the post for the blog, is head of free expression for Europe, Middle East, and Africa at Google and was in Prague in January for an event discussing media freedom. He wrote about his impressions of the work being done in the country, noting that the “Czech capital is also home to a dedicated and broad network of freedom-loving NGOs.”

Yeah, that sounds like us alright!

Dushanbe calling

We’ve mentioned in the past our pride in our Central Asian software localization projects, but we’re particularly happy to announce the completion and launch of a Tajik translation of Skype that will allow users to use the popular software in their native language.

The project, which took about four months, was done by a team of volunteers led by Abdulfattoh Shafiev, an alumnus of one of our training-the-trainer courses. The team took on the challenge of translating the thousands of phrases used in the software because they believe strongly in promoting the Tajik language on the Internet. Currently, Skype offers 27 languages for its software and several more unofficial languages developed by volunteers. The team is currently talking to Skype representatives to get this Tajik version included in the list of official languages.

So far there seems to be a lot of buzz about the release, and the project was even featured by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service. TV Mir (the CIS broadcast company) has also expressed interest in interviewing Abdulfattoh about the project. Already the language file has been downloaded hundreds of times through social networks, giving Tajik users the rare experience of using mainstream software in their native language.

Abdulfattoh was inspired to launch the project after hearing about other localizations that TOL spearheaded through our program in Central Asia, supported by the United Nation Democracy Fund, which included the localization of Skype and WordPress into several Central Asian languages.

Education reporters get first crack at TOL’s Media Academy

One of the things we are extremely interested in these days at Transitions is the possibility of using technology to improve the reach of our training and education projects.  Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to develop an online distance learning hub called the TOL Media Academy (and we’re sure you’ll be hearing more about it in the months to come.)

Just recently we completed our very first run of students through the academy.
The course – based closely on a course created by the Guardian Foundation several years ago – offered the latest e-learning technology, the result of a new partnership with TechChange, the institute of technology and social change (for more on that partnership, check out the TechChange blog). The TechChange online platform is extremely user-friendly and integrates a number of dynamic features for both real-time and self-paced learning.

Fourteen participants from all over the region have learned what it takes to become a specialist in the education beat – why it’s  important to know one’s readership, where to find stories and possible sources, and much more.

A writer and journalist who has covered education for the past 20 years, Ard Jongsma led the course and incorporated some of TechChange’s advanced features, including live document sharing and video conferencing, to create an informative and uniquely engaging experience for future education reporters.

No matter whether from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, or the Czech Republic participants came away from the course with real-world practical experience reporting on an issue related to education in their home country and feedback on their work from both Ard and the other participants.

The course was part of the “Reporting Education Project” supported by the Education Support Programme of the Open Society Institute.

Success Story

Over the years, we’ve been pleased to facilitate the growth of some of the region’s young new media and tech entrepreneurs that have participated in our social innovation camps and workshops. Teymur Kuseba is a case in point, and we’ve been blown away by the prizes and recognition that he and his startup team have racked up in rapid succession.

Teymur, who participated in our Azerbaijan Social Innovation camp in spring 2011, has taken a special interest in social activism and issues related to Internet policy, security, and the effects of social networking. And he’s parlayed those interests into a recent string of successes, starting with his participation in last year’s STEP (Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Program) Startup Generator. The program, organized by CRDF Global and the Azercell/Barama Innovation Center, trained dozens of young entrepreneurs on the ins and outs of launching a startup. Teymur and his team were selected from that group as finalists to participate in December’s Startup Boot Camp and Business Plan Competition Finale. At the competition, his team won a travel grant.

Teymur and his team developed a hand-held universal electronics charger. According to the event organizers, the project was unique because of its “ability to generate its own electricity, which frees it from reliance on sunlight or a power grid.”

Following quickly on the heels of that success, Teymur and his team were named finalists in the Baku Startup Competition – the first ever such event in Azerbaijan. During the 8 January event, Teymur’s team won third place. Part of his team’s success came from their active promotion of environmentally friendly policies and products in social networks and on other websites.

Previously Teymur was behind the website, a project developed at the Barama Innovation Center to promote healthy lifestyles among Azerbaijani youth.

Featured Articles

Transitions Online ( often showcases the work produced through our grant programs.  Some of the highlights from December include the following stories:

3 December
Tashkent Calling
Despite official disapproval, rockers in Uzbekistan find ways to let the music play, and a new school aims to help show them how.
By Dengiz Uralov

4 December
Speaking Their Language
A pilot program in Montenegro reaches out to Roma parents, in their own tongue, to bring home the importance of keeping kids in school.
By Barbara Frye

5 December
Russia Gets Out Its Checkbook
Moscow aims to boost Tajikistan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s woeful militaries while casting a wary eye on U.S. and Uzbek influence in the region.
By Askar Erkebaev

11 December
Crime and Too Much Punishment
In Kyrgyz criminal-justice circles, the ideas of rehabilitation and restorative justice are taking root.
By Hamid Toursunof

12 December
In Lithuania, Too Many Teachers Chasing Too Few Pupils
The Baltic state’s schools are struggling with the consequences of the slump and unrelenting population loss. Is firing older teachers en masse the solution?
By Linas Jegelevicius

13 December
Moldovan Migrants Torn Between East and West
For many, the path to a better life leads no longer to Europe, but to Russia.
By Dmitry Romanovski

14 December
Georgia Treads the Thin Line
The recent arrests of top officials and a review of prisoners’ cases raise questions about justice and revenge.
By Shorena Latatia

18 December
Cleaning Up Georgia’s Environmental Law
Georgia’s new government is rushing to repeal recent environmental legislation that critics say opens a door to corruption.
By Tsira Gvasalia

20 December
In Rural Georgia, A Clash of Prayers and Prejudice
Recent disputes over Muslim prayer halls stir concern about religious tolerance in an Orthodox-dominant nation.
By Maia Edilashvili

17 December
The Great Russian Consumer Revolution
In a new book, journalist Valery Panyushkin argues that the Soviet Union fell to an emerging consumer society that is also beginning to undermine Vladimir Putin as frustration builds over Russia’s abysmal public services.
By Alaksandr Kolesnichenko

Current Projects

Azerbaijan and Moldova
Promoting the use of new media and social media among journalists, civil society organizations, and young people.
Central Asia
Promoting the use of Internet media and new media techniques to produce, promote, and distribute new forms of content.
Improving the quality of environmental investigative journalism while increasing the impact of the environmental movement in Russia.
Education Reporting
Using distance learning courses, workshops, and other resources to improve reporting on education-related topics.

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