What You Should Know about the Smartphone Revolution in Iran

What You Should Know about the Smartphone Revolution in Iran - Digital

Samira Mohmmadi, 31, an architect, checks Facebook on her smart phone as she hangs out with friends (unseen) from a high terrace overlooking the capital.

Technological advances have the potential to transform the global human rights movement.  One only has to look at the promising beginnings of the Arab Spring revolutions or the Ferguson protests and Black Lives Matter to see the significant role of technology in social movements. Around the world, technology is increasingly being used to bring about justice and equality for marginalized groups of all stripes–women, racial and religious minorities and refugees.

In Iran, however, where nearly 40 million smartphones are in use, with another million added each month, there are almost no apps for effecting positive social change. Civic tech groups are prevented from developing or using apps that might be considered subversive, with the government stifling the country’s app market and development of the civic tech sector.

This is the reality for millions of people living in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Until now.

United for Iran, a San Francisco Bay area based independent nonprofit, just launched IranCubator, a global contest to create social-good Android apps for use inside Iran. IranCubator, in partnership with civil society leaders and technologists, aims to create Iran’s civic tech sector. The project’s ultimate objective is to encourage civic engagement among everyday Iranians and provide them with technologies that enables them to organize, assemble, and express themselves more easily and securely.

Through the contest, IranCubator will pair-off civil society activists with techies who want to use their skills to make a difference and reach an untapped market with millions of potential users. The areas of focus for the apps have been determined through an extensive community needs assessment. United for Iran surveyed over 200 activists and community organizers to determine community needs and potential tech solutions. Possible apps that will be built by IranCubator include an app connecting victims of domestic abuse to resources and each other, or a Yelp-like app that enables users to rate government services and officials.

Ultimately, IranCubator’s Advisory Board, a diverse and inspiring group of human rights activists and organizers, venture capitalists, mobile technology experts, and security researchers, will rely on the target areas determined through the community needs assessment to select up to 20 apps to be made.

The winning teams, in additional to a financial reward, will receive extensive institutional support and full security audits and vulnerability testing to ensure the safety of the apps and the users inside Iran.

 United for Iran (U4I) has a long history of collaborative work inside Iran, from their founding in 2009 to today. U4I was founded in the aftermath of the protests following Iran’s June 2009 elections, when executive director and founder Firuzeh Mahmoudi organized a global protest in support of Iranian citizens and their demand for democracy. Today, half of United for Iran’s staff are activists and former political prisoners who were forced to leave Iran after the 2009 crackdown.  U4I has stayed focused on working with, not for, people of Iran in advocating for civil liberties and human rights.

We are at a critical point in defining the role that technology will play in our lives and societies.

Many human rights activists and technologists envision the use of technology in ensuring deep societal impact.  IranCubator aims to deliver on that vision. Iranians’ basic rights to freedoms of expression, assembly, religion, and association will be protected by IranCubator.

We hope that IranCubator apps will have a ripple effect regionally and globally.

***IranCubator is currently accepting applications from techies, activists and community leaders, and teams. Have an idea for an app? IranCubator is accepting ideas too! The first round of ideas are being accepted until June 14, 2016.

Send your questions to [email protected].