Mobilizing in Albania, and other stories from the mobile youth movement

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jan 24, 2008

MobileActives are increasingly making the news as mainstream press is picking up the potential of mobiles as organizing, advocacy, and mobilization tools in social change movements. In an article in the Financial Times today, the focus is on young social change leaders using technology, and increasingly, cell phones in their work. Profiling Maft and its (former) leader Erion Veliaj of Mjaft, an Albanian young people's political movement, it's clear that good organizing and social change is unthinkable today without mobile phones.

When images of police brutality appear in an instant message on your mobile phone it has a powerful impact. At least this is the experience of Erion Veliaj and the other young activists behind Mjaft!, an Albanian youth movement whose name translates as “Enough!”. Mjaft! was founded in 2003 by Mr Veliaj and three other former high school friends who, returning from their studies at west European and US universities, were horrified at the corruption, poverty, organised crime and failing public services they witnessed in their home country.

Initially, the initiative was “a public campaign to provoke the public into action, to shake off civic apathy,” says Mr Veliaj. “Now it has developed into a fully fledged civic movement.”

With a professional staff of about 30 people in their mid-20s, the organisation caters to interest groups ranging from mining unions to student groups and immigrants overseas.

For Mr Veliaj, technology is fundamental to the workings of the organisation. For a start, it allows staff to do their work from anywhere. “My whole office is on my cell phone,” he says. “Most of our staffers are always travelling, and we have 10,000 members and about 1,000 all-time-ready volunteers. In minutes we can reach dozens to show up at a spontaneous action.”

Within seconds, the organisation can deliver pictures from a labour or political protest to news agencies. Using the multimedia messaging service available on mobile phones, its text messages can reach up to 500,000 subscribers.

These images allow the organisation to cover anything from government ministers going through red lights to voting patterns on important government bills as displayed on the electronic board at the country’s parliament.

Staff members use mobile communications to keep in touch with the office round the clock, even when on the road and in remote parts of the country, allowing them to expose issues that go unreported by most mainstream media outlets.

Mr Veliaj believes technology is a powerful tool in prompting political, social and environmental change. “It changed our world here in Albania,” he says. “Increased internet access, mobile connectivity, speedy information and ways to network via technology have contributed to getting a rather apathetic public in 2003 into a vibrant community of genuine interest groups fighting around a cause, making their stories heard, and inviting others to join in.”


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