Calling all Czechs abroad: Help build a global social network to strengthen Czech bonds

04-07-2020

The Czech Republic is reaching out to all Czechs abroad with a new social network that is to help empower individuals and communities and strengthen bonds with their home country.

There are over 2.5 million people scattered the world over who identify themselves as Czechs or say they have Czech roots. They are expats who left the country in several waves in the course of the  20th century, fleeing from Nazi or Communist oppression, but also Czechs who availed themselves of the opportunity to study or work abroad after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Jiří Krátký, photo: Ondřej TomšůJiří Krátký, photo: Ondřej Tomšů In cities with a strong Czech presence such as Chicago or Manchester, Czechs have established their own support networks to help one another nurture their heritage and maintain their Czech language skills. There are Czech pubs, Czech schools and Czech cultural institutions. However a broad social network where Czechs abroad can find one another, socialize or launch joint projects, has been missing.

So has a platform that would strengthen ties with their homeland and open up the chance for them to be active in this country, be it long or short-term. The government’s special commissioner for expats, Jiří Krátký says that during his many trips abroad this was a question that frequently came up.

“I was meeting with very interesting people, especially people working in the fields of science and development, and they kept asking me Why does the Czech Republic not enable us to contribute to something, to connect, to bring something back from their experience abroad? They all agreed on this point – that they do not get sufficient support in this respect and the Czech Republic should give it, if it does not want to lose the potential that the Czech community abroad represents. When I presented the idea to Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček he told me that, on the basis of his own experience abroad, he thinks the idea has great potential. So what we are doing now is trying to establish a network that would enable a broad connection not only between Czech people living abroad and their homeland but also among themselves.”

The new platform is being created by a group of IT specialists, innovators and designers led by Tomáš Studeník who says the added value of this program is that it should provide broader opportunities for interaction than Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, with the operative word being “Czech”.

Tomáš Studeník, photo: archive of Tomáš StudeníkTomáš Studeník, photo: archive of Tomáš Studeník “Czech.Global is a platform to connect Czechs around the world, but also friends of the Czech Republic, or anyone who has a positive attitude to this country and the reason why we are building it, over the summer, is that we realized that Facebook or other social media platforms don’t solve everything. If you are looking for someone who could help you to establish a presence and find a home in a new country, find a job or start a business venture in a different country, there is no easy way to reach your compatriots, currently. That is why we are building this platform that would make it possible for professionals working abroad or people who want to start a project in a new country to have a word about it with fellow-countrymen. Currently there is nothing and over the next two month we will build a platform that should make this possible.”

The new platform should meet a wide variety of needs – from finding a babysitter in your area who speaks Czech, to someone willing to join a new start-up. It should empower the Czech community abroad and foster strong bonds with the place they call home or “the old country”.  The pressing need for such connections is obvious from the many local or professional associations that have arisen to try to meet these needs. One of the highly successful ones is the Czexpats in Science Association launched in 2018. Olga Löblová, who is a member, says that the need to link up Czech researchers was strong.

“You know there was no platform to interconnect Czech scientists and researchers working abroad. Of course, people who left for post-graduate studies or work abroad would meet other Czechs working there and would be in touch with them, but the idea that Czech scientists working abroad were aware of others in the same area of research, much less different fields in other part of the world and that they had contacts to scientists here in the Czech Republic would be misleading. That is something that we have been working to change. And that is why we were called upon to take part in the building of Czech. Global. We have two years of experience already, during which time we brought together several hundred Czech scientists around the world, so we will contribute with our know-how. We know what works and what doesn’t.”

Anita Grmelová, photo: archive of Czech Foreign MinistryAnita Grmelová, photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry The Czech.Global  project is supported by the Czech Foreign Ministry and it is at Černín Palace that the two-month-long summer hackathon is now taking place. Deputy Foreign Minister Anita Grmelová explains why the ministry feels the need to reach out to Czechs abroad.

“The Foreign Ministry feels that the Czech Republic doesn’t work with Czechs who live abroad well enough; doesn’t work with them the same way as the Poles or Slovaks do. We would like to see a stronger link and we hope that the project Czech.Global is going to achieve that in some way. We want Czechs who live abroad to be more involved in our life here at home and we want them to come back to a country that they know because we have an ongoing conversation with them and we hope this platform will help.”

Who will be managing it?

“Well, at the moment it is a team that is led by Mr. Tomáš Studeník, who is an innovator, he describes himself as an urban hacker I think, and he has a group of young enthusiasts who have worked with him on other projects. We are giving them all the support we can, we have a network of embassies around the world that can help, but mainly it is their project –it is bottom up – and we are going to let it develop and support it, but we do not want to heavily influence it, because institutions like the Foreign Ministry tend to be very conservative, not flexible enough. So we are very glad to have this group of people who are flexible and enthusiastic and who can do things that we cannot do.”

The new network should also serve friends of the Czech Republic –people who visited, who studied or lived here, made friends and have an affinity to this country. Will it open up the way for them to take part in Czech-related events and projects?

“We know there is a large number of people who have lived in the Czech Republic, there are many people who have studied here –I personally know of medical students from the UK, even Saudi Arabia –and who graduated from Czech universities. All these people return home one day, but they have spent many happy years in the Czech Republic and forged strong bonds that we want to preserve.”

The man in charge of the Czech.Global project, Tomáš Studeník, is now collecting ideas from individuals and people representing various Czech organizations abroad in order to map their priorities and needs. He has appealed to Czechs abroad to get involved and says all contributions are highly valued.

Illustrative photo: Ian WilloughbyIllustrative photo: Ian Willoughby “Anyone, no matter what expertise he or she may have. We are looking for developers, designers, but also experienced users. So if you are a potential user of this platform we want to have you on board to test it, fine-tune it, tell us what you would expect from such a project, what you miss on current platforms. It is very valuable for us to learn at the beginning about what your pains are, what the benefits should be for the community. So please, no matter where you are, who you are, give us a hand -go to Czech.Global  where you can sign up and we will be happy to include you in this amazing project.”

When do you expect it to be up and running?

“We are building a prototype that should take two months to build –the first version will not be perfect –it is a work in progress, but we are hoping that by the end of this year there will be a fully functional platform, with a substantial number of users, alive and kicking.”

The government’s commissioner for expats Jiří Krátký says he hopes to see this network bond Czechs with their homeland in a measure that was present back in the days when Czechs and Slovaks living in the United States helped Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk win support for the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak state. He says he is deeply aware of how much the country is losing out by not better enabling Czechs abroad to take an active part in Czech affairs.

“We are losing much more than we can imagine. This is the most important thing I found out [on my trips abroad]. We lost much of our Czech potential in the previous totalitarian regime and I do not want us to lose this potential again by simply not giving Czechs abroad our attention.  It is a question of letting them know that we need them, that we are interested in their work abroad and that we are still here to support them in need. We need to strengthen the human capital that we have abroad.”

Czech.Global will be an open support network for all Czechs abroad catering to different areas of interest. Jiří Krátký says he hopes it will be an important milestone on the road to strengthening bonds between Czechs wherever they may be.

“It will help to promote the power of the Czech human capital that we have and that we share with other countries through the people living abroad.  As Masaryk once wrote - We are a small state but we are a big nation – and that is something I really believe. We can make rise this great nation just on the base of reconnecting Czechs dispersed all around the world.”

If you are interested in assisting the project or sharing your views with the creative team please go to www.czech.gobal  or write to jiri_kratky@mzv.cz

04-07-2020