Technology

Peacebuilding Reboot

In December I met three inspiring girls, all about 13 years old, in Mumbai India. They’d come from Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, to demonstrate the mobile app they’d developed to counter gender violence. It sounded an alarm, sent a help message to friends, and shared their location. Simple but effective.

Theirs is a case study in the democratization of information and capital flows happening around the world. Working on their shared laptop, from the very heart of deprivation and daily violence, they accessed M.I.T.’s do-it-yourself app-maker program to build their prototype. Connected via Skype with our team in Washington, they get weekly development assistance in preparing their app for release on the Google Play Store. And now, with more help from friends and fans around the world, they’re trying to crowdsource funds in the hopes of both sharing their brainchild more widely and maybe even making a few dollars from it.

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Photo Credit: Dharavi Diary

Meeting the girls reminded me of a 28-year-old activist from Syria, I’d encountered only a few months earlier, named Dlshad Othman. Dlshad had made headlines with Aymta, a mobile app he created and launched with modest personal start-up funds that tracks the trajectory of missiles fired in Syria and sends a warning to its subscribers. But he didn’t stop there. Determined to save lives with his technology know-how, he went on to create Uvirtus, a system to allow Syrians to securely post videos of the conflict to YouTube, and, more recently, Collabase, a suite of collaboration tools for human rights activists in the Middle East.

These young entrepreneurs for social good represent a sea change happening in the conflict resolution field today. The last three decades were characterized by an increasing professionalization of our field — exponential growth in university degree programs, in NGOs and international organizations with dedicated programs in conflict resolution, the development of taxonomies and metrics with which to gauge effectiveness. The next three decades will, I believe, be characterized by exponential growth in projects for, and by, the Dharavi girls of the world and their counterparts like Dlshad whom I encounter on every trip to conflict prone countries from Burma to South Sudan from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Some might see this as the antithesis of professionalization. I see it as a reboot, as in the restart of an operating system or the remake of a production. Conflict prevention and peacebuilding are getting a new cast of characters and an exciting new script.

This script includes the birth of an industry — the peacetech industry — where democratized access to information and capital produce innovations that both save lives and create jobs. It’s the story of a hacker space that’s launched in Baghdad with a $30,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign,…

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