Building Peace through Technology
16 Jun 2015 by Inaam Salih
A couple of months back, I had the chance to attend this year’s Build Peace conference focusing on the use of technology in establishing alternative infrastructures for peace in all communities, specifically vulnerable ones. The approaches to peace that were shared, unpacked and discussed centred on empowerment, behavioral change and impact.
The Peace Conference was hosted by UNDP Cyprus and took place in the world’s last divided capital city: Nicosia-Cyprus. Over 200 participants from different nationalities representing UN, NGOs, authors, publishers, activists, social innovators, and academics gathered to reflect on peace through technology over two packed conference days. Choosing Cyprus and Nicosia as a venue came from the unique status that distinguishes it from other countries and capitals. The conference venues were spread across both sides of the capital city and the Greek and Turkish communities. This was a special and powerful experience for the participants who had to cross and negotiate borders moving from one session to the next.
The first day took place in Bedestan, a beautiful 12th century Byzantine church in the Turkish Cypriot community, where we filled the space between the impressive marble and granite columns. As one of the most important historical buildings in Nicosia, we got to experience the multicultural life and historical periods of the city, wedged between the Selimiye mosque and the Bandabuliya. The guiding themes of the conference were weaved through different types of sessions ranging from talks and discussions to movie screenings, design sessions, tech and art fairs.
What were my main take-aways around the guiding themes?
Empowered to do what? One key reason to use technologies in peacebuilding is that they can empower a larger number of people to engage and participate.
Behavior change: A series of talks presented projects aimed at promoting peaceful attitudes by shaping the peace and conflict narratives, through training or education.
Impacts: What are they? How can we measure them? Does technology change what we can achieve in peacebuilding?
The talks and the panel discussions concluded that alternative infrastructures for peace: Empowerment, behavior change and impact are three sides of the same story.
As a technical infrastructure, technology for peace is a series of tools that allow local peace builders to communicate with more people in more ways and collect better information.
As an organizational infrastructure, it is a means / tool by which communities build new participatory processes, and assume collective responsibility for building peace.
As a social infrastructure, it circulates ideas and creates consensus about the importance of community engagement in peacebuilding and insures that civilians have freedom from fear.
You can read more about the programme design and thoughts around the guiding themes here as conceived by the Build Peace organisers.
We concluded the evening of the first day by most joyful reception party, joined by a Cypriot singer who entertained us with beautiful songs in Buyuk Han –the Great Inn in North Nicosia.
The second day we crossed to the Greek Cypriot community and their Centre of Visual Arts & Research, where news and information on all cultural, social, musical and all other events in Cyprus can be found.
Day two saw our own Raik Shino gaming platform featured in one of the Build Peace Labs, which gave UNDP Sudan a great opportunity to show case some of the innovative work that is going on leveraging technology for peacebuilding in Sudan. Another project which was also brought into the Lab sessions was our Youth Volunteers Rebuilding Darfur project. The discussions around this led to many new thoughts, collective ideas, and tools that could help drive this project towards more creativity and innovation. Many activists offers their support to move with the project to higher stage.
Other working session focused on foresight and peacebuilding as well as media and polarization, looking at positive and negative forces at play in visioning a better tomorrow. Through the Arts Fair we also got an insight into art and culture as tools for conflict mediation, storytelling, and education.
All in all, the conference was a powerful and inspirational experience which I hope many other Sudanese will also have the opportunity to join in future years. The 2015 Build Peace conference concluded its events by one simple fact “it’s up to us to define peace”.
To read other participants’ reflections, you can check out the conference blog here.