Look just below the surface of any wicked problem these days and you are likely to find that there is a technological issue among its causes and that they will also figure in whatever ways we try to deal with it.
With that in mind, the Alliance for Peacebulding was delighted to co-sponsor the recent Build Peace conference which I attended at the end of April in Nicosia, Cyprus.
It was the second such event organized by four remarkable young social entrepreneurs who call themselves as Build Up^. The first drew some 200 people to the iconic MIT Media Lab in 2014. They decided to hold the second one in Cyprus so that it could include events on both sides of the divided island of Cyprus’s “green line.”
This time, about 250 people from over 60 countries attended. The first day’s sessions were held at Bedestan–a restored church and open air market–in the Turkish half of the city. The second day’s session were held at a number of locations on the Greek side of the border.
In her opening remarks, Helena Puig Larrauri set the tone for the weekend by invoking three themes we would be focusing on–how technology can be used to change behavior, empower people, and have an impact on policy makers. More importantly, she encouraged us to “play well with others so we could be dangerous in the world.” In fact, I was so taken by that phrase that it will be at the heart of my next book, if there is to be one.
Keynote addresses and panels covered everything from the peaceful use of drones to the new Peace Tech Lab at the United States Institute of Peace. In addition, we learned about the use of new technologies in storytelling, gaming, the arts, project design, and evaluation. During breaks between the sessions, we were even treated to a mostly 1960s era collection of peace songs which were part of a mix tape made by the father of one of the organizers–The Song Remains the Same.
For me, the most valuable time was spent in small workshops on the second day. Mine, for example, developed a prototype for using technology to expand an existing project on interfaith peacebuilding among Lebanese middle school students by using a variety of on line tools. Other groups did the same for such different issues as counteracting the polarizing impact of much of life on the Web and more effectively using big data.
As I write, the organizers have begun posting the keynote talks and plenary panel sessions on their You Tube channel which you can find by following the links that appear after you watch Helena’s talk.
Next year we will look at how we can learn more explicitly from works done in other field that take us beyond both information technology and peacebuilding and tackle the always vexing question of how to make our actions “sticky” and how to take them to scale.