In the last few weeks, I’ve had three opportunities to see the progress we’ve made in see how information technology can be used to spark innovation in peacebuilding and just how much more progress we still have to make.
First, we at the Alliance for Peacebuilding attended the second annual CalCon conference at the University of San Diego’s Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. I helped organize the event, and my colleague Stone Conroy made two pitches. Most of our time was spent hearing critiquing, and building momentum behind a humber of pitches on such topics as mapping peacebuilding activities, developing games in conflict zone, and using the Internet to foster reconciliation. Following up on the keynote address by Shamil Idriss of Search for Common Ground, we spent the three days exploring how IT could revolutionize our work. There was one problem, however. We did not have enough people in the room with the financial resources to turn those ideas into reality. That said, I did get to meet Eva Dimitriadis of C5Capital who invited AfP to the second event in my three weeks of intellectual exploration.
Second, Eva invited AfP to the pitch day for an accelerator C5 runs with the Peace Tech Lab at the United States Institute for Peace and Amazon Web Services. At CalCon, we could only coach pitchers for a half hour each. At the accelerator, the presenters had spent. eight weeks in an accelerator developing their product while sharpening their pitches. Therefore, the projects–including more games, a streaming music service for underserved markets (including those in conflict zones), and an app to produce sociable media–were much smoother, and we in the audience had no trouble seeing how any of them could be taken to market. That said, one thing was missing. All of these were projects that were being developed almost from scratch. Not in the room were existing businesses who already have products that could be adapted and used by peacebuildiers.
Third, I began to see how that could happen almost by accident. My wife and I had the new president of Amida, Isadore Katz, for dinner. That wasn’t surprising since Isadore is my cousin! Amida is a relatively new company that defines its mission as “bringing data to the people.” Amida is a big data company that helps its clients amalgamate seemingly disparate and incompatible data and use big data to help monitor and evaluate existing products. Unlike the other big data companies I know about, Amida explicitly sees itself working with NGO like the members of AfP.
In the end, my three meeting convinced me that we really do need an entire “peace industrial complex.” However, each stop led met a new version of the conclusion. We in the peacebuilding world cannot create that industry on our own. We will have tow work with allies I already knew about like the Peace Tech Lab, but also with investors like those at C5 Capital and their equivalents in the climate change arena, and with companies like Amida that already have products we can use and that could, themselves, become partners we work with.