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Building a Peace Tech Industry

Craig Zelizer

April 10, 2015

Today I am fortunate to be able to attend the second Business and Economics of Peace Conferenceat American University organized by The institute for Economics and Peace andAmerican University.

The conference is a biannual gathering of the growing community of scholars and practitioners working on understanding, reseraching, mapping and advancing the role of business in peacebuilding

As Aubrey Fox, the Executive Director of the US Office of the Institute for Peace and Economics explained we are striving to go beyond addressing conflict, to building positive peace. For anyone who hasn't looked at the groundbreaking work of the IEP, they are one the pioneering think/do tanks working to develop high quality research, metrics and tools around Economics and peacebuilding. Each year they produce the annual Global Peace Index report, which has become a central resources for those like myself and thousands of others around the world, working on these issues. For instance IEP calculates the global cost of violence is 9.46 trillion USD.

This morning's opening speaker is Dr. Sheldon Himelfarb, who is the President and CEO of the Peace Tech Lab at the United States Institute of Peace. Sheldon focuses much of his work on highlighting, supporting and convening the tech for peace industry. One of the key challenges for the nascent peace tech industry is there are thousands of amazing examples around the world where people, organizations and communities are using tech in amazing ways to save lives, improve communities, improve governance and more.

Sheldon discussed several examples this morning including one app that was used to warn people in Syrian communities about when missiles were launched and the trajectory so people could take action. Another example comes from  Haiti where an innovate approached used tech and mapping to decide where to place solar powered streetlights to help make communities safe from crime, gang violence, etc.

A critical challenge is that much of the peace tech work to date, is still relatively small and hasn't scaled up to be be a full industry producing innovate technologies to prevent conflict and build peace. Dr. Himelfarb is advocating for a radical investment in creating an entire peace tech industry that will convene engineers, peacebuilders, techies, business people, design thinkers to make this to a be central part of the peacebuilding industry

As he said for "too long we have thought of conflict countries as economic wastelands", but it has changed and we need to see how we can build peace tech industries, innovation hubs and much more to create economic opportunity, to broaden our definition of peacebuilding beyond NGOs, the UN and  civil society. Increasing foreign direct investment is increasing in conflict affected countries and let's kickstart a peace tech industry.

Dr. Himelffarb also explained, we can both save lives and  build businesses. Conflict zones used to be data deserts, now conflict zones are data blizzards.  Data is essential for us to be doing early warning, but it also has real value to companies seeking to protect their supply chains.

One of the challenges is there are also many groups, governments and companies also using tech for negative means such as terrorist recruiting, inciting violence, etc. We need to scale up a peace tech industry to grow a positive industry and to move beyond donor driven limited projects.

The peace Tech Industry composes many, many sectors.

Dr. Himelfarb is careful not to show Peace Tech as the magic panecea to stopping many of the challenges in the world, just as a military approach is not the only solution. "our priorities are really lopsided" For example US defense budget is 500 billion, the budget for State and USAID is 46 billion, while the budget for USIP is only 35 million. To put things in perspective Google's catering budget for 2008 was $72 million dollars.

What are some of your examples of the Peace Tech Industry in your country? What is working well? What are your favorite innovations.

Dr. Himelfarb todl amazing example after amazing example of people using tech for good. One of his favorite example was several teenage girls who created an app to help prevent gender baesd violence in India. People like this represent "a sea change of things happening around the world. They are the future of the tech industry and also a less violent planet"

"Everyone one of us has the power of peacetech to save lives"

Dr. Himelfarb concluded his talk by saying

Download a peace tech app (see the PCDN Guide to Apps forChange)

Educate Yourself

Support an app

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