Working for individuals and communities affected by conflict, using technology, media, & data to accelerate local peacebuilding efforts.
What we're listening to, reading, watching, and following this week.
Over the past few months, practitioners in technology for development and peacebuilding have recognized similarities in some of the challenges they see in the U.S. and those they have addressed through their work abroad. However, many are unsure how best to apply their experience and expertise in the U.S. context, and many also recognize that technology – particularly social media – has itself driven many of the divisions we see in the country today.
Despite this fact, there are initiatives in the U.S. that could benefit from this community’s expertise in applying technology to support development and peacebuilding worldwide. At a Tech Salon I participated in on February 3, practitioners in DC began exploring this exact topic.
During the Tech Salon, we explored some of the sources of tension and division in the U.S. that are relevant for our work, including trends toward “tribalism”, information silos, economic insecurity, and unequal access to infrastructure and basic services. We also discussed how locally driven approaches in Kenya and Myanmar to prevent violence and address tensions can provide a useful framework for applying technology to address tensions between communities in the U.S. While there are many opportunities for peacetech practitioners to apply their experience in the U.S., as some pointed out, whether we work in Baltimore or Nairobi it is important to work at the local level and develop solutions that apply technology to specific contextual issues. By applying our expertise and lessons learned, the peacetech community can be a potentially powerful ally for transforming drivers of conflict and tension in the U.S.
The PeaceTech Lab's Open Situation Room Exchange (OSRx) provides an open source of global conflict and instability real-time data from social media and news. The OSRx News Analytics Instability Timeline for Syria shows a decrease in instability throughout February. The Y-axis is the percent of all events monitored worldwide that are identified as conflict events for Syria. The line chart depicts the density of conflict events for Syria as a percentage of all news reports. The UN-sponsored peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition may explain the recent trend toward news stabilization.
PeaceTech in Action
Stories from the field.
After finishing her Master’s Degree in International Affairs at Columbia, Aline Sara was looking for ways to improve her Arabic dialect in preparation for humanitarian work, but knew the cost of private tutoring in New York City would be prohibitive.
That’s when she came up with the idea for NaTakallam, a social venture that connects Syrian refugees with Arabic learners worldwide for language practice over Skype. The platform caters to students in need of affordable and flexible Arabic practice and direct access to native speakers, while providing displaced Syrians with a source of income, marketable skills, and an enriching work opportunity.
To date, some 50 Syrian conversation partners and over 1,200 individuals in more than 60 countries have engaged in more than 10,000 hours of NaTakallam sessions. Since starting in August 2015, displaced people have self-generated over $75,000 through their work with NaTakallam. The self-generated revenue empowers refugees who would otherwise be passive recipients of aid. NaTakallam instructors contribute to their host country’s economy by spending their earned income.
Furthermore, NaTakallam fosters cross-cultural understanding. The operations team pairs instructors and students based on shared interests with the purpose of creating relationships. NaTakallam has found a unique way to use Skype as a platform for both language and culture dissemination while providing empowering work opportunities to refugees.
NaTakallam is open to students of all ages and proficiency levels, including those with no prior experience in Arabic. New students can easily sign-up from their computer.
A think tank at Google has developed an artificial intelligence tool that moderates online discussions to determine its levels of "toxicity". The tool is meant to keep conversations respectful and substantive.