© UNICEF Kenya/2012/Noorani
‘Innovation’ has been a buzzword of this decade for good reasons. The world has changed in front of our eyes, and we have become witness to the ways in which innovative ideas can drive industry transformation, market creation and humanitarian response, to name just a few. But what does innovation mean in the context of peacebuilding? Do innovative ideas have the power to stop war and destruction? Can innovation cultivate peace?
Boys play outside Shamba Primary School, in the Kakuma refugee camp, in north-western Kenya’s Turkana District. UNICEF continues to support a variety of initiatives for vulnerable Kenyan children, including those who have been subjected to violence.
To discuss these ideas, UNICEF podcast moderator Alex Goldmark spoke to Christopher Tuckwood, executive director and co-founder of the Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention
, a Toronto-based organization dedicated to predicting and preventing mass atrocities through the innovative use of technology and cooperation with threatened communities; and Sanjana Hattotuwa, the Special Advisor to the ICT4Peace Foundation
(Information, Communication and Technology for Peace), who is dedicated to improving crisis information management by using better information, communication and technology tools.
The model of the Sentinel Project is simple: Identify signs of violence and situations of concern at an early stage, and then work with the threatened community to find ways of stopping violence. “It is very clear from decades of research that has been done on these matters that they are not spontaneous events,” Mr. Tuckwood says.
Bringing specific examples from Burma and Kenya, he identifies some of the typical signs of how a specific group or minority can become alienated or threatened, such as denial of citizenship, targeted hate speech, exclusion from the economy or portions of the economy, expulsion from home, and deportation or relocation in camps.
“We try to take a pretty broad approach in terms of gathering information,” Mr. Tuckwood explains. “We use things like social media looking for hate speech, as well as developing ways in which the members of the communities that are at risk can actually communicate directly with us and communicate incidents that might not appear in the media, or in other NGOs’ reports or in social media.”
Talking about how technology has changed the way we monitor peace, Mr. Hattotuwa says that internet, social media platforms and mobile phones are providing the opportunity for billions of citizens around the world not just to consume information but also to produce it.
Moreover, technology is allowing us to bear witness regardless of where and who we are.
“Bearing witness is an active process, because it takes courage to do it. It is not a passive scene – it is observing; it is an act that you chose to do,” Mr. Hattotuwa says. “You are also adding to a body of knowledge, and, in the future, that can be very useful in helping understand why something happened around that time. So the technology is not only changing the way we see the world, but also how we engage, respond to and recover from violent conflict.”