Scaling Peacetech – A Growing Conversation (by Jacob Lefton)

In February, I attended the Peacetech 2016 Summit, Scaling Peacetech: More, Better Faster, at the United States Institute of Peace’s PeaceTech Lab. They brought together visionaries and pioneers from a variety of industries and government to discuss how enterprises can become collaborators in growing the impact and reach of peacetech.

At Build Peace 2015, Sheldon Himelfarb, the president of the PeaceTech Lab, delivered a keynote “From Innovation to Industry,” making a case for scaling peacetech through industrial methodology.

The forward thrust of PeaceTech Lab’s proposal is that impact goals in peacetech can be reached and exceeded by using for-profit industry models in design and implementation of peacetech processes. This peacetech industry, built to rival other industrial complexes, would be aligned around social values to further peacebuilding objectives. At the Summit, Himelfarb presented supporting discussions, including presentations on the power of GIS, the peering economy, video games, and some innovative media companies, to name just a few. The Summit seemed to frame scaling in peacetech as a profit-motive problem. Tech entrepreneurs are less likely to be drawn to peacebuilding applications for their work, because the current peacetech funding models that exist are not attractive enough.

For the PeaceTech Lab, the way to scale peacebuilding is through profit. This approach to scaling, they argue, would build a bigger tent to bring in innovators who are drawn more strongly to fiscal growth than more traditional peacebuilders seem to be.

peacetech summit

As I attended the Lab’s summit, it seemed the Lab’s investigation on scaling peacetech through profit intersects with inquiries we hope to explore during Build Peace 2016: Towards Transformation. As we said earlier, Build Peace 2016 asks why we use technology to build peace. What are we trying to change, and what can technology affect in these processes? We defined three areas of inquiry: political transformation, socio-cultural transformation, and ethics. Profit models for scaling peacetech raise significant questions in all three, such as:

  • How do we scale peacetech in an effective manner that leads to true transformation? Is profit for innovators a foundation of peacetech?
  • How does industrial peacetech—the peace-through-profit model—work to allow under-resourced stakeholders to participate in on a level playing field?
  • There were few grassroots organizations mentioned, and fewer grassroots voices represented at the PeaceTech Summit. Who is invited to participate in industrial peacetech, and how do we ensure input from a broad range of peacebuilders and innovators?
  • If industrial peacetech is driven by traditional economic structures of capital and investment, how does it address or subvert inherent political and socio-cultural power dynamics associated with private enterprise today?
  • What does a peacetech company actually look like, structurally? Is the peering economy a key ingredient? Build Peace’s Rodrigo Davies looked into that last year when answering the question, ‘is AirBnB a civic tech company, a peacetech company, or neither?’

As we prepare for our three-day conference in Zurich in September, scalability is one of the forefront questions on our mind. Our focus at Build Peace is to deliver on impact faster with more sustainable and broader reaching outcomes. In Zurich, we will continue the conversation as we explore possibilities and pitfalls in various models of transformation through peacetech.

Do you have an answer to one of our questions, or a question of your own? Please share it with us.


We look forward to hearing your voice in the ongoing conversation.