More, Better, Faster: PeaceTech in Review (By Sheldon Himelfarb, PeaceTech Lab CEO)

This guest posts by Sheldon Himelfarb, PeaceTech Lab CEO, is in response to Jacob Lefton’s post “Scaling Peacetech – A Growing Conversation”.

In his blog post, reviewing the February 4th PeaceTech Summit in Washington DC, Build Peace’s Jacob Lefton does a great job of distilling a lot of complex ideas that have been presented on how best to scale peacetech. However, one particularly significant and controversial topic – namely the role of profit in achieving scale – deserves closer examination here.

First, some context: the PeaceTech Summit was a unique opportunity to bring together visionaries and pioneers in the emerging peacetech industry. With over 300 participants, panelists from Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Brazil, Australia, DC, and Silicon Valley, and breakout sessions ranging from “Gaming to ScalePeace” to “Engineering Conflict Solutions at Scale,” it was certainly the most exciting undertaking in the PeaceTech Lab’s short history and we are grateful to all who made it possible.

With the success of the event, however, comes the ongoing challenge: how do we talk about the theme “Scaling Peacetech: More, Better, Faster” not as a tag line but rather as a modus operandi that underscores everything we in the PeaceTech Lab, and others in the field, believe and work towards? Lefton’s piece tees up the complexity by asking: “Who is invited to participate in industrial peacetech, and how do we ensure input from a broad range of peacebuilders and innovators?”

At the Lab, we firmly believe the voices of local peacebuilders are paramount to the success of scaling peacetech. Days before the Summit, we hosted a “Voices from the Field” Twitter Chat using the hashtag #scalepeacetech and were pleased by the participation of activists in Burundi, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and South Sudan. In addition, we were lucky to have iHub Nairobi Researcher Nanjira Sambuli with us on the opening panel, and the voices of other peacetech leaders from conflict countries represented throughout the day.

Lefton’s piece also highlights the important questions: “What does a peacetech company actually look like? How is it funded? Is profit for innovators a foundation of peacetech?”

Our vision of a thriving peacetech industry includes governments laying out seed money and awarding contracts for research and development. The resulting projects would attract investors, and businesses would discover overlapping interests with peacebuilding professionals. Profits would be realized in many cases, by leveraging the power of scale that comes with tech, data, and media work, creating a public-private win-win through more peaceful societies and sustainable economies.

There was one assertion in the piece, however, that was misleading: “For the PeaceTech Lab, the way to scale peacebuilding is through profit.” On the contrary, the Summit was designed to present an expansive array of scaling opportunities, some involving profit and many that did not. We showcased a non-profit peacetech accelerator being launched in Colorado to support in their own words “12 new startups that use technology to reduce violent conflict.” We applauded the work of Drexel University, this nation’s largest private college of engineering, for creating the first peace engineering degree program to help expand development of peacetech, among other goals. We listened to a panel of broadcasters from Nigeria, Pakistan and Netherlands with whom the Lab has recently signed agreements to co-develop peacebuilding media online and for broadcast.

In other words, the PeaceTech Lab is passionate in our belief that scaling peacetech and peacebuilding is a cross-sector undertaking that requires not-for-profit, government, and for-profit practitioners. We also believe that the for-profit sector has been woefully under-utilized — particularly now when low-cost, easy-to-access technology is changing the way information and capital flow. This new normal has unleashed unprecedented opportunities for social entrepreneurship in the use of tech, data and media for peace and prosperity.

For 2016 to be the year of truly transformative peacetech, we must, as Jacob Lefton suggests, employ laser-like focus on delivering impact faster “with more sustainable and broader reaching outcomes.” Media, data, and technology are important aspects of this goal, but to achieve scale requires we also get the people, partnerships, and processes right. To that end, the Lab will continue to work as a convener and strategic partner for businesses, non-profits, and peacebuilders alike, until #scalepeacetech goes from being a goal to being a given.

Continue the conversation. How do you scale peacetech?

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