First I write these notes with the understanding that I only attended the first day of Build Peace, but continued to follow the ongoing work via Twitter @thenuclearworld. What really jumped out was the energy as the conference went on, certainly the combination of the Ignite Talks and the themes of the first day talks created an atmosphere for ideas and developing the linkages between the projects presented and as the talks emphasized the use of technology.
If I may digress for a moment, as part of my professional background I was the Director of Communications Programs at a federal state agency in Washington in the early 1970’s called the Appalachian Regional Commission. During that time I was responsible for overseeing the emerging technologies of satellites and computer programming. In both cases the projects we developed took advantage of both in the fields of education and health. In the case of education working with the Department of Education at the federal level and state departments of Education in the thirteen state region which defined Appalachia, as well as choosing the University of Kentucky and their television operation Kentucky Educational Television we put together a learning project for teachers in the region, where they could study using the tools of computers and the satellite at the time it was the ATS -6 satellite, newly launched for testing before it was moved to India.
As a result a lot of teachers in the region were able to study and receive advanced degrees. In the area of health we worked with the federal and state agencies and chose Emory University and the University Hospital for a “grand rounds” project where nurses in the region, who did not have immediate access to doctors and consultations in their area were able to link up with the medical staff at Emory in Atlanta. These were early days of the technology, but my mantra was always about the content and the program first, making sure there was a very good reason for using the technology available in a way which would advance learning, knowledge and produce results. It is in that context forty years later I make my remarks. I do feel that Build Peace started to address these connections and possibilities. What I would have recommended on the first day, beyond the Ignite talks, was that all the participants in the room were able to introduce themselves in thirty seconds or less. Possibly it could have been co- mingled with the Ignite talks, but this way every one there would have seen the vast array of disciplines, which I am sure was in the room. I say this realizing on the second day there probably was a “clumping” of individuals who wanted to work together and there was Twitter, it still would have facilitated even more dialogue.
Regardless there was a level of discovery and ah-ha moments during some of the incite and talks/panels. A couple of items really stood out was the visual recapping by Willow Brugh, so much so I have been in contact with her about my projects. Also the talk on the second day by Ethan Zukerman, which I would suggest a transcript be made available, also the other two keynoters on the second day Waidehi Gilbert-Gokhale and Sanjana Hattotuwa. It would be interesting to receive any of the results of self organized working sessions. The final thought is that the mere fact the gathering was put together, bringing folks of different disciplines and thought into the same space, creating an environment for creative ideas to be developed I felt was really the key to the event and certainly feel it would be well worthwhile continuing. Again I write this from a long perspective from my experiences in the early 1970’s. New ideas emerge through continuing development and gatherings, instead of everyone staying in their own “silos”. It is essential to break open the boxes and experience the rest of the world. Success has many definitions, one is don’t be afraid to make mistakes, not everything is going to be an automatic success!
The technologies onto themselves are not the relevant point, it is how the form follows functions and given this is a global venture every part of the world will present different challenges in terms of access, available technologies whether someone has access to satellites, the web, radio, television signals all these ideas which we in the “West” and the “developed world” take for granted will enable the creation of projects, but then other parts of the world and their societies will become very frustrated by the lack of particular technologies. That said look at the Tunisian story which was presented at Build Peace. So there is not any one template or “one size fits all”.
Looking at the Mahallae videos for example, the invitation to come back to them with ideas for community, it provides the “fuel” for those in the field of peace to come up with the projects and that is world wide the need is real. Today the United Nations released information that in our world today the military expenditures for one day from all countries is double the amount of the entire UN budget for one year. Obviously there is an enormous inbalance, that said Build Peace as an initiative provides folks with hope in connecting the dots between the resources available and their needs to live in a peaceful world. It is a huge challenge because funds are being spent to create conflict and “secure” environments, but not peaceful communities. That I believe comes only from the impulses of those working to find peaceful solutions.
The catalyst provided by spending my one day physically at Build Peace and then from then on I have been monitoring the Twitter feed that there is a positive force at work around the world and I have found in doing my work over the course of now fifty two years and counting, what gets the attention is violence, war, disease, the climate collapsing. I have come up with a formula that world wide, of depending whether you are in a crisis area, such as Syria, or living in a relatively peaceful environment…although unfortunately that is unpredictable today given the easy mobility of those wanting to commit acts of violence…but overall we seek peaceful lives. The ideas worked with at Build Peace reinforced that notion for me, that say 90 percent, maybe a little more of day to day life is not in a war zone (except for the qualifications noted), but the tools available to make those connections only continue to be developed. Again Tunisia is a perfect example, even Egypt one could never have imagined the changes in that country, still sorting itself out and even though they are heading back to a military led “free election”the changes are enormous, much of that happened because of technology driven communications. I even think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Impossible it was said, but I was in East Berlin in 1988 working on a documentary and one could feel change was definitely in the air. I mean in the air, because even though the folks in the East, especially the younger generations were listening and watching news and programming from the West. These seeds sowed the sudden collapse of the Wall. Now we are seeing this in the Ukraine, but also the election in Afghanistan. Of the seven million who voted there, under the threat of the violence from the Taliban, one third of the voters were woman, empowered by knowledge. I feel in large part that is the role of technology in the field of peace and the tools being discovered and utilized will continue to change the world.