Technology is everywhere, that’s nothing new. However, the degree to which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have taken the world by storm is positively astounding. It doesn’t matter where in the world I have travelled in the last few years, I have had mobile phone coverage nearly everywhere, been able to check my emails, use WhatsApp, and access the news. Whether in Cambodia, India, Kenya, Armenia, Bosnia, Tunisia, or anywhere else, the locals have also all been engrossed in their mobile phones. It’s barely possible to imagine a world any longer in which these ICTs don’t exist. Be it smart phones, old-school mobile phones, iPads, tablets, or computers with internet, everyone is connected and everybody has access to ICTs.
Four years ago, Paul Steinheuer and I, asked ourselves why we shouldn’t use these ICTs to do some good and promote non-violent conflict transformation. So we decided to found Beyond Violence and since then we have been running campaigns, using the best of ICT solutions to empower people around the world to fight against violence.
We are obviously not the only ones who have had this bright idea and there are a lot of other organisations who use ICTs to try and pursue peace. With Ushahidi software, people can crowdsource information on evolving violent conflicts. Another initiative, The Sentinel Project, debunks rumours through mobile networks before they have time to spread.
Beyond Violence’s approach is to take these modern technologies to try and change discourses, to try and alter the way people talk and think about violence. One example of this approach is a campaign which was successful in helping curtail violence in Zimbabwe during the 2013 elections and which Beyond Violence is now planning on expanding to other countries with bad experiences of post-election violence. Our pre-campaign research showed that a majority of young people (who were most prone to participating in violence) felt that post-election violence was inevitable and that they thought that most people supported it, but that they themselves did not support the violence. So we figured that if we could just get everyone to know what other people were thinking, then that would remove the social dynamics where everyone felt that they needed to participate, even though no-one wanted to.
How did we do this? People were able to text or leave a missed call at our hotline, signalling their support for the campaign and stating that they wouldn’t participate in post-election violence. A software collects and uploads text messages and missed calls, saving the data on external servers for security protection. Because their participation remained anonymous it was easier for people to participate even though they were talking about a taboo and worried about others’ reactions. Nevertheless, we were able to show a large amount of people participating and thus show their preferences transparently, but anonymously. This way, it became possible in the communities we were working in to highlight that in reality, a majority were against violence without anyone having to take the first step of breaking the taboo in speaking out against violence.
A different type of campaign we plan on launching is a little more subtle and aims to change the way people think about ‘the other side’ in particularly entrenched conflicts. We want to allow people to send in poetry, short stories, pictures, or videos, on a different topic every week, by text or WhatsApp. We will then host these on an online portal translated into both languages of the groups in conflict. The best submissions each week will also be sent out by text or WhatsApp to our subscribers in each country. The idea is to show people in these entrenched conflicts that the people ‘on the other side’ also have many of the same worries, pleasures, and hopes that they do. By collecting, translating and disseminating these creative works we hope to start discussions and foster more understanding between groups of young people who are open to change. Check out our campaigns page for more information.
Taking ICTS and thinking creatively about how we can use these tools to connect and bring people together peacefully, through innovative methods; this is Beyond Violence’s mission.
With ICTs as the means, we want to empower those who are affected by violence and believe there is a better way, to be able to speak out as voices for peace. We believe that mobile phones, smart phones, internet, and technological advances, have revolutionized the way we live together and that we should be using these technologies to make the world a better place. We openly welcome ideas and feedback for innovative ideas.
Tim Williams is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Beyond Violence. He is also a research fellow at the Centre for Conflict Studies at Marburg University and a PhD scholar at the Free University in Berlin.
Written by Tim Williams and published on 26-April-2016