Making technology work for Peace

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I am not a techie, as I consider myself a perpetual learner in utilizing technology and its different platforms in development research and communication.

Technology is a force multiplier where anyone can easily access information to assist them in making decisions and access relevant information and resources from other stakeholders.

It can foster greater understanding amongst communities, policy and decision makers by strengthening the feedback loop. As a result, the process ensures that policies and development interventions reflect the needs and are relevant to the demand of time and that the views and perspectives of those who could be impacted are taken into account.

At the core of all this is the Right to Information—enabling peoples and local communities to have access to data and information that are relevant to their lives so that they can genuinely participate in governance and in development.

Technology, when handled and utilized in social development can be an enabler not only for greater public participation but also for information sharing which could heighten public interest and discourse on building and managing peace.

The simple mobile phone, for instance, has proven to assist people to better communicate with one another. I have seen this while mapping reproductive health needs in the different municipalities in Southern Mindanao.  So instead of a barangay health worker or an ECCD worker regularly taking the three to four hours walk to the mountains, s/he can decrease these hours by texting few persons to inform all the others on certain updates and activities.   Thus, increasing the demand for health and education services and information.

For peacebuilders, it can also translate to better communication and coordination as they provide real-time updates through social media network; and with other local community leaders in the municipal level. Such as the documented best practice of the Bantay Ceasefire of the Initiatives for International Dialogue in various conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, as well as with other local peace mechanisms initiated on the ground by the different local government units.

These technological innovation has also opened doors for more women to be more involved in peacebuilding. Traditionally the purveyor of peace, women are initiating changes in the community, may it be on Water and Sanitation, health education or early childhood education on their own homefront. For women entrepreneurs—technology has enhanced their access to market information, strengthened the marketing their products through linkages and networks and empowered them to create a more equitable environment for their family and their children.

Linkage.  Coordination.  Human Connection.  This is fostered and in many ways, strengthened by technology and its platforms.  These technological advances have improved the ways that we relate, significantly reduced the cost of doing business and improved work efficiency.

Technology is working for most of us, and combined with social media platforms, and clear ICT policy direction, development initiatives are initiated at a greater reach and resources are pooled to improve governance.

The assumption is on the availability of ICT tools across sectors which could reap the benefits of any technological advancement.   In reality, however, a larger population is still left out in terms of access.

So while technological advancements are important,  building social cohesion still relies mainly on interpersonal communication, including the ability of local communities and peoples to tell their story from their own lens.  As facilitators of development, the challenge is to be there when it happens, to not only report and magnify these voices from the ground but also to share these initiatives in the hope that it could be documented and replicated.

The question lies in how the private sector could perhaps assist the government in ensuring that these platforms could be utilized to deliver services more effectively and efficiently to those who need it the most.   How do we, as ICT movers and development practitioners respond to emerging issues and ensure that any initiatives are reflective of the real needs in our community?  How could policy and decision makers, utilize these technological advances and platforms to create better understanding and awareness?

How can technology shape the future of peacebuilding at the local level? It is not merely on the utilization of technology, but on having a thorough understanding of the development needs and issues so that technology can work for the people.

Local peacebuilding means respecting local culture, and the existing peace initiatives, including peace pacts such as the Kakap Dulunan, a recent community initiative to revisit traditional peace pacts with the different IP and Moro clans in Carmen, North Cotabato points to the need to actively listen and journey with them.  These peace pacts, which may also be existing in other communities, could, in fact, be utilized to further promote dialogue, community learning and in support towards the bigger peacebuilding initiative in Mindanao and in the ASEAN region.

Technology can be harnessed to build and sustain peace.  An investment on the socio-development needs and addressing the information gap at the local level is also an investment for peace. The test is on carrying the conversation on the role of ICT in development and ensuring that it is in the social policy agenda.

This was the move that the organizer of the event,  the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) which has partnered with the Internet Society- Philippines Chapter and the Department of Information and Communications Technology, took. The Davao leg was the first multistakeholder forum, one of the series of internet governance symposium across the country.   The challenge continues. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com

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