Build Peace 2018 showcased many examples of how technology and creative economies could be used to bring prosperity to communities affected by violence and contribute to their long-term resilience. But, what exactly does resilience and prosperity mean in these contexts? As is the case with complex words such as empowerment and behavior change, that have been at the core of past year’s conferences, the meanings of prosperity and resilience are determinant to evaluate if the interventions meant to provide change are achieving the intended objectives in the mid and long term.
In the words of Harriet Adong, Executive Director of the Foundation for Integrated Rural Development:
“What do we mean by re-imagining prosperity? Does it imply a change between where we are now and where we want to be? Does prosperity means that we have jobs, that the guns are silent, that we have infrastructure? (…) I am still grappling with this concept and it is something I look forward to identifying through this conversation.”
Many sessions during the conference provided valuable food for thought towards defining the words prosperity and resilience, and to chart the connections between these two issues in a peacetech scenario.
The multiple meanings and architects of prosperity
One of the main insights around the meaning of prosperity, is that there is not one way to define it. For instance, during a dialogue around re-imagining prosperity, Aline Sara, CEO of Natakallam, commented that prosperity for the refugees they work with means that they can have access to income, but also a sense of purpose and acknowledgement of their human condition, beyond their status as refugees.
In contrast, Brendan McCourt, CEO at New RedIn Ireland, noted that in Northern Ireland prosperity for a lot of people means having a job; however, for the 10% who live in difficult areas prosperity means being free from the threat of violence. Furthermore, a participant from the audience proposed to stop referring to prosperity as a noun, but more as a verb, reflecting his understanding of it as a process rather than a fixed state.
Notwithstanding these different definitions, it was widely agreed that it is at the local level and within the context of marginalised communities where the meaning of prosperity should be built. The question ’who defines prosperity’ is equally important as ‘what prosperity is’. Hence, if prosperity means different things for different communities, it makes sense for those communities to be architects of their own prosperities.
Resilience: Locally-driven prosperity for systemic change
The concept of resilience gains significance when discussing who is behind the definition of prosperity. Resilience in conflict and post-conflict settings often evokes a capacity of recovery from distress. It is the ability of humans living in violence and aggression to move forward and overcome adversity. In the face of economic exclusion and marginalisation, resilience is the force that moves an individual or community to shift the reality and create better conditions, according to their own concept of prosperity.
Many of the projects showcased at Build Peace 2018 were a celebration of resilience. For instance, a short talk of Mary Casey, Founder Director of the Amelia Earhart STEAM Zone NI Charity, discussed how her organization was helping build a shared education children’s science centre to foster creativity and inclusion of excluded communities in Northern Ireland.
Likewise, a workshop organised by CRAICNI, Cultivate Respect Appreciate Inclusion across Communities, Northern Ireland, showed how food can serve to bring communities together across cultural boundaries. Additionally, a workshop organised by Beyond Skin showcased how communities in Northern Ireland and Colombia used street art to foster community cohesion.
Charting the connections between prosperity and resilience in peacetech scenarios
The connections around prosperity and who defines it in technological design were eloquently described by Stephen Hawking in 2015, while discussing technological unemployment during a Reddit Ask Me Anything Session: “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality”.
In peacetech interventions, this means that who is behind the definition of prosperity and shapes the rules, has an ultimate influence on who will be better and worse off. In many cases, international donors or investors set the agenda around prosperity, disregarding what it might mean on the ground and the stories of resilience that could emerge if communities at the local level are empowered.
In other cases, interventions that are not sustainable beyond the end of the project or that create gains for the investors and not the community are supported. Hence, peacetechbuilders should endeavor to make sure that technological interventions that aim to build peace are locally owned and led.
Planning prosperous and resilient peacetech interventions for the long-term
The discussions on prosperity, resilience and the connections between both in the peacetech field, provided three main insights to enrich the design of sustainable peacetech interventions.
The first insight is that long-term prosperity in peacetech emerged as a story that is not linear. It often involves failing many times and learning from previous experiences. Resilience in this context is the capacity of getting up despite the failures. For peacetech interventions that may have failed due to a lack of ownership and locally-driven decisions, this implies opening spaces for the involvement of new actors.
Hence, the second reflection is a “hidden obvious” in the Build Peace 2018 slogan: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us”. Prosperous projects will be as sustainable as their capacity to engage and involve the communities that the projects are intended for. This means creating collective ownerships and including their views, concerns and expectations around prosperity.
Lastly, given the difficulties of achieving prosperity in peacetech interventions, facing adversity with resilience involves engaging in a process that is open to innovation and change; a process that allows to experiment and learn quickly and cheap, so successful prototypes can be scaled up. The Build Peace conferences and the Build Peace Fellows Program have been enriching opportunities to explore collectively how this learning approach can be achieved. We hope that these insights are useful to continue shaping the conversation and practice around prosperity and resilience in peacetech.