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THE TECHNOLOGY IN CONFLICT INITIATIVE: ENSURING THE TECHNOLOGY OF TODAY DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE TO TOMORROW'S CONFLICTS

Working with local entrepreneurs, we are developing and helping implement a set of standards for conflict-sensitive technology startups.

Photo of Jennifer Easterday
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Technology is changing the way people interact with each other and the world. We’re just now coming to recognize the breadth and magnitude of the repercussions of new technologies and their influence on violent conflict.

Technology, ICT platforms and applications in particular, can significantly impact conflict dynamics in a myriad of ways, such as:
*Incitement of violence, including through the amplification of hate speech and exacerbation of ethnic, religious and other fissures;
*Security risks associated with a failure to protect personal data;
*Privacy concerns related to handling of and access to personal information;
*Censorship, internet blackouts and other threats to the right of free expression; and
*Potential for discrimination/unequal distribution and control of access and products, including via biased algorithms.

At the same time, many emerging markets with leapfrogging technologies are located in high-risk contexts. Technology startups, hubs and accelerators are presenting economic opportunities to youth in conflict-affected countries at a rapid pace. But how can they take advantage of these opportunities ethically, so that they don’t worsen conflict or tacitly support repressive governments by handing over user data?

There has also been a significant influx of multinational company interest and investment in Myanmar. Now is the time to foster and nurture a local community of tech entrepreneurs that can compete with the foreign entities rapidly encroaching on the market and set a tone for such investment that is ethical and conflict-sensitive.

We work with these emerging market technology startups to embrace a conflict-sensitive and human rights respecting business from the outset. We will work with local entrepreneurs and civil society to develop conflict-sensitivity and human rights standards. We will then work with entrepreneurs to implement the standards into their business plan, maximizing prosperity without compromising peace.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are technology entrepreneurs and end-users of ICT software in Myanmar.

Benefits for local technology entrepreneurs include:
*Understanding the relationship between conflict dynamics and business operations
*Understanding how to balance being both ethical and profitable
*Skills for creating and implementing internal conflict-sensitivity and human rights protocols
*Skills for dealing with government requests for data, internet blackouts, and developing legislation
*Skills for implementing ethical business practices, such as user-friendly consent, privacy protocols and increasing digital literacy of users, and
*Taking proactive approaches to avoid reinforcing conflict dynamics and taking advantage of opportunities to support peace.

End users will benefit from a reduction in the negative consequences of technology in Myanmar, reduction of tech-enabled violence, increased digital literacy, and increased protection of their privacy and freedom of expression.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

While there are a number of initiatives already in place to address human rights practices at ICT companies generally and limited IGO/NGO initiatives looking at best practices for corporate behavior in post-conflict settings, there is a gap when it comes to working with local ICT companies doing business in high-risk settings.

We are committed to flipping the dominant “top-down” approach most often employed when working in the tech industry. We aim to take a horizontal approach, focusing on users and businesses in conflict-affected contexts as equal agents of change.

Our dynamic international team has demonstrated experienced in ICT software, corporate social responsibility, business and human rights, peacebuilding and international law. These diverse backgrounds helped us to identify a critical and timely problem, as well as a proposed solution: working with new companies in developing markets on conflict-sensitivity and human rights respecting business practices.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

JustPeace Labs empowers communities to create peace through technology and advocates for the ethical use of technology in complex settings.
www.justpeacelabs.org

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

We heralded the potential of technology to support and improve human rights and extreme violence after the Arab Spring. We are now seeing the dark side-effects of technology, how it can be used to perpetuate violence, violate rights and harm our communities in the name of profit. A striking example of this is playing out in Myanmar. We strongly feel that we need to work with corporations to help them support, not undermine peace, starting at the local level.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace: Myanmar has directly experienced the dangerous potential of technology. It has a long history of conflict and inter-communal violence. Military forces are accused of committing mass human rights abuses and the government actively patrols social media looking for individuals who “threaten the country’s stability.” UN investigators blamed Facebook for spreading the hate speech that has perpetuated violence against the Rohingya and a possible genocide, while censoring activists and journalists seeking to document the abuses.
Prosperity: At the same time, Myanmar is one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia and has seen a recent explosion in internet use. Startups are proliferating, and many young people are turning to technology as a source of opportunity and income. Given the limited digital literacy and ongoing elements of conflict, we want to help local companies ensure that their products and business models are ethical, conflict sensitive and respect human rights.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We have prior experience working with a Myanmar NGO on using technology to flag and report rumors as part of an early warning system for inter-communal violence. Together we developed a user-friendly application taking into account users’ needs, interests, tech and connectivity limitations and language requirements. Through an iterative process, we were able to produce a successfully piloted app for our partner.

We are currently seeking partnerships in Myanmar to work with on this project. Our partner will help us connect to the startup community in Myanmar and convene CEOs and civil society in a joint meeting to discuss standards and protocols for addressing conflict sensitivity, ethics and human rights in their work. The partner would help us understand the context, needs and appropriate approach to designing a capacity-building program for implementation of the standards and protocols with local startups and tech accelerators.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Myanmar has an exploding tech scene full of young people with an interest in creating profitable, ethical companies. There's an established technology accelerator in Myanmar that has experience working with this community and on technology supporting peace and human rights. Bridging the gap between prosperity and peace in Myanmar is an ongoing discussion. Building on this we can create an actionable plan for new startups to embed ethical and conflict-sensitive business practices into their work.

Geographic Focus

Myanmar, Southeast Asia

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We need 24 months to implement the program. In months 1-6 we will build local partnerships, plan our first meeting of CEOs and develop draft standards and tools. In months 6-12 we will refine and finalize the standards through an iterative, user-centered and inclusive drafting process. In months 12-24 we'll develop a set of tools and host seminars to help local companies implement the standards. Feedback we get from this capacity-building will be used to further refine and update the standards.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

5 comments

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Comment
Photo of Hannah Tsadik
Team

Love this idea - in fact, it has some similarities with an idea I will put up in the next 24 hours around ‘standard setting’ & coming up with an accountability framework similar to what the humanitarian community has done for NGOs through standards like SPHERE, etc. Questions that we are grappling with is the best process for collaboratively identifying the standards, the incentive for actors to sign up, and the follow-up aspect of ensuring that the standards are adhered to and not just a one-off checklist. How are you thinking around these types of questions?

Photo of Jennifer Easterday
Team

Thanks for your comment Hannah! We're definitely grappling with the issues you've mentioned. In general, we believe it is critical to work together with the private sector and are developing this to operate like any MSI in other industries. We argue that early adopters of standards benefit from being able to contribute to the standards, that it gives them a competitive advantage and a better reputation among users. We will be using a collaborative, inclusive and iterative process for identifying the standards and will eventually implement a 3rd party certification scheme. Finally, we will be able to work together with companies to share good practices on implementing the standards and build capacity within organizations to make sure this isn't a box-checking exercise -- a risk that you rightly point out.
I'd love to talk more -- let's connect and see if there are synergies in our work!

Photo of Hannah Tsadik
Team

Thanks for sharing your thinking - from your response, I can see that we have a lot to exchange around. I would love to connect in the coming weeks; my email is hannah.tsadik@life-peace.org.

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