24 September 2012

How Technology Supports Peace and Development

“I had a cousin, when I went to Vietnam when I was really little. He came back and was totally different,” said actor Forest Whitaker to a small group yesterday at the Social Good Summit. The two were really close and would draw together. A young Forest continued drawing while his cousin was away, but the lasting impact that the war had on his cousin profoundly impacted his understanding of conflict.  

“He didn’t draw anymore. I couldn’t really get him to even talk. To this day he’s not really well,” continued Whitaker. He used his film career as a way to try to understand war. “I did Platoon, I did Good Morning Vietnam. I was trying to get into it and understand it.”

Conflict followed him in his home life with gang problems and fighting. The experiences merged onto the issue of peace. Yesterday, Whitaker joined Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute and Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg to introduce PeaceEarth and discuss the ways that the new initiative will utilize technology solutions to promote peace in post-conflict areas.

The program begins in South Sudan and Uganda with the aim of using a multi-tooled platform to provide knowledge for the promotion youth empowerment and ultimately the realization of peaceful conflict resolution. “The launch of the PeaceEarth Foundation is our opportunity to use our modern-day resources to truly connect with one another to promote peace throughout the world," said Forest Whitaker marking the inauguration of the program last week. "I'm driven by the hope that together, we can build peace from within the hearts and minds of people everywhere for a more peaceful world."
The platform serves as an avenue for conversation that Whitaker characterized as a “nexus where people can help support peace-builders in the world, give them resources and a space of commonality where they can talk and work together.”

Fellow participant on stage and program partner Hans Vestberg stressed the way that connectivity can support development and empowerment. According to Vestberg, an increase in mobile penetration by 10% translates into a 1% rise in GDP. "You can't have positive social and economic development where people are suffering from conflicts or natural disasters. I hope that extending access to education will help enable the PeaceEarth Foundation further its goals," he said.

Professor Sachs also partners with Ericsson to provide connectivity in his Millinnium Village Project locations. “It’s not that technology will take us to nirvana. We have to make choices and take action every day,” he explained. In the MVP, technology has become a way to not only reach people and support communication; it is an avenue for learning what is happening on the ground for each of the projects.

Technology allows for the MVP to track the finer patient data that gives them feedback on illnesses as well as follow up treatments. The development from paper records to sms gathering and now storing information in the cloud via smartphones is a dramatic improvement in the eyes of Sachs. What can be tracked is even simpler when it comes to seeing if people are using power from their solar cells to understand which ones are working and gather behavior trends.

All examples combine to show the way in which technology is changing development from peacebuilding to healthcare. Whitaker took a bit of an existential  approach to the integration of technology by seeing it as not just an extension, but a part of us. “If you look at [technologies] as an organic being, they become a new attribute that we have,” he said holding out his hand. “This phone is a part of me. I think we’re evolving to understand that these things are part of us.”

All in all, the tools are thought of as an support system for solutions and interventions. The development of PeaceEarth provides an avenue for collective action. “We all face conflicts of different kinds throughout our lives, and by doing our part individually, we can collectively advance our world towards peace; one community, one person, and one day at a time,” wrote Whitaker in the Huffington Post.