Grassroots Technologies

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

I have already mentioned in a previous blog the four megatrends that Richard Matthew says are shaping the world. Among them, technology has been a recurrent topic in a couple of sessions these last two days.

This tool has the potential to be a strong divider in society – especially in conflicted areas. We see examples of this constantly: from the most obvious ones such as the free and instant access to media that is conducive to hatred or military devices, to some other much subtler ones. But at the end, as Madhawa Palihapitiya said, technology is only a tool, and judging it as a positive or negative one will depend on who and how to use them. In good hands and with good will, technology can (and will) be an ally for peacebuilders that will help us establishing the well needed relationships that can transform society.

Therefore, in making technologies a connector rather than a divider, it is important to think about the users. And this is where I think both Joseph Bock and Madhawa Palihapitiya coincided in their discourses, since they shared the vision of technologies as a tool to share at the local-local grassroots level. It is both efficient and empowering. A simple gesture that can help prevent or mitigate many conflicts, since the local population already know their needs and goals.

But at the same time I agree we should consider the users, we have to question who the producers are. And what is my first thought on factors to consider or to be wary about? Neutrality. There is nothing neutral in this life (everything is political, gendered, and so on) so what does this mean for technologies? Specially if we are speaking about technologies for peacebuilding.

The first and most intuitive factor that breaks the neutrality (for me) is gender. If we understand technology as if it were knowledge, we can all agree that the engineering and coding world is vastly male dominated. What are the implications for this? Are we being as efficient as we could be in producing these tools? (Considering efficiency in this case as a matter of engaging diverse experiences in the production process to create more sensitive technologies that can support a broader set of beneficiaries.)

Beyond this, it is a very profitable market which makes me wonder what the outcomes of this production/dissemination of technologies in such an unequal world are. If they are designed and created in countries with a certain access to production means whose reality differs from those who are going to serve, are we perpetuating some sort of inequity? Is it another form of creating dependency? Some sort of technology humanitarism that provide services that do not transform structures? Or will it be also provided the means and knowledge necessary to replicate the needed technologies in the place where they are used?

One of the reasons why I decided to shift my career from Architecture to the Social Justice field was precisely to run from being in front of a computer and getting closer to human beings. I am not a fan of technologies. However, these sessions have stimulated my thoughts on the positive (inevitable and necessary) connection between peacebuilding and technology, and some questions to reflect on. I am excited to keep exploring this connection and its possibilities.

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