Build Peace 2017: Making Paper Count — Opening Remarks from Build Up

Transcript of Build Peace 2017 opening remarks delivered by Build Up Managing Director Helena Puig Larrauri. Follow along with #BuildPeace2017!

Muchas gracias señor Decano, y también gracias a la Facultad de Ingeniería y a la Universidad de los Andes por acogernos este año para Build Peace. Mi nombre es Helena y soy la directora ejecutiva de Build Up, organizadores de esta conferencia.

Como ya os habréis dado cuenta algunos, soy española, y me complace daros la bienvenida en castellano — es la primera vez que tenemos una conferencia bilingüe.

Voy a continuar en inglés, para dar la bienvenida también a los participantes internacionales.

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So welcome to Build Peace 2017 — I’m so happy that so many of you have come all the way to Bogotá from around the world and from all over Colombia. Many of you have come from very far, overcoming challenges with flights and visas. It’s great to see you all here!

And for many of you I should also say: welcome back! Build Peace 2017 is the fourth of the Build Peace series of conferences. Some of you come back over and over again, so we must be doing something right. It’s wonderful to see familiar faces, and to know we are, over the years, building a community of innovation for peace together.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Making Paper Count: new forms of citizen participation in peace agreements” and I want to tell you a bit of how we got to this theme.

At the first Build Peace conference in 2014, which took place at MIT in Boston, we wanted to understand in broad overview what technology and innovation could do in peacebuilding, focusing on four areas — information, communications, gaming and networking.

In 2014, we learned to beware of tech utopias and dystopias, because technologies are neutral and what matters is how we chose to use them for peace. The radical inclusion that innovations permit means that like it or not, voices that were previously at the margins or periphery can and do record their stories, and disseminate them to a wider public, through a range of media. That works just as well for violence — think recruitment into armed groups over social media — as it can for peacebuilding.

In 2015, Build Peace was in Nicosia, Cyprus — Europe’s last divided capital city. We asked ‘by whom and for whom is innovation used to build peace’. We talked about empowerment (who is empowered, by whom and how?) and behavior change (and empowered to do what?).

In 2015, we unpacked ways in which innovation changes who participates in peacebuilding. As a technical infrastructure, innovation for peace is a series of tools that allow peacebuilders to communicate with more people in more ways, collect better information and sustain relationships on digital platforms. As an organizational infrastructure, it is a means by which communities and authorities build new participatory processes, foster deeper collaborations and assume collective responsibility for building peace. As a social infrastructure, it circulates ideas and contributes to consensus-building about the definition of what peace we aspire to build.

And then in 2016, in Zürich, we tackled the question of change, of transformation by asking why and how we use innovation to build peace. We asked: how can the behaviors and cultural manifestations of individuals and groups be transformed to support a new network of relationships on which peace can be built? Or to say it more simply: what are we trying to change?

And we learned that as peacebuilders we’re trying to effect change both in structures of power and in the socio-cultural domain. We saw that technology and arts can have an effect on political spaces. And this poses new challenges for how we position ourselves as peacebuilders and peace activists to create non-violent change. We also reflected that to create a critical mass for peace requires shifts across culture and society, but no social change can work if it doesn’t also promote a change in individuals: to change the world we have to start by changing ourselves.

And that brings us to 2017. Having explored the what, who, how and why of innovation for peacebuilding, this year is the first time we explore a specific topic (participation in peace agreements) building on what we have learned.

There’s one thing that is important to keep in mind for this conversation: when we say peace agreement here, we don’t just mean peace accords, we’re not just talking about an elite group of (mostly) men sitting around a table, signing on a line. We mean a true agreement, something an entire society, all of us can believe in. Hence, making paper count.

The conference dialogues, short talks and workshops will explore — in many different ways — innovative approaches to amplifying participation in all phases of a peace agreement, and bridging the gap between top down and bottom up peacebuilding initiatives.

Every year at Build Peace, we bring up a concern about the articulation of innovation for peace as a new ‘white man’s burden‘ — in which it is the Global North that is the sole repository of knowledge, innovation and technologies for conflict transformation. That’s obviously not true, partly because capacities for peace exist in all contexts, but also because the problem of peace is one that is also relevant to the Global North.

If we understand a peace agreement not as a peace accord but as the collective imagining of ways to live more and more peacefully together, then peace agreements are not just something for Syria, Colombia or Myanmar. Peace agreements are needed in the Global North too because currently, our collective agreement on peace is also at risk in the UK, the USA or Catalunya / Spain.

So that’s the question the organising team has pulled together: how do we make paper count? Build Peace is a very participatory conference, so this is our collective conversation now. We’re all innovators here, and as innovators we’re often at the edge, pushing against the odds. This conference is our community: we strive to create a safe where everyone can share ideas openly. So every year we give the conference a slogan to help us keep this community spirit in mind. It’s basically our only conference rule.

In 2014 it was: “be tough on ideas, but gentle on people”
In 2015 it was: “be careful with each other so you can be dangerous together”
In 2016 it was: “revolution starts at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror”

And this year, our slogan is:
“I don’t mean about one side meet the other side; I mean no more sides.”

I’m particularly excited that we’re having this conversation in Colombia — because of the current context and how much there is to share here. If you’re not with us in Bogotá this week, I invite you to follow along with the conference on twitter at #BuildPeace2017, and on Facebook at How To Build Peace.

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Build Up transforms conflict in the digital age. Our approach combines peacebuilding, participation and technology.

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