Harnessing Technology for Peace

Ability to create positive impact is one of the qualities that gives technology power.  Harnessing this power can lead to great impact within a society.  Find out how one young woman set out to do exactly this. Below, Rachel shares her story: 
Armed with a research idea and a passion for , Rachel Brown saw an opportunity to use technology in supporting building in grass root communities in Kenya. () was founded to address the conflicts over land that were occurring in communities. 

When I was asked to write about Sisi ni Amani Kenya (SNA-K) , I was excited to get the opportunity to share my story and the story of our many members with the iHub community.

SNA-K is a Kenyan NGO that is dedicated to supporting grassroots peace leaders to use mobile technology to expand their reach and efficiency. In our target communities members can subscribe to our SMS platform to receive free messages from SNA-K.

I moved to Kenya in July 2010, with the idea to do a small research about different grassroots peace initiatives that existed in Kenyan communities. We got started in Baba Dogo, which is located up Thika Road. Together with a team of members from different peace intiaitives and youth groups, we launched the project. We set up FrontlineSMS and had a big community event where we asked people to text in information about peace initiatives in the area. While people were excited about the project, we saw very few results. I started talking to the groups we had worked with, trying to find out what excited them so much.

I found two key things. One is that many of these groups were very excited because of the use of mobile technology. Leading up to and during the 2007-8 post-election violence, they saw mobile phones used in their communities to spread rumors, fear, and hate speech and to organize attacks and weapons distributions. The idea of using mobile phones for peace resonated with them.

Secondly, I became even more convinced that original reason to come to Kenya – to support grassroots peace and civic engagement leaders who have taken courageous steps to promote peace and reconciliation in their communities – was important and relevant. These local groups understood with incredible detail the dynamics of and peace in their communities, and had many ideas for how to work together to prevent future violence.

I worked with a small group of dedicated individuals from Baba Dogo and Korogocho to design SNA-K’s current approach – an SMS platform with community-based subscription, where local chapters design programs and create SMS content. We were then invited by a local peace leader, Freddy Kamakei, in Narok to meet with him. After the initial meting, Kamakei was so excited about the idea that he founded our Narok Chapter. Since then, Eastlands in Nairobi and the Narok area have become our two main chapters, each piloting activities and uses of the SMS system that are specific to the conflict dynamics in their area.

Our teams’ hard work is finally paying off: since February of this year, we have received support for three exciting programs in Nairobi and Narok, and increased our subscriber base to more than 30,000 subscribers:

Nairobi: Sauti Yetu Political Debates: In partnership with Inuka Kenya Trust, SNA-K is carrying out a series of political debates in Nairobi. As one of our Chapter Leaders said, “people fight about politics because they are never united about politics.” The goal of the project is to introduce a non-partisan platform where community members can discuss policy issues and find areas of unity and commonality in political contestation, which is generally divisive. The program includes elements of civic education and dialogue through the SMS platform, which enables the community to engage at a broader level.

Narok: Land & Rumors Education & Dialogue: In Narok, land issues are complex and contentious. Often, land disputes, even between one or two people, cause conflict between entire communities. This is because of a lack of education about how land procedures work, and because rumors often exaggerate and amplify existing tensions. SNA-K has a program of grassroots open air forums on land issues and to discuss rumors, how they are spread, and how they contribute to conflict with the communities. These forums create trust and relationships in the community, and can enable our SMS to be trusted and credible within the community. They also give us insight into local issues and tensions.

PeaceTXT: Methodology for SMS & Peace Promotion: PeaceTXT is an initiative that was convened by Pop!Tech with partners including CeaseFireUshahidi, and Medic Mobile to look at how mobile technology could be used to compliment CeaseFire’s approach to solving conflict. SNA-K was brought on board as a partner in this effort to create a replicable methodology for using mobile technology for conflict prevention. PopTech has supported SNA-K to expand its outreach to identify best practices, upgrade technology through a new open source software platform designed by Praekelt Foundation, and to create a methodology for messaging in response to conflict.

SNA-K has already been using SMS to respond to tensions and conflict at the local level, through its local chapters creating and vetting messages. We have several positive stories of conflict in Narok that seems to have been mitigated by the sending of a message.

In one case, two groups were armed with bows and arrows and ready to fight on a contentious boundary in Mulot. SNA-K’s Chapter Member in that area, Pastor Wilson Mosonik, attempted to mediate and then called us to send a message. The message was vetted, and when it was sent, these groups left the boundary went to Pastor Mosonik’s office for mediation. After SNA-K sent messages promoting peace during contentious boundary issues, Pastor Mosonik, who is from the Kalenjin community, was donated 3 acres of land from a group of Maasai elders in the area in appreciation of the continued peace in Mulot. PeaceTXT is an especially exciting initiative, because it enables us to transition into a methodology that will enable faster response times and additional planning for potential events. 

These past two years have seen incredible growth for Sisi ni Amani Kenya. I personally feel lucky to work with a team of incredibly innovative and dedicated people, and to be able to work with them to make their ideas become a reality.

Still Growing

We are currently upgrading this technology, so that individuals will be able to subscribe by entering their information into a USSD menu, and will send and receive messages to a short code. SNA-K is able to use this information to send targeted messages . For example, we can send a message to young unemployed men in a specific village within a slum or to all women working in a certain sector in a part of Narok.

Our local chapters – comprised of vetted groups of peace leaders – design our programming and decide how to use this system based on local conflict analyses that they conduct. Our teams have focused on civic education, civic engagement, and creating messages in response to rumors, tensions, or potential conflict in their communities.

Since I came to Nairobi, the iHub has given me not only a space to work in, but the ability to interact with a wide range of individuals who have expertise in different areas and are passionate about their work. By providing this space – physical and for thought and conversation – the iHub has helped SNA-K grow from an idea into an organization with a wide range of programs and the potential for scale.

Read more from Sisi ni Amani Kenya  on their blog. Follow them on Twitter

 

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