Innovation: How is UNDP in Cyprus building up?

Here at UNDP ACT, we decided to start a blog to create a space in which we can reflect on some of the work we are doing in Cyprus. This week, Christopher Louise, Programme Manager of the UNDP-Action for Cooperation and Trust, shares with us some of his thoughts on the current work and future road map for UNDP ACT.

Why has UNDP-ACT decided to build up?

Earlier this year, Nilgun Arif, from my office, was lucky enough to attend the inaugural iteration of Build Peace at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, USA. She spent two full days among 250 peacebuilders, activists, social innovators, and academics discussing how technology can be used to build peace in the 21st century. Her experience left a profound impression, and on her return we set about harnessing this energy. UNDP-ACT had just launched its Crossroads for Civic Engagement programme, which seeks to connect Cypriot peace innovation knowledge with Arab and European peace builders. Convinced that Cyprus’ geographical position at the crossroads between the Arab and European regions would offer something special, we soon secured an agreement to host Build Peace 2015 on the island.

That’s right, this April we’ll be sitting together, 250-strong, in the world’s last divided capital, where UNDP-ACT and Build Up will welcome the world of peace technologists and practitioners to Nicosia to discuss how the use of technology can build alternative infrastructures for peace.

Where Build Peace 2014 explored how technology can enhance the impact of a broad range of peacebuilding, social cohesion, and peace advocacy initiatives; this year we will ask the ‘so what?’ question.

Participants look at the big issue: how do these technology tools make a difference to the rarefied table of the political elites which negotiate a peace deal. Build Up’s Jen Welch put it like this in her recent blog post:

Build Peace 2015 will begin to examine issues of ‘depth’ – how the use of technology is resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace.

In Cyprus, I hope to draw inspiration from the many creative thinkers and practitioners who have been applying this question to the peace negotiations. I am convinced that innovation can bring grounded legitimacy to the island’s search for a political settlement, and other peace processes can learn from our experiences. This is why I am eager to showcase three initiatives in particular, which I believe sets Cyprus apart in its innovative peacebuilding efforts:

1) Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index (SCORE)

This new peace measurement tool, first deployed in 2013 and repeated in 2014, pinpoints the societal connections, which if leveraged correctly, carry the most likely positive outcomes, while also identifying areas where the impact of project and policy interventions will be less significant.

The innovation of SCORE not only provides new ways of understanding conflict which push towards predictive outcomes, but it can act as a diagnostic tool to support innovations in bringing legitimacy to the peace negotiations. This includes the more traditional instrument of…good, old-fashioned dialogue!

Picture 2_Eide and CDF2) Open Dialogue Forum

For the past 12 months, we at UNDP-ACT have been working to nurture an open space for politicians, business leaders, heads of trade unions and NGOs to design a forum, which can act as a feedback loop to the formal negotiations and provide recommendations to the leaders. This is a first in Cyprus, and whereas today the formal peace talks have stalled, the Cyprus Dialogue Forum provides an effective venue where politicians and other civic actors from both communities meet to continue the discourse on the island’s future.

3) Mahallae

Picture 1_MahallaeUNDP-ACT’s flagship peace innovation platform, Mahallae has been using the power of technology to democratize the playing field for civic participation in reconciliation and conflict resolution. This “digital neighbourhood” for civic engagement was developed by Cypriot civil society and innovators from the Euro-Mediterranean region, directly designed to effect social change using the smart technologies in our daily lives.

Spinning the axle

In Cyprus we have found that innovation which has a strong (but not exclusive) focus on technology can be the axle grease that lubricates the values required to legitimise the peacemaking project. As Build Peace organizer Helena Puig Larrauri describes it: “this is “innovating from the ground up”, speaking directly to the “empowerment, behavioural change and impact” features which characterise tech for peace approaches.

The strategic connections between SCORE, the Cyprus Dialogue Forum and the Mahallae platform do well to set the scene for Build Peace 2015. Together these innovations, underpinned by the human courage to make change happen in the face of daunting odds, can bring legitimacy to a peace process struggling to gain momentum. It is this optimism that I’ve seen time and time again on this island, that we will be bringing as well.

I hope Build Peace 2015 looks beyond questions of empowerment and behavioural change, and participants set their eyes firmly on the question of bringing grounded legitimacy to peacemaking – as we have seen in Cyprus this is where the demand for innovation truly resides.

By Christopher Louise, Programme Manager, UNDP-Action for Cooperation and Trust, Cyprus, December 2014