When I was working at an NGO last summer, I would often ask my supervisors about their experiences working in the field. They shared many of the joys and hazards of field work with me, and, when speaking of the latter, focused on one in particular: burning out. They told me that they could spend years on a project that, even after being implemented successfully, would be undone by conflict or government corruption. They spoke of projects that had to be halted or failed entirely because of political instability. And they spoke of the helpless feeling that, for all their hard work, what they did was simply a “drop in the ocean”–something helpful that did nothing to change the larger environment in which they worked.
Every day, thousands of development projects take place around the world. But how can these projects come together to promote wider stability and peace? A new project, eLearning for Peace, seeks to answer this question. Organized by representatives from a number of post-Soviet countries in concert with African researchers, the conference has two main goals. First, it seeks to examine the relationship between eLearning and peace-building. To this end, it does not focus on broad-based conflicts, like the Sudan-South Sudan oil dispute or Ethiopia’s border conflicts with Eritrea. Rather, it takes a grass-roots approach to conflict resolution, targeting small-scale rural conflicts, such as disagreements over cattle or land. To this end, it asks how eLearning can empower mediators to help opposing parties reconcile more effectively. Second, it researches the potential of eLearning to aid development in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, governance, and business practices.
The project will begin with a workshop, taking place in Benin, during eLearning Africa 2012. It does not end there, however–eLearning for Peace intends to serve as an online community and forum in which theories on eLearning can be debated and like-minded researchers can connect with one another to develop projects of their own. What really intrigues me about eLearning for Peace is its attempt to tap into ICT4D’s potential in a sector ICT4D seems to generally ignore: conflict resolution. Indeed, this blog doesn’t even include conflict resolution as a category. I think this is a mistake. There is no reason to think that, with a little creativity, ICT4D, which has so much potential in so many areas, cannot be used to help resolve the small-scale conflicts that drag down living conditions for millions of rural Africans. By emphasizing conflict resolution, this new project seems to me to be something of a pioneer. While it may not prove effective methodologically, I think it’s innovative focus on conflict resolution is inherently valuable.