Mahallae Team blogs…
We also would like to thank MAGEM in Famagusta and Cyprus University of Technology in Limassol for their hospitality.
Click each image to make it larger, and click the links for the Facebook event pages. See you soon!
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve heard all about how excited we are about the Mahallae Challenges, which we will be launching next month. Previously we spoke about Challenges as an innovative approach to community problem solving: technology allows us to crowdsource ideas better than ever, and it has the power to effectively bring people from different communities together to collaborate with one another.
With each challenge, we are trying to address areas that are vital to building a healthy, peaceful society. As we design the challenges, this is the common thread that is running through each theme: how can we approach the idea of building a peaceful society together from a perspective of integrating the advantages of technology into the process? While the political process is and will always remain important, how can we complement this process through the empowerment of individual and communal actions? Can we encourage the kind of social currents that shape and change our communities for the common good?
The first Mahallae Challenge, Youth Enterpreneurship, is exploring the challenges to collaboration of young people across different communities. It’s no news that this region is struggling with an economic crisis and that young people everywhere are significantly affected. And when economic opportunities are rare, it can be difficult to build joint ventures with people from other communities.
Yet intra-communal collaboration may help to overcome some of these challenges. As the power to innovate and start new ventures becomes more common spread, our first Mahallae challenge will crowdsource ideas for new technologies that help young people to work together on new ventures.
Our second Challenge will look at the exclusion of women from decision making processes, particularly conflict and/or post-conflict settings. While women can offer alternative ways of building peace, many negotiation processes tend to exclude or erase their voices from the dialogue. Hence the second challenge will be looking at ways we can use technology to empower women: how can we raise the voice of women? How can technology support this process of inclusion?
Last but not least, in our third Challenge we explore the idea of getting more people involved in decision-making and building a common vision for the future of their communities. As more and more people feel unable to contribute to decision making processes related to how their communities are run, trust within and between groups can deteriorate, leaving citizens unmotivated to bring about social change. Again, we feel that utilizing technology may just provide a healthy energy boost in how we tend to think about solutions to these kinds of challenges: How could technology help us to organize local action and influence policy? Can we use technology to hear the multitude of voices in a society? What if together we could create opportunities that increase the participation of more people in running their communities together?
Look out for more information about the Mahallae challenges during the next few weeks.
In the fall of 2012, we launched a Knowledge Innovation Fund and received many entries. Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting ideas was a submission made by the duo Katie Economidou and Dervish Baha. Together they had been trained in the early ’90s in conflict resolution and mediation along with many of their peers, who later went on to do much of the great civil society work on peacebuilding in Cyprus. Katie and Dervish wanted to create a video repository of the experiences of themselves and their colleagues, and to create a platform where they would invite mediators and conflict resolution trainers from around the world to do the same.
In March of this year, along with the launch of Mahallae, their dream to create one of the world’s first crowdsourced video archives for mediators will start to come true. Check out our brief interview with Katie below.
Mahallae Team: You and your long time collaborator Dervish Baha were frontrunners in creating this interactive tool on Mahallae, Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers. Can you first of all tell us briefly what we should expect from this tool?
Katie Economidou: You will be able to browse videos over a map of the island to watch short 3 min clips of interviews with Conflict Resolution and Mediation trainers who started and developed the citizens’ peace process throughout the years in Cyprus and made a contribution to spreading the culture of peace around the island. The videos give you a chance to discover the difficulties and barriers to this process and will also share the advantages and learnings through it.
Mahallae: How did you come up with the idea to develop Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers? What do you aim to achieve with it?
Katie: Our intention was to provide the user with a friendly tool that would enable them to connect with mediators and conflict resolution trainers in Cyprus and around the world who do similar work to theirs, and also share some of the best practices derived from the mediators’ experiences so far.
Mahallae: Do you have any plans for future development and/or outreach?
Katie: Yes, certainly. The next step is the website that will give the opportunity to mediators and conflict resolution trainers from around the world to upload their videos and success stories, and include training material they develop and use in trainings. The idea is to assist those who wish to play a role in the conflict resolution in their societies and don’t have the means and resources to do it. We wish to have an open communication with practitioners and exchange knowledge and experiences, to empower each other in our work and become more useful and effective in our work, which started as purely voluntary and is becoming seriously professional.
Here at Mahallae, we’ve been very conscious from the beginning about inclusion and user oriented design. We like to think we know enough about innovation by now to know that you can’t innovate without keeping the end user in the center of the process and at the same time involving as many people as possible. In fact, as we discussed here, we have, at every step of the way of Mahallae, made sure to turn to our target groups and ask: Does this work for you? And we always took the answers seriously.
It was with this in mind that we organised our Mahallae meet up on January 23rd. Overall, this was the second time we were showing parts of Mahallae to the public – the first time being our Taster Party last July – but now we were showing it as a whole. Mahallae will be fully launched in March, but before that happens, we had to make sure we were hitting the ballpark, so to speak. What looks and feels good to you about the design? Which parts of the platform move well? Which parts do you not understand?
So the Mahallae meet-up and feedback session last week included many voices. Familiar ones and new ones: techies, students, NGO practitioners, researchers and artists. At the meetings we made sure to give people the time and opportunity to play and engage with the different parts of Mahallae, and challenge us in terms of both design and content of the platform. We facilitated the discussion by asking several questions in order to capture the feedback:
What part of the site did you go to first?
Any parts you didn’t go to?
What part of the site did you find most interesting? Least interesting?
Where did you spend most of your time? Least time?
If you could change one thing, what would it be?
And we heard you. We heard the positive – that you were excited about the potential of Mahallae to create new connections, wondering how to become Mahallae contributors or involved as volunteers, being interested in exploring our mapping section, and asking to know more about the SCORE or a particular interactive tool. But we also heard the concerns and the feedback which we were equally eager to hear – that our navigation system is still confusing, that the language used in some parts may still feel heavy and not as user friendly as you would like, that certain tools may have too much explanation or not enough, that you want more access for users who aren’t contributors. And rest assured, we will be working hard in the next several weeks to fix all these issues and offer you the best experience when using Mahallae.
In the same spirit, on January 24th, we held our first in a series of ‘How To’ workshops, where we presented the Mahallae Challenges process and ran a fun working session where we sourced ideas for two of our upcoming challenges. It felt good to finally meet so many of you (as well as see the familiar faces!) and to see so many creative minds working together in a room. We have been energized by your response - the outpouring of ideas and energy has been inspiring. If you missed this workshop, we will be running several more of these workshops between now and the Mahallae launch.
We would like to thank you, once again, for showing up and for helping to shape up this neighborhood we are building together. And for those who didn’t join us this time, don’t worry, our doors are always open and we will be organizing some more events soon, so stay tuned!
As Mahallae’s launch date approaches, we take a look back at the process of building the platform. The truth is that we’ve tried, from the very inception stage, to hold an inclusive process. Today, we want to take you on a tour of the various parts of Mahallae and how we essentially crowdsourced our content.
Interactive Tools: In the Spring of 2012, we launched a Knowledge Innovation Fund as the Peace it Together Network of Cypriot NGOs. It’s no secret that in the past, a lot of calls for funding on the island have proven to yield similar results, the same group of ideas hashed and rehashed, over and over. The Innovation Fund was virtually a never-before-seen framework for funding on the island to develop tools that would contribute to peacebuilding using innovation and technology, and as such, it was met with both excitement and confusion. While it gave some practitioners and dreamers the challenge to innovate their ideas, we acknowledged that this was unchartered terrain. There were often wonderful sparks of ideas, but often needed to be defined in relation to the right problem, target group or platform. During the idea conception stage, we ran some info sessions to push participants that extra mile and help them go beyond the traditional ways of thinking about civic engagement and peacebuilding. At later developmental stages, we asked our innovators to adopt a “Work Out Loud” approach – that is to blog each part of the way, as they worked, in order to keep an open and transparent process. We organized several workshops, bringing all our innovators into the same room, allowing them to edit and construct each other’s work. We organized events together in which they were able to show drafts of their work to the public in order to address gaps earlier on in the process. The result are seven exciting Interactive Tools, all corresponding to different spheres of activity in Cyprus and each innovative in a unique way.
Civic Mapping: When we first had the idea that we wanted to tell the story of the civic engagement and peacebuilding story of the Cypriot NGO’s, we didn’t quite realize how deep a well it was we were looking into. Yet holding a participatory, inclusive approach always ensured we never lost sight of what we were doing. Whether it was one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders in the peacebuilding process, workshops to define which we were the most critical turning points of the peacebuilding movement, going through a process of validation with a list of gatekeepers, or researching the databases of the major funders on the island, we are proud to tell you that every aspect of our civic map will be an inclusive story.
The process of designing Mahallae was enriched further when regional voices started to share their opinions and views about online platforms, innovation and the need for an open and new way to collaborate. At the Power of One Conference in October 2012, with its Spark generation process and idea-selling Souq / Market place, inter-regional needs emerged, which turned into inter-regional projects. Communication continued with our neighbors from the MENA region, when we had the pleasure of hosting them on the island in the summer of 2013, and continued to engage them in a constructive dialogue about what implications Mahallae may have in their regions – down to the wording and phrasing of various sections – as well as its use and effectiveness. Keeping this inter-regional focus on design allowed us to make sure that Mahallae would be as relevant outside of Cyprus as it would be within Cyprus.
The final leg of the process, the fine-tuning of our beloved platform, sends us out again asking people what they need in an online collaboration space and how they imagine it, but also, as with our meet-up event last week, what they think of our ‘first draft’ of Mahallae. At this point, keeping true to the spirit of innovation, various components of Mahallae, especially the Civic Mapping and the Interactive Tools, as well as the whole platform, have gone through many waves of testing and redesign, and we will continue to do so until it feels “just right.”
We understand that innovation is not looking for a “One Size Fits All” solution – quite the opposite. It is the ability to hear, hold and respond to as many voices as possible. As we move forward with this vision in mind, please remember we’re still out here looking for what you think, so keep close and keep in touch! Whether via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail, you can contact us and tell us how you respond to a particular aspect of Mahallae any time. Our doors are open to you.
As many of you know, one of the many exciting interactive tools that will be hosted by Mahallae is “Nicosia is Calling,” a game for students aged 8-14. The game combines history and learning about the city of Nicosia, its rich cultural heritage and its multicultural past, whilst imagining the city in the future as a unified whole. This week, we talk to Daphne and Shirin from the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) team about developing the game.
Mahallae Team: How did you come up with the idea to develop Nicosia is Calling?
Daphne and Shirin: Over its 10 year existence, the AHDR has worked hard in producing new approaches to the learning and teaching of history. One of their major achievements was the production of supplementary educational materials for educators and young people.
“Nicosia is Calling” was the first education material to be produced by the AHDR and includes a series of booklets addressing students aged 11-12 and 14-16. The booklets enable students to explore Walled Nicosia through various activities, and relate to the following areas of the walled city of Nicosia:
And then one day whilst flicking the pages of the Nicosia is Calling booklets, we realized more could be done…. something new, something that makes the shift from traditional learning and academia.
It was then that we thought of turning these booklets into an on-line game.
In this way the work already produced could be expanded and developed in innovative ways in order to engage more people. Moreover, the game would allow us to extend our work and include all quarters of Nicosia in order to truly explore the fascinating multicultural past of the city, whilst presenting the city as a whole.
Mahallae Team: So what do you aim to achieve with the game?
Daphne and Shirin: Being aware that we live in a society in Cyprus where people are still afraid to cross to the “other” side, where prejudices and hatred prevail and children especially are exposed to biased views of the past, was one of the major incentives to create an interactive educational game on Nicosia.
We thus wanted to develop an educational platform that would provide young people with a fun way and an interactive tool in which they would learn about the past and present of the old city of Nicosia, its geography, its unique cultural heritage… - and then share it with friends, and challenge them to play as well!
What’s more, all this could be done without having to rely on their teachers or schools, or even needing to leave their computer! And how brilliant to think that a child in Morphou and child in Paphos could simultaneously understand the truly multicultural past of the city and learn about a common history of Cyprus without limitations.
* The Nicosia is Calling game is composed of five levels. Above screenshots show a few.
Mahallae Team: And do you have any plans for future development?
Daphne and Shirin: We certainly do, this was just the beginning! We want to further develop the Nicosia is calling game, make it richer in information and options, and even more interactive and fun, and probably also create a Facebook app. And we also plan to produce a more sophisticated game aimed at young people and adults, where players will learn more about the city’s life and the city’s secrets! In generally, we want to keep on passing onto people the message, that Nicosia is a shared, multi-cultural city with an amazing past, present, and hopefully future!
We are also keen to use this incredible experience and explore the possibilities of knowledge sharing in which similar interactive tools could be developed in other cities in the world!
Mahallae Team: Thank you so much for your answers, Daphne and Shirin! Can’t wait for the full launch of the game with Mahallae later this year!
Here’s how it usually goes. A big donor gives UNDP funds to tackle a complex problem. UNDP knows that often the best ideas are with civil society actors. Civil society actors, with their ear to the ground, know that they have great ideas to tackle this complex problem. A call for proposals goes out. There have been others before, but we know this one will be different. Everyone agrees we won’t re-hash the same tired ideas that have been tried for countless years and numerous calls for proposals.
And yet somehow, we all get caught up in the red tape of our old ideas. We end up with the same solid, tested ideas we’ve tried before. Nothing wrong with that, there’s a lot of good in tested ideas. But why this trouble innovating?
We think it’s got something to do with what makes UNDP different: we work with the messy stuff. Don’t get us wrong, it’s very difficult to organize humanitarian aid distributions in a complex emergency or to ensure that all children have access to vaccines. But it’s also measurable and concrete. Surprisingly, that makes innovation easier, because you can measure its impact, see how it increases efficiency and continue to improve.
The impact of a peacebuilding initiative is almost impossible to trace. What is “more peace” anyway? The Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index (SCORE) can measure different aspects of a peaceful society, but it also makes it clear that everything affects everything else, that peace is a complex system. Tracing the effect of one initiative through a web of human relations, socio-economic conditions and perceptions is practically impossible.
So how do we give people an incentive to innovate? We think it’s about creating the community support and feedback for new ideas to emerge. And that’s where the Mahallae Challenges come in. Building on UNDP’s work in this area, we are venturing out of the buffer zone in Cyprus to solicit new ideas and to ask you to help decide which ideas get funded.
We will be posting challenges relating to issues facing our communities. These will be evidence-based challenges, informed by findings from the SCORE. Here’s a preview of how the challenges will work…
We want ideas for solutions, lots of them. Anyone can submit an idea - This is an online brainstorming party. You can submit as many ideas in response to each challenge as you want. You’ll just need a title, a short description and (if you want) an image. All ideas are shared on the Mahallae website.
The best ideas become concepts. Our judges will filter the ideas and select those that demonstrate the most potential to attract interest. If your idea is selected, you will be asked to come up with a concept. Concepts are more developed ideas with a team behind them.
We support our concept teams. During this process, Mahallae Mentors also organize meet-ups for concept teams to provide support offline and help strengthen their ideas.
Concepts are put out to the crowd. Each concept goes back on the Mahallae site. Anyone can leave comments, or show that they like the concept by endorsing it. Concept will also be requesting in-kind resources (expertise, services, volunteers, etc). You can show your support for a concept by offering resources.
The best concepts win a challenge prize! Our judges pick the finalists, those ideas with the most community contributions, discussions and endorsements, and each one receives a cash grant prize. Equipped with the financial and technical resources necessary to succeed, the winning projects get the green light and can be put into operation!
Anyone can follow projects as they get into action. Once the winning projects begin to be implemented you can either become a part of them through your contributions, or sit back and watch them develop on the Mahallae platform. All reporting and updates on project implementation happen via the platform, to keep all contributors and endorsers informed.
But wait – there’s more! Those winning projects that can demonstrate replication outside of Cyprus can receive additional funding – so that the great ideas can spread even further.
What’s different about the Mahallae Challenges is that we are all committing to hearing all sorts of new ideas and paying attention to what others think about them. We’re creating a safe space to innovate in a field where success and failure are hard to measure. We’re making community feedback and enthusiasm the incentive to innovate and are asking you to tell us which projects to fund.
So will you help us get new ideas into UNDP?
Sharedwor!ds is a reconciliation, conflict resolution and peace-building project based on the common words between the Greek and Turkish languages. We sat down with Nuri Sılay, one of the two Sharedwor!ds creators, to learn about their new digital game.
Mahallae Team: How did you come up with the idea to develop Sharedwor!ds?
Nuri: The idea for SharedWords was the fruit of my five years long Greek-learning process. During my Greek classes, while I was searching for the meanings of Greek words in Turkish, I realized that thousands of Greek words have similar pronunciation, written form and meaning as the corresponding Turkish words. I found it really interesting that these two languages have so much in common even though their alphabets are completely different. And I realized that common words can be used as a language learning methodology and as a starting point to learn different languages. From another point of view, common words are the evidence of a common way of expression, of common traditions and common values of the societies that speak those languages. They are common grounds that we can use to overcome the psychological obstacle of “foreign” by focusing on our similarities and common values that bring us together. With this pragmatic approach in mind me and Spyros decided to take the opportunity to apply for the Knowledge and Innovation Fund of the Peace it Together Network with the intention to build a game that enables people to see that the common words and our common traditions and values can help us see each other familiar rather than foreign and overcome prejudice.
Mahallae Team: So what do you aim to achieve with the game?
Nuri: As we are living in a digital world nowadays, we thought an online game can help us reach people in Cyprus by using a very convenient communication channel to focus their attention on the common culture and common values of the two communities. Ultimately, we want to help people overcome prejudice and change their perception towards the “other” by making it “familiar” rather than “foreign”.
Mahallae Team: And do you have any plans for future development?
Nuri: Yes, we have a lot of plans for future development. First of all, this game was just the first step. We want to improve its design and functionality day by day to provide an enjoyable experience to players while they are playing and learning. We also have plans to develop a mobile application version of the game. And, in the long run, we would like to apply the SharedWords language learning methodology and peace building philosophy to other societies where common words are a reflection of common culture and common values. We think it can be very useful in many other contexts around the world.
Mahallae Team: Great, good luck, Nuri! And thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
Nuri: Thank you! Come play Sharedwor!ds here!
by Florin Marin
Stories are an essential component of human life and human experience. We use them for learning and guidance, for sharing wisdom with future generations, and for building a sense of community and continuity that gives meaning to our endeavours. In a way, stories make us who we are. And while stories change us in irrevocable ways, the technologies we use for storytelling also impact us profoundly.
When we set out to build the mahallae civic action road map, we aimed to tell the story of civil society in Cyprus in an innovative way. We didn’t want to write an inaccessible report and we didn’t want it to be a static archive of civil society initiatives that only researchers would find interesting. Instead, we wanted to capture the story as it unfolded over the years so that it can be used for learning, sharing wisdom, and building a sense of community, like every story should.
It was not an easy task and we had our moments of doubt that it would work. But we persevered, we went back to the drawing board several times, and in the end put together three different digital tools to help our mahallae users navigate the different aspects of the story we wanted to tell.
First we assembled a fun to use exploration tool that lets you build network graphs to explore the broad range of initiatives that were carried out by civil society in Cyprus in the last few decades. Here is a snapshot of the initial work we’ve done:
We built this tool thinking of it as a living organism. It even looks like one! And just like a living organism, we want it to grow and mature. And for that we need everyone else to lend a hand and become part of the story. We had our vigilant team gather a lot of the information needed but we know there is more to be uncovered to capture the complete picture of civic engagement in Cyprus. So make sure to check it out once we launch and share with us your piece of the story!
Our second storytelling tool was born out of the necessity to interpret the data we had gathered and give it meaning. We knew that all these initiatives we were discovering had two things in common: goals and methods to achieve those goals. We saw the goals as being part of thirteen different thematic fields, from arts and culture, to environment, to science and technology. We called these spheres of change and build a visual representation of their evolution in time. At the same time, the methods employed by these different initiatives also had deep significance, be it capacity development, knowledge and innovation, or advocacy and policymaking. We identified six of these different methods and called them building-blocks of civic engagement.
On mahallae these won’t be static charts. We’re allowing the users to customize their own chart based on the field and time frame they are interested in. Here is the initial look of this tool, it’s still work in progress but we’re committed to make it as user-friendly and interesting as possible.
Together these charting exercises offer us a perspective of the kind of work civil society has been doing in Cyprus over the past few decades and it can help us identify trends and needs more easily.
After building these two tools, we realized that while both are extremely useful, one was very detail-oriented and the other was operating on a meta-level of overall trends. We needed something to ground them both and make our story personal. So the third tool we built is an interactive infographic that uses new design techniques to delve into the evolution, the key moments, and the achievements of the civil society peace-building movement in Cyprus. A lot of civil society activity in Cyprus has revolved around the bi-communal peace-building movement, so we wanted to honour its legacy and tell the story in a way that it’s never been told before. If you want to see what inspired us, have a look at this.
Of course, we’re still hard at work to finish and polish these tools for the mahallae launch. But we hope our efforts will pay off and these tools will surprise, inspire, and motivate a new generation of activists and practitioners to keep working for what they believe in and become part of this great story themselves.
by Ellada Evangelou
"We spend much of our time worrying about our ideas being truly innovative. Better, faster and newer. But the truth is, the essential elements of innovation are patience and team work."
When we started with the idea of a platform which would bring together the work of NGO practitioners from all around the area, innovation was at the forefront of our planning. And to get the best ideas out there, we launched a Fund and made it all about Knowledge Innovation. We started by getting several strong ideas, and as time passed we realized that innovation became a tangible value when we worked diligently, taking into account the creative input of many people. You need your practical minds to ask “how will this work”, some aesthetic feedback to make sure it looks pretty, a tech person (or two) to get all the technical stuff right and a communications team to make sure you get the word out and do justice to the work. Most of all you need patience and loads of “yes, but”, “ahah” and “duh” moments.
When it’s time to explore the interactive tools on the space of creativity which is mahallae, it is this type of spirit which will welcome you. At the moment, a handful of innovative tools which push civil society into new and exciting paths, reaching new groups and engaging in different conversations. The tools include the following:
Shared Wor!ds: The game was developed by a Turkish-Cypriot Greek Language learner and a Greek-Cypriot linguist, combining experiential and academic knowledge. SharedWor!ds is an on-line language-learning game, part of the SharedWords project aimed at learners of Greek and Turkish. It utilizes common words shared by both languages and uses the learner’s existing knowledge of Greek or Turkish to make language learning easier and more fun.
Collaborating into the Future: The Management Centre of the Mediterranean and the NGO Support Centre, have developed a Video Webinar which explores the case study of the collaboration of the two organizations, one Greek-Cypriot and the other Turkish-Cypriot, and how they dealt with challenges in Cyprus, a post conflict society. These organisations built up a successful relationship with each other centred on trust and developed a unique way of working together. An additional aim of the Webinar is to present their collaboration as a possible model for others to follow.
Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers: The Mediation Association and Conflict Resolution Trainers Group, pioneering groups of peace makers, initiated this project. On a map of the region, mediators and conflict resolution trainers share their experiences and insights via short video clips. The individual stories recounted highlight the vital role that training in mediation and the resolution of conflict can play in bringing about reconciliation and lasting social change.
The Power of Sport: Animated Videos and Learning Guides by Peace Players International, Cyprus. The tool is a series of 5 short animated films accompanied by learning modules and facilitators’ guide. The films illustrate how sport can be used as a tool for peace building and share the methodology used by PeacePlayers International in their programs in Cyprus, the Middle East, Ireland and South Africa. The films can be used by organizations and coaches looking to use sport as a tool for conflict transformation. The learning modules are targeted towards young people aged between 14 and 20 (on average) and can be used by practitioners and coaches in the field.
Nicosia is Calling: an online game developed by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research and a group of inspired collaborators. Geared towards children aged 8-14, it is also suitable for adults who want to travel through time! The game combines history and learning about the city of Nicosia as it stands now, it familiarizes the player with Nicosia’s rich cultural heritage and its multicultural past and to imagine the city in the future as a unified whole. The game uses a map of the old city within the Venetian walls to take players on a virtual journey.
The CCMC Story: a series of infographics and visuals by the Cyprus Community Media Centre. These capture the story of the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC), from the birth of the idea to the present, as well as serve to bridge the gap between civil society and the mainstream media. The site also illustrates ways civil society can acquire its own distinct voice and how collaboration has been encouraged between two entirely separate (Greek language and Turkish language) media networks on the island. The tool is enriched with hyperlinks, images, videos and “how-to” features. It aims to inspire others in conflict situations who may be considering their own community media initiatives.
Youth Power Line: an online platform developed by Youth Power, a network of 4 diverse, Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot organizations, focusing on youth activism. The platform developed for young people who want to take their life and their future into their own hands and discover creative possibilities to help them navigate their way through times of financial and emotional depression. YouthPowerLine.org is divided in two sections: entrepreneurship, for users interested in social or corporate business and youth, for users interested in culture, youth activism and the creative arts.
As we anticipate showing the amazing work done by creative teams to the world in the imminent launch of mahallae, we will begin to introduce the projects through the blogposts. Stay tuned!
Part of the mahallae team spent this Saturday by the sea in Famagusta, building peace one beach at a time. We needed the rest, it’s been an intense week. The mahallae project aims to shake-up peacebuilding in Cyprus and the Euro-Mediterranean area by introducing tech-enable tools for innovation. It’s a risky, ambitious idea, and we’re well on our way to it (you can sign up here for updates or follow us on Facebook or Twitter).
Shaking-up and re-thinking peacebuilding practice also means we have to ask the hard questions. One that came up this week is why some people dislike the word peace. This post outlines my personal thoughts on this debate (not the official views of any mahallae partners). In response to feedback from activists in Cyprus, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, we use a mix of different terms on the mahallae site. Some refer to what you might think of as components of peace: social cohesion or reconciliation. Others stray from what you might typically associate with peace and refer to broader social change processes: civic engagement or a healthy society.
But do we really need to completely avoid talking about peace? The reasons this term is problematic depend on the local context. Some Cypriots dislike peace because they are disillusioned both with the formal peace process (largely stalled) and with peacebuilding activities led by civil society (often repetitive). In North Africa, peace is seen by some as a counter-revolutionary notion at a time when social change through revolution (sometimes peaceful, sometimes not) is important to many. In Israel and Palestine, the most common greetings in Arabic (سلام) and Hebrew (שָׁלוֹם) mean peace. Still, some activists reject peaceas a description of their aim – in their context, peace is likely to mean a settlement requiring compromises they are not sure they can make.
This view from Israel and Palestine goes to the heart of why some people dislike the termpeace. Peace can be a deeply conservative notion, it can mean compromise, it can mean keep quiet and don’t rock the boat. There is certainly some truth to this: conflict often results in change, which can be a very good thing. But that doesn’t mean peace is the enemy of change. Avoiding violence does not require avoiding conflict, and there are ways to build peace that also skillfully allow for change. Johan Galtung makes a distinction between negative peace (avoiding violence) and positive peace (overcoming not just direct violence, but also structural and cultural violence). Galtung’s positive peace reaches beyond the conservative notions of peace that are likely at the root of many people’s rejection of the term peace.
Some have suggested that this notion of positive peace is problematic because it pushes a particular positive agenda (often a leftist or liberal one). Then again, one can argue that negative peace is equally value-laden, since it essentially amounts to an endorsement of the (cultural and structural) status quo. The debate is much like debates around negative liberty versus positive liberty, a fascinating theoretical wrangle that requires much longer than a blogpost. So let me cut to the chase: in practice, positive peace makes room for more voices and accommodates the rainbow of social change initiatives that mahallae should support. Positive peace doesn’t have to be about a concrete agenda, it can just be a recognition that for peace to be real it has to engage in debate all of our agendas for peace. That’s why I think mahallae’s core aim should be to support civic engagement for a peaceful society.
That’s a nice, simple tagline, right? Problem: I still haven’t defined what a peaceful society is, really. Some days, I think it’s easier to take refuge in poetic notions. Jeffrey Yang saying peace can be found “out, reaching up to the stars” or Rumi’s field “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing“. That may seem like a cop-out, but there is some value to being vague, precisely because it leaves room for individual thought.
Hannah Arendt explained that only individual reflection and independent thought can keep us away from the banality of evil. Buddhism teaches that peace is every step, that we can only seek to build peace in the world if we also commit to building peace within ourselves. Inner peace is essential for a peaceful society because only through self-reflection can we understand the conflict traps we are caught in. Foucault speaks of using self-reflection to alter prevailing narratives, change “games of truths” that have us stuck in identities that are bound to clash (I’ve written about that before). John Paul Lederach also believes that we have to invent new peace narratives. Inventing peace in his view requires that we reach out to those we fear, touch the heart of complexity, imagine beyond what is seen, and risk vulnerability one step at a time.
A peaceful society is one that is structured in such a way that it encourages us to take the risk to invent, every day, new ways of living together. By embracing an open, positive concept of peace, mahallae can be a tool for activists to navigate fear, complexity, imagination and vulnerability. That’s the peaceful society I hope mahallae helps build. Onwards.