Peace Week 2019 is here!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

By Paul Heidebrecht

Kris Braun, VP of Engineering at Bonfire, was a guest speaker in my Engineering and Peace class last week, and shared the inspiring story of how they hired a Syrian refugee named Mohammed Hakmi through a new program called Talent Beyond Borders. You can watch the video of Kris’s talk at Communitech’s True North conference last summer here.

For the second time in three years, the University of Waterloo was represented at the Hult Prize Global Finals, the world’s biggest social entrepreneurship pitch competition. They were one of just six teams out of more than 100,000 entries that made it to the stage at the United Nations in New York last Saturday. You can read more about their journey here, and watch their pitch for $1,000,000 here (starting at 1:21:30). In 2017, Waterloo was represented by EPOCH, a team that recently graduated from the Centre for Peace Advancement’s incubator program.

It was great to join a crowd of Conrad Grebel University College (and some Engineering and Peace!) students in celebrating the launch of the HeForShe campaign’s Get Free Tour for gender equity on Monday morning. As Grebel’s HeForShe Faculty Advocate this year, I’m pleased that the University of Waterloo has achieved the commitments it made at the launch of the campaign in 2015, and eager to see more progress in the years ahead.

These items stand in stark contrast to some concerning news about the culture of the tech sector more broadly. One prominent champion of building “tech for good,” Joichi Ito was recently forced to resign as the director of MIT’s prestigious Media Lab when it was revealed that he had courted donations from disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein. This is raising larger questions about the way the tech sector views capital investments and universities view donations—see, for example, Dann Crichton’s article “After Epstein, it’s time for the Valley to find a moral view on capital” in TechCrunch, and Farhad Manjoo’s Op Ed “ American Universities Are Addicted to Billionaires” in The New York Times.

This is an especially busy week for anyone who cares about peace! Waterloo region’s Peace Week culminates this Saturday, September 21 from 2:00-4:00 PM when the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement celebrates its 5th anniversary. This will be a great opportunity to network with organizations and start-ups based in the Centre, as well as several of our university and community partners, and there will be international food representing several important connections the Centre has made. If you are coming, please register here.

There are also two important opportunities to highlight in our innovation ecosystem. First, the Quantum Valley Investments Problem Pitch Competitions for the Fall term are now open. This competition invites teams of up to four students to choose an important industry problem and thoroughly research its history, scope, and impact. Students pitch their findings to a panel of judges to compete for a share of up to $30,000 in grant funding. Initial applications are due September 30. Several of the “Billion Dollar Problems” highlighted in this competition have peacebuilding implications, including non-lethal weapons (the need to restrain persons without causing harm), human-proof cybersecurity (the need to avoid failures caused by human error or malicious intent), and truth-teller (the need to tell the difference between true and false information online). Two students in the 2018 Engineering and Peace class entered this competition last year, and, although they didn’t progress past the preliminary round, they found the Problem Lab methodology quite useful.

Secondly, do you like solving problems and making the world a better place? Are you interested in learning how to apply design thinking to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals? Join the St. Paul’s GreenHouse team on Tuesday, September 24 from 5:30-9:00 PM for a hands-on workshop introducing you to the Design Thinking approach. This event is open to all students from all backgrounds interested in imagining innovative solutions in Health, Education, Environment, Finance, Energy and Agriculture. Your participation will jumpstart your enrollment in Cooperathon, the biggest open-innovation challenge in the world. Register here.