PeaceTech beyond Grebel

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Over the past several years, Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement Director Paul Heidebrecht has played an increasingly active role in the emerging field of PeaceTech. Included in this field are efforts to generate critical insights on the social impact of technology, as well as using technology to augment the efforts of civil society organizations, social-purpose businesses, and governments to advance peace and justice.

Drawing on his experiences supporting PeaceTech start-ups in the Grebel Peace Incubator, working with students in the PeaceTech Living Learning Community at Conrad Grebel University College, and introducing engineering students to Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo, Heidebrecht has been collaborating with an increasingly diverse array of organizations and individuals from around the world who share the common goal of designing technology that contributes to peace and justice rather than undermines it.

For example, in 2020, Heidebrecht delivered a webinar on “PeaceTech and the Prospects for Critically Engaging Technology” for the University of Hiroshima’s Network for Education and Research on Peace and Sustainability. In 2021, he facilitated a panel entitled “More than Tech for Good: PeaceTech at Waterloo and Beyond” at the International Symposium on Technology and Society. And in 2022, he published a foundational article on PeaceTech in the IEEE’s Technology and Society Magazine.

PeaceTech Conference in Florence

Heidebrecht’s involvements have only accelerated since then. In November 2022, he was invited to join the inaugural conference of the Global PeaceTech Hub hosted by the European University Institute’s School of Transnational Governance in Florence, Italy.

In February 2023, he spoke on a panel about incubating and funding PeaceTech initiatives at the Designing Tech for Social Cohesion conference in San Francisco organized by fellow Grebel alum Lisa Schirch, now a professor at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame where she also directs the PeaceTech and Polarization Lab.

He was subsequently asked to join the Steering Committee of the Council on Technology and Social Cohesion, which, in addition to Lisa Schirch, includes leaders from key organizations such as Search for Common Ground, the Psychology of Technology Institute, the Centre for Humane Technology, the Integrity Institute, and the Prosocial Design Network. The Council’s ambition is to catalyze cross-sector collaboration that advances public policy, funding, metrics, and the implementation of technology that fosters social cohesion. 

Paul and Emma Baumhofer in Nairobi

Most recently, he collaborated with Emma Baumhofer, a Digital Peacebuilding Expert at swisspeace, to convene a PeaceTech Founders Forum at the 10th anniversary of Build Peace, an annual conference on technology, peace, and the arts. Held in Nairobi in early December 2023, this gathering affirmed the importance of providing opportunities for the founders of start-ups building PeaceTech in diverse contexts to connect, reflect, and learn from each others’ experiences.

In his introductory article to the Fall 2022 issue of Grebel Now, Heidebrecht wondered whether Grebel was prepared to elevate the priority of PeaceTech in response to opportunities to collaborate with Tech for Good practitioners “across the creek and down the street.”

There certainly continue to be many points of connection at Waterloo. Since he wrote those words, Heidebrecht has been asked to join Waterloo’s Social Impact Council to help implement aspects of the university’s Waterloo at 100 strategic vision, the Advisory Committee for the Centre for Society, Technology, and Values, and the Steering Committee for the Balsillie School of International Affairs’ newly launched Technology Governance Initiative. As someone with academic preparation and professional experience in both engineering and the humanities, he is uniquely positioned to help shape all of these initiatives.

But it is clearer than ever that PeaceTech is now a global movement, and that Grebel and the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement have an important role to play in creating pathways for Waterloo students, faculty, and staff to get involved.

There is growing demand in civil society organizations, governments, and the private sector for a new kind of professional expertise that marries technological skill and understanding with social and political acumen. Indeed, the potential for collaborative and impactful initiatives to regulate and constructively deploy technology depend on more than a high-level vision; they depend on the supply of talented individuals and teams who can bring together peace and technology. 

PeaceTech Word Cloud