Using technology to promote peace
Update (March 30, 2017): PeaceGeeks, founded by uOttawa alumna Renée Black, has won a Google.org Impact Challenge award. The Vancouver non-profit will use the $750,000 grant to develop an app that connects immigrants and refugees to services that help them navigate life in Canada.
Years of working to empower women in conflict zones inspired alumna Renée Black to give grassroots groups a high-tech edge. In 2011, Black set up PeaceGeeks, a non-profit volunteer organization that teaches technological, communications and management skills to those who promote peace and human rights in developing countries.
Working under the mantra Connect Locally — Empower Globally, PeaceGeeks improves lives around the world. In South Sudan, they support the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, which monitors conflicts and assists with reconciliation in communities affected by violence.
Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked PeaceGeeks to build an app to help 620,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan navigate their way to the services they need.
Before completing her master’s degree in public and international affairs at uOttawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences in 2009, Black had volunteered with women’s initiatives in Africa. She later interned at the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York City, assisting with peacekeeping missions in Burundi.
However, the real driver behind PeaceGeeks came in 2010. Thousands of women from around the world had gathered to mark the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325, on empowering women peace-builders in conflict zones. There was zero media attention and peace groups lacked tools to help them get the word out about their work.
“I thought that was terrible. PeaceGeeks was about trying to do something about that,” says Black. “We are trying to amplify potential.”