By Mariazel Maqueda López, PhD

Head of the EssentialTech PeaceTech Division

I have one of those titles – Head of the PeaceTech division – that leads to the interesting question, “Uh, what’s that?”
What better time than on the occasion of UN International Day of Peace, September 21, to answer this?

What is peace?

The interplay between underdevelopment, climate change, violent conflicts and forced migration has created increasingly long and complex economic, environmental, political and social crises from North to South. Violence and conflict are everywhere, not just in areas considered war zones. Every community has conflict, whether it is active and violent (like a civil war) or latent and structural (like longstanding oppression of a minority group). Peace is not only defined as the absence of violence or conflict, but rather as the absence of the possibility of violence and conflict, in both physical and virtual worlds. Peace is when people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflicts positively.

What is PeaceTech?

The field of PeaceTech was born out of the need to find technological solutions to enable better prevention, monitoring, containment, and constructive resolution of violence and conflict. In a society increasingly disrupted by technology, PeaceTech aims to both bring about innovative technologies to promote peace and address the misuse of technology to prevent violence and conflict, particularly online.

PeaceTech practitioners work hand-in-hand with actors from other peace promoting fields (peacebuilding, peacemaking, diplomacy, etc.) in order to complement each other expertise and achieve greater impact.

“I’d like to underscore the importance for organizations working in peace promotion to break sectorial silos and bridge interdisciplinary capacities. By doing this, we will complement each others’ expertise and accelerate the achievement of sustained peace for all.”

Mariazel Maqueda López, PhD, Head of the EssentialTech PeaceTech Division


Why has EPFL’s EssentialTech Centre integrated a PeaceTech Division?

Technological innovation is needed in three converging dimensions: to drive sustainable development, support humanitarian action and foster peace – the so-called “Triple Nexus”. With the PeaceTech Division, the EPFL EssentialTech Centre has launched a pioneering initiative worldwide, committing a whole core division to leverage EPFL’s in-house technology innovation, bridge it with the expertise of interdisciplinary national and international partners, and address violence and conflict as among the most important underlying causes for underdevelopment and humanitarian crisis.

What unique capacities can EPFL and EssentialTech bring to the concept and implementation of PeaceTech?

We are living an era in which technological innovation often outpaces the speed of regulations, deeply challenging political and peace promoting processes – for instance by means of mis(dis)information and hate speech campaigns in the social media, tracking and profiling of individuals, surveillance, facial recognition, Lethal Autonomous Weapons, Internet shutdowns, computer hacking, and so forth. With the PeaceTech Division, the EPFL EssentialTech Centre aims to leverage the Centre’s methodology (based on Cooperation, Interdisciplinary and Entrepreneurship) and co-design and co-implement new PeaceTech approaches in collaboration with cross-sectorial experts to reinforce the links among Swiss organizations, helping position Switzerland as a leading actor in the emerging fields of e-governance, digital diplomacy and digital peace.

What is your message on this UN International Day of Peace?

We are living troubled times owing to more dynamic, frequent, protracted and widespread conflicts, with an increasing impact of the virtual on the physical world. Nevertheless, beyond the high-level political and peace promoting processes – in which unfortunately the majority of the population cannot normally play a role – it is clear that those with access to digital platforms and the Internet have the capacity to commit to fight against the increasing polarization, radicalization and violence in the Internet, especially to curb gender-based violence online. On this UN International Day of Peace, I would like to remind all of you reading this article of the incredible power and the incredible responsibility we all have at our fingertips to stop violence and conflict online.