Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict—the flagship study jointly published by the UN and the World Bank—has been touted as an unparalleled, potentially paradigm-shifting piece of work. But so often, conflict prevention approaches are weighted toward Africa or the Middle East; is the study relevant to Australia’s region and interests?
This study is a mix, but it tips toward the positive for Australia’s approach to security, politics, and development. It features several countries of high interest to Australia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste. Even Bougainville rates an instructive mention, although Solomon Islands is not discussed. Subnational conflict and middle-income country dynamics are certainly considered in a general sense. Predictably, though, African and Middle Eastern experiences are more prominent, given they are in many cases acute, high profile, and the destination of much conflict or peacebuilding support and political interest of UN and World Bank members.
Pathways for Peace
Most conflicts take place in fragile low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, monitoring, measuring, and evaluating the risk of violent conflict in such environments poses a huge challenge, but is necessary to inform strategies and interventions. Can we monitor the risk of conflict, or is this an impossible task? What tools do we have at our disposal for doing so?
The renewed focus on conflict prevention—resulting from the jointly published UN–World Bank study, Pathways for Peace—along with the recent rise in intra-state and regional conflicts, has thrust conflict prevention back to the center of global security sector reform (SSR) discourse.
As highlighted in the 2017 DCAF report, “The Contribution and Role of SSR in the Prevention of Violent Conflict”, security and justice institutions are often the primary interface between states and the populations they are meant to serve. But their protracted ineffectiveness or poor governance can leave the door open for conflict to escalate. It is therefore encouraging that we are going back to the roots of SSR and reassessing its role in conflict prevention.
The recent global financial crisis reignited the debate on the ownership structure of the banking sector and its consequences for financial intermediation. Some have pointed to the presence of foreign banks in developing countries as a key mechanism for transmitting the 2008-2009 crisis from advanced to developing countries (e.g., IMF, 2009). At the same time, developing countries like Brazil, China, and India, where government-owned banks are systemically important, recovered quickly from the crisis, generating interest in the potential mitigating role that these banks can play during periods of financial distress. 
Following periods of violent conflict, states often dedicate significant energy, time, and funding to a variety of endeavors broadly aimed at improving the rule of law. These include pursuing prosecutions or legally enacted amnesties to address past human rights violations; revising constitutions to expand human rights protections; undertaking reparatory and truth-seeking processes; and creating national human rights institutions and ombuds offices to monitor future human rights violations. Existing research, however, has not fully assessed whether these endeavors have any payoff in terms of preventing further violent conflict.
Do political institutions matter when explaining why some post-conflict countries fall back into conflict? On the one hand, many believe inclusive political institutions to be key for conflict prevention. On the other hand, the academic literature so far, mostly focusing on the effect of regime type more generally, fails to find consistent effects – more democratic states do not clearly experience less conflict recurrence. This blog post summarizes a paper, which argues that rather than democracy more generally, very specific political institutions can very well have an influence on whether conflict recurs or not.
- Pathways for Peace
The history of humankind is filled with violence. People have been hurting and killing one another practically since they stood up and walked on two legs. And while each battle claims a unique call-to-arms, at the end of the day, the rallying cries are always strikingly similar. Human beings prefer to remain peaceful, except when their lives or livelihoods are threatened.
There is much (potentially) to be excited about here. Few would argue against having greater access to more learning opportunities, especially when those opportunities are offered for 'free', where there is latent unmet demand, and where the opportunities themselves are well constructed and offer real value for learners. As with MOOCs at the level of higher education, however, we perhaps shouldn't be too surprised if these new opportunities at the high school level are first seized upon *not* by some of the groups with the greatest learning needs -- for example, students in overcrowded, poorly resourced secondary schools in developing countries, or even students who would like a secondary education, but for a variety of reasons aren't able to receive one -- but rather by those best placed to take advantage of them. This has been largely been the case for initial adopters of MOOCs. (One of the first studies of this aspect of the 'MOOC Phenomenon', which looked at MOOCs from the University of Pennsylvania, found that students tended to be "young, well educated, and employed, with a majority from developed countries.")
As a practical matter, some of the first types of beneficiaries may, for example (and I am just speculating here), be homeschooling families in North America (while not necessarily comparatively 'rich' by local standards, such families need to be affluent enough to be able to afford to have one parent stay at home with the kids, and generally have pretty good Internet connectivity); international schools around the world (which can offer a broader range of courses to students interested in an 'American' education); and the families of 'foreign' students looking to apply to college in the United States (the edX course “COL101x: The Road to Selective College Admissions” looks, at least to my eyes, tailor made for certain segments of the population of learners in places like China, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.). In other words, at least in the near term, a Matthew Effect in Educational Technology may be apparent, where those who are best placed to benefit from the introduction of a new technology tool or innovation are the ones who indeed benefit from it the most.
Longer term, though, it is possible to view this news about movement of a major MOOC platform into the area of secondary education as one further indication that we are getting further along from the 'front end of the e-learning wave' (of which MOOCs are but one part) to something that will eventually have a greater mass impact beyond what is happening now in the 'rich' countries of North America and the OECD.
Learning with new technologies has of course been around for many decades but, broadly speaking, has not (yet) had the 'transformational' impact that has long been promised. "Gradually, then suddenly" is how one of Ernest Hemingway's characters famously describes how he went bankrupt. Might this be how the large scale adoption of educational technologies will eventually happen as well in much of the world?
I f so, one credible potential tipping point may be a 'black swan' event that could push all of this stuff into the mainstream, especially in places where it to date has been largely peripheral: some sort of major health-related scare. (For those unfamiliar with the term, which was popularized by Nicholas Taleb, a 'black swan' is a rare event that people don't anticipate but which has profound consequences). One of the first ever posts on the EduTech blog, Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics, looked at some of what had been learned about how teachers and learners use new technologies to adapt when schools were closed in response to outbreaks involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 'swine flu' that afflicted many in Mexico about six years ago; and an earlier outbreak of 'bird flu' in China. I have recently been fielding many calls as a result of the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa asking essentially, 'Can we do anything with technology to help our students while our schools are closed?', and so I thought it might be useful to revisit, and update, that earlier post, in case doing so might be a useful contribution to a number of related discussions are occurring.
The simple answer is yes. Now, let’s discuss in more depth why gender equality is a key ally in the prevention of violent conflict.
Gender equality is an essential factor in a country’s security and stability. Excluding women from actively participating in society can increase the risk of instability. Gender equality is not only about doing what is right or about social justice; it is also an important element in economic development and a critical predictor of stability and security, which can inform and improve work on conflict prevention.
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.