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CDA Institute Analysts Lindsay Coombs and Celeste Longo recount their experience participating in the recent DiploHack event #HackingConflict on 27-29 May 2015.

Cyberspace is becoming an increasingly important topic in the realm of security and defence. Extremist groups like ISIS have been using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to disseminate their professionally produced propaganda designed to lure youth into joining their cause. As a response, Concordia University in partnership with the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies recently introduced the Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Lab to counter the radical sentiments being proliferated online by terrorist organizations. At the present time, social media is being used as a tool to disrupt conflict and mobilize action.

The #HackingConflict: DiploHack Ottawa 2015 event was held at the Museum of Nature on 27-28 May, and was co-organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the SecDev Foundation (Canada), and the Canadian International Council (CIC), in partnership with Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. This event explored how nonviolent actors can be empowered to disrupt conflict by using technology. Resultantly, one of the main objectives of the event was to find innovative ways to leverage technology in order to transform national and regional conflicts.

A few days before the event took place, we were asked – alongside other participants – to complete a survey delineating their interests in order to ensure the organizers could establish the most optimal pairing of participants into six multidisciplinary teams. Diversity in participant’s strengths and backgrounds were key factors in the creation of #DiploHack teams. United by their common interest to hack conflict, teams were assigned to focus on one of three selected UN Security Council Resolutions: UNSC 1325 (women, peace and security), UNSC 2139 (end barrel bombs in Syria), and UNSC 2202 (cease-fire in Ukraine).

The first day of the event began with a warm welcome and a few introductory remarks. At this stage participants were also assigned to their respective teams and provided with a detailed agenda of the two day event. It was our pleasure to be part of Team C, assigned to work on UNSC Resolution 1325, which calls for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict.

Following a fun ice breaking activity, groups were given the task of narrowing down a clear objective and plan for their project proposals. In order to be successful, each team had to structure their proposal around the concept of ‘CREDD,’ which stands for clarity, risk assessment, evidence, do-ability and disruption. Moreover, the first day was primarily utilized to establish the basic foundations of the projects. Team C took up the challenge of trying to improve access to first response services for survivors of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) in rural areas of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) within the first 72 hours of an attack. Furthermore, participants were provided the opportunity to make use of a variety of resources to help facilitate their work, including online and digital tools, in-field resource experts, mentors and specialists, etc.

Statistics gathered by the UNHCR in North Kivu point to an alarming rise this year in acts of violence against women and girls in the province. During their brainstorming session, Team C focused on demarcating possible solutions to solve this issue. One outcome under consideration involved improving access to information and services by creating an SMS based service that would not only assist women and girls, but would also gather data collection on SGBV. Another interesting idea was the consideration of drone delivery of first aid kits to first responders that would be contacted via SMS.

The first day of the event came to a close with a very insightful panel hosted by the CIC, titled ‘Prospects for Peace in the Internet Age: Will Digital Natives Transform the Prospects for Peace?’ The panel was composed of Senator Mobina Jaffer, Daryl Copeland, Afra Jalabi, Prof. John Packer, and Renee Black. We were very pleased to be able to attend this panel as part of our participation at #DiploHack.

Throughout the two-day event, thought-provoking ‘lightning talks’ were conducted: The EyeWitness App by Wendy Betts from IBA, Seven social media tools in three minutes by Josh Gillmour from the SecDev Foundation, ‘Psiphon‘ by Keith McManamen, and Human Terrain by Lieutenant-Colonel Arjan van Daalen from the Netherlands.

On the last day of the event, each team finalized their proposals and prepared a 6 minute brief that was presented in front of peers as well as the judges. Our team’s proposal was titled “ConnectHer/ Connectées,” which proposed an SMS and phone-based service that connects sexual violence survivors in the Eastern DRC to community first responders who could provide emergency medical care and social support within 72 hours.” Team C carefully reviewed their proposal to ensure that CREDD requirements were satisfied and presented clearly to the panel of judges. Moreover, we opted for the innovative approach by harnessing the power of technology to support women and girls who have experienced sexual violence in the Eastern DRC.

Our team’s proposal also addressed several possible risks, including the possibility that women may not want to use the service for fear of the stigma it could entail. Additionally, women may also be unable to contact ConnectHer immediately, reducing the effectiveness of the services by potentially jeopardizing the crucial 72 hour window. The first 72 hours after a sexual assault are the most critical in the prevention of the spread of HIV, survivability and unwanted pregnancy. Finally, Team C concluded this presentation with what we see as the powerful slogan, “Reach Out. Connect Her. Get Help.”

Teams were eligible to receive different awards at #DiploHack Ottawa 2015 event: The Judges Award, selected by a panel of judges and awarded by Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Bert Koenders and congratulated by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands; and The Compatriots Award, selected by participants of this event. The former was awarded to Team B “Disrupt the Chain: End Barrel Bombs in Syria” and the latter to Team D “TruthDetective.org — A Mobile App.” We would certainly like to congratulate both teams for winning these awards.

A third award was also given to a team based on a popular online vote. We were pleased to take part in this important event, and honoured that our Team C “ConnectHer/ Connectées” won the popular Vox Populi Award, announced 4 June 2015.

Lindsay Coombs is an Analyst at CDA Institute who is currently attending the University of Ottawa where she is working towards the completion of an Honours BA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights. Her interests focus strongly on international conflict and relations as well as military history.

Celeste Longo is presently an Analyst at the CDA institute. She attended Dawson College where she completed a Law, Society and Justice Diploma of College Studies and is currently completing her second year at the University of Ottawa in Conflict Studies and Human Rights. Her major fields of interests involve human rights, defence and conflict resolution.

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