Making Innovation Transformative: Where are the Grassroots Women?

Making Innovation Transformative: Where are the Grassroots Women?

By Diana Sarosi

Our task: finding an innovative, disruptive solution that addresses one problem within the realm of UN Security Council Resolution 1325—also known as the Women, Peace and Security Agenda—within approximately 12 hours. We spent about half of the first day deciding on which problem to focus, quite the remarkable task, considering that there are surely a million problems from which to choose. We then spent the rest of the day brainstorming the solution. Most of the second day was spent on making our solution sellable to a set of judges; it had to sound good, look good, and take no longer than six minutes to present. The word ‘sexy’ was heard several times. All this was done with the clock ticking away loudly in our minds.

The pressure was on, and we performed.

In many ways, this exercise served as a microcosm of all-that-is-wrong-with-development. A group of people, undoubtedly passionate and well intentioned, sitting far removed from the context of their interventions, barely understanding what the problems are, and even less so the root causes, are selling solutions in flashy presentations to international donors keen to be the investors of the next best innovative scalable solutions. Sure we assessed risks and doability, but what do we really know when we haven’t delved into the root causes of the problems, haven’t deeply immersed ourselves into the context and did not have any locals at the table?

No, #HackingConflict did not produce any solutions, but what it did is spark ideas. I have been working on issues related to women, peace and security for the past decade. I never had any engineers at my table. I never had any techie people at my table. I never had business people at my table (other than private donors). There is an energy that develops from bringing these people together. It does expand our realm of what’s possible and can kindle new ideas.

Diana's #HackingConflict Team C working at #DiploHack

Diana’s #HackingConflict Team C working at #DiploHack

So how can we make the hackathon exercise of incubating innovation truly powerful, and potentially transformative, in addressing women, peace and security issues?

What was clearly missing in this process were women working around the world at the grassroots level to make peace, justice and equality a reality. Grassroots women’s organizations most certainly know where the problems lie, what the deep-rooted causes are and what needs to happen for change to take place. They have decades of experience working before, during and after conflict to address the myriad of issues that keep women from realizing their rights and make peace elusive. What these women’s organizations lack are resources and access.

Let’s take the example of SOFEPADI, a coalition of over 40 women’s organizations, working to end sexual violence in Eastern DRC. In a province the size of Spain, SOFEPADI is running the only medical clinic, Karibuni Wamama, providing critical medical and psychological services for survivors of sexual violence. But they know that that is not enough to end sexual violence. They understand the importance of justice, supporting survivors to take their cases to court, organizing mobile courts in remote communities and providing protection for survivors. They also work with communities to break the stigma attached to sexual violence while reintegrating survivors and providing them with skills to maintain their livelihoods. More recently, they developed a program for young men to find alternatives to joining a militia in their desperate search for jobs and money. These grassroots women clearly understand the complexity surrounding sexual violence and have developed a holistic approach that supports survivors and communities and brings about critical social, economic and political changes. They do all of this on shoe-string budgets and on their own.

Now imagine these women’s groups had access to a wide range of actors that would all together be tasked with finding solutions to the problems that they cannot address on their own. Imagine this group of diverse actors would be tasked to find a way to get survivors from remote areas in Eastern DRC to a clinic within the critical 72-hour window to reduce the risks of pregnancy and transmission of HIV. Imagine doctors and medical staff, psychologists, representative of international women’s organizations, officials from international agencies such as the UNDP and WHO, donors, telecom experts, multi-media experts, engineers, tech experts, representatives from transportation companies, electronics companies, and construction companies, and government officials working together with the grassroots women and survivors to find a viable and sustainable solution.

Now that would be truly transformative!

Diana Sarosi is the Manager of Policy & Advocacy at the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She has over a decade of experience as a peace and human rights activist and worked for over 5 years in Southeast Asia for the protection of human rights defenders. She holds a MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford with a specialization in women, peace and security.