20 Apr 2010
Last week Meedan was a invited participant at a World Bank event called the "Innovation Fair on Conflict and Fragility." The event was a mix of technologists, researchers and entrepreneurs in three days of collaboration in Cape Town, South Africa. Meedan was invited for its role as a cross-cultural platform for use in conflict resolution and prevention.
Meedan is rarely discussed as having an role in conflict or violence — typically our work in aggregation and translation are understood as a journalistic effort. By contrast, many "conflict tools" or "crisis software" are focused on one of two poles:
"hot flash" emergencies, such as incidents of election violence or a sudden-onset natural disaster
"slow burn" crises, such as environmental problems or ongoing crime.
These terms, borrowed from our friends at Ushahidi, are useful for understanding the range of applications for new tools in the field of "crisis software." To understand the role of News.meedan.net, I propose a third:
Translation clearly has an important role in all of these types of crisis.
In sudden-onset issues, collaboration across languages is an especially important component of international relief work. (For example, in the case of a natural disaster like the recent earthquake in Haiti, one of the most important groups in the relief effort has been a dedicated team of translators working to get Hatian Creole into English and the various languages used by responders. So this is a strong example of how better tools are needed for rapid translation in crises.)
But the crises that unfold at an even slower pace, crises of culture, have haunted humanity over centuries, with its most devastating manifestations in outright war.
In this sense, Meedan, as a cross-cultural discussion forum, is at the far end of the crisis-response spectrum, and is addressing some extremely longstanding challenges. But despite the age of these problems, the perennial problems caused by the linguistic divide are not unsolvable. For the first time in history, we have communication technology such as machine translation, and collaborative techniques such as social translation. It's our hope that these will be part of a deep and enduring movement toward collaboration and cross-cultural understanding.