In a world full of divisiveness and conflict, one organization is working to use technology to accelerate and scale peacebuilding while empowering women founders.
Washington, D.C.-based PeaceTechLab is an independent nonprofit organization that brings together engineers, activists, business school graduates, conflict experts, social scientists, data scientists, and other innovators to develop effective peacebuilding solutions in an effort to reduce conflict.
PeaceTechLab was once part of the United States Institute of Peace until it was spun off as an independent group in early 2015, according to Nancy Payne, COO of PeaceTech Lab. The founder and CEO of the organization, Sheldon Himelfarb, has managed peacebuilding programs in areas such as Bosnia, Iraq, Angola, Liberia, Macedonia, and Burundi. Himelfarb also received a Capital Area Peacemaker Award from American University.
Through the PeaceTech Accelerator, the lab supports startups focused on improving lives around the world through technology that protects and advances global peace and human rights.
The organization’s fourth cohort includes 10 startups, four which were founded by female entrepreneurs such as Video Volunteer’s founder Jessica Mayberry, whose company aims to help citizen journalists in India produce media that sheds lights on critical issues that impact their communities daily. The organization’s first three cohorts included 18 companies, also with about 40 percent having female co-founders and founders.
“It’s grounded in our core DNA to support entrepreneurs and other innovators to come up with effective solutions to some of world’s biggest problems,” Payne told Crunchbase News. “We’ve found entrepreneurs need to have the right environment for them to thrive. Many of them are based in conflict areas in different countries.”
Other examples of female leaders in the fourth cohort include the following:
- Fonta Gilliam, CEO and co-founder of Sou Sou, an entrepreneur-driven investment fund that allows members to share money, barter, and invest in their businesses through the Sou Sou mobile app.
- Allison Wong is CEO and co-founder of Suavei,a cybersecurity startup.
- Karina Grosheva is CEO of TaQadam, an image annotation outsourcing platform for Artificial Intelligence that derives most of its workforce from refugee populations.
PeaceTechLab’s program focuses on several core themes such as building a sustained peace, accountability and governance, and refugees. Not all companies set out to address those things as their primary mission; however, the technology at least can be applied to those problems.
For example, SouSou is working to create lending circles to help underserved markets such as people of color and women build strong credit scores and get loans. They’re borrowing the concept from countries such as Nigeria or others in sub-Saharan Africa. And TaQadam’s workforce is primarily driven from a refugee population out of Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Lebanon.
“These companies are trying to tackle social challenges while getting a financial return,” Payne said.