Business is not the bad guy. Then again, sometimes it is.

[By Ashley Nichole Kolaya]

AT NYU WAGNER, WE SPEND a lot of time discussing topics like urbanization, infrastructure, social policy, and citizen security.  We usually leave the business talk to the folks at Stern.  Eduardo Moncada of Rutgers University (and formerly of Wagner) would say that omission  is exactly our problem.

Latin America has two unique distinctions in the world of geopolitical statistics: first, it is the most urbanized region in the world.  Second, it is the most violent.  Organizations like the UNDP and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme release flurries of reports about these topics on an annual basis.  What we don’t hear about, however, is the role that business plays in all of these development concerns.  Eduardo Moncada is on a mission to change that.

Moncada argues that prevailing research in particularly violent urbanized areas focuses on the role of police, political will, and civic society.  He points out that business, as such, is rarely brought into the conversation.  When it is, the imagery depicts “business” as a monolith: one actor, with one purpose and one consistent message.  According to Moncada, “This image misses the point entirely.”

In his research, presented last Tuesday during the ongoing Conflict, Security, and Development series (Tuesdays from 12:30-1:30pm in the Rudin conference room of the Puck Building, 2nd floor), Moncada finds that local businesses often play a strongly influential role in shaping a government’s policy response to urban violence.

Eduardo Moncada

Eduardo Moncada

Moncada focused his talk on the Colombian cities Cali, Bogota, and Medellin specifically.  In this particularly violent region of the world, says Moncada, governments tend to respond to citizen security issues with two types of policy: reactive and reformist.  Reactive policies are typically more hardline and, at times, rely on the use of coercive measures.  Rerformist policies focus on socioeconomic investment and political empowerment.  Different types of businesses, with different types and levels of interest, favor different approaches to security policy.

In Latin America, the role of business in citizen security policy has been at times, hugely beneficial.   In Bogota, for example, the Chamber of Commerce helped to lay the foundation and build the support for a string of reformist mayors who oversaw a decrease in overall violence in the city.  In this instance, local businesses, specifically those in the service sector, favor reformist policies that make a city more marketable in the tourism industry.  “Come visit City X: we’ve got the most murders per capita!” has never looked all that enticing on a brochure.  In this case, says Moncada, “business was a catalyst to urban reformist policy and an increase in citizen security.”

On the other hand, business can also play a detrimental role in the creation of reformist policies.  In the practice known as clientelism, politicians promise various forms of political favors in exchange for political support.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, thanks to drug lords like Pablo Escobar, clientelism dominated regional political systems, and Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  Moncada points out that during this time, industrialists with ties to the drug trade joined with clientelistic mayors to discredit would-be reformist policy makers.  Through media manipulation (i.e. tying reformists to known terrorists, etc), industrialists and clientelistic politicians effectively squashed a push for reformist policies in Medellin.

Fortunately for the city, business also played a large role in the recent rebranding of Medellin, which goes to show that, under the right circumstances, business can play a hugely beneficial role in developing policies that promote citizen security.  “It’s no panacea,” says Moncada, “but it’s more significant than the credit we’ve been giving it.”

You hear that, Stern?  Maybe we should talk….

This Week at NYU Wagner – September 17, 2012


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Experiential Peacebuilding: Practicing What We Preach

BY Ashley Nichole Kolaya

“TELL ME, AND I will forget; show me, and I will remember; involve me, and I will understand.”  These are the words of a well-known Chinese proverb.  They are also words that form the foundation of the experiential learning model employed by the Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding. Ana Cutter Patel, the Center’s executive director, described the model in a talk she gave Sept. 18 as part of NYU Wagner’s ongoing, dynamic “Conflict, Security and Development” speaker series.

“Picture this,” Patel began.  “An unlikely collection of individuals: Palestinian Muslims, Israeli Jews, and Palestinian Christians.  Some religious leaders.  Some secular activists.  All with one thing in common: they had to survive a mountain expedition in cold, wet weather, and they had to do it as a group.

“The Palestinians were not well-equipped to handle the cold weather.  They lacked appropriate clothing and footwear, and their camping gear was rudimentary.  The discrepancy between their equipment and what the Israelis were able to bring with them quickly became a source of tension.  The Palestinians’ frustration grew.  They were cold and tired and wanted to go home.  Then something happened.  One of the Israeli participants brought his backpack out in front of the group and dumped it out in front of the group.  The rest of the team started to follow suit.  By the end of the evening, the gear was redistributed, and the incipient stages of a cooperative spirit had developed among the group.  By the end of the trip, impossibly strong bonds developed between the unlikeliest of individuals.”


Patel’s description of this excursion was more than an opening anecdote – it was an accurate reflection of her day-to-day work.  Outward Bound Peacebuilding  sends emerging leaders from divided societies on intensive excursions that promote learning, respect, teambuilding, and leadership skills.  The dialogue created by participants in these experiences lays the groundwork for peace within and between communities in conflict.

Outward Bound’s model is gaining traction in the field of international relations.  A growing trend in the world of conflict resolution and peacebuilding is a focus on experiential learning—learning by doing.  Patel’s organization, along with many others like it, seeks to develop capacity and build public support for peace through the cyclical experiential education model.   In this model, learning requires four steps: action, reflection, discussion, and application.  Though a learner can enter the process at any stage, each step is essential to the process.

To illustrate her point further, Patel involved the more than 50 audience members to her “lecture” in an activity.

“Get with a partner, and face each other.  Put your palms up in front of your partner’s.  Now, the goal is for you to get your partner’s elbows behind his or her back as many times as you can in one minute.  Go.”

Some listeners stood, frozen and confused. Some stood pushing against each other’s palms with all their might.  Others still excitedly see-sawed their hands back and forth, grinning ear to ear.  As the rest of the room witnessed this frenzied movement, it started to dawn on everyone that the point of the exercise was cooperation.

“I don’t know why, but my first instinct was not to let my partner get my elbows behind my back.  I was so focused on my own goal that I assumed if my partner accomplished her goal, it meant that I wouldn’t achieve mine.  I didn’t even realize I was making it harder on myself,” said one of the participants.

This is precisely the lesson that experiential learning has for us in regard to peacebuilding, according to the Outward Bound model.  Though the challenges are numerous, the benefits are plain to see.  This model is an active exercise in developing the qualities that celebrated educator and Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn referred to as the foremost concern of all education: “an enterprising curiosity, and undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and, above all, compassion.”

Perhaps these qualities comprise a solid foundation on which the framework of peacebuilding can firmly stand.

Crisis Mapping in Elections: What Kenya Can Teach Us


BY Ashley Nichole Kolaya

COLETTE MAZZUCELLI, Adjunct Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, contends the lesson we should learn from Kenya’s continuing implementation of crisis-mapping technology is threefold: first, we should not be complacent about the country’s upcoming elections; second, understanding the local context is critical for preventing human rights abuses; and third, technology is no substitute for the value of human networks.

Kicking off the seventh year of the “Conflict, Security and Development” speaker series at NYU Wagner on September 11, 2012, Mazzucelli’s presentation employed a top-down (as well as a grassroots, local community) look at the purpose and use of crisis mapping technology in Kenya, a country mired in historically tumultuous elections.

Crisis mapping is a tool used to collect, visualize, and analyze data for the purpose of preventing human rights abuses where violence is anticipated, in this case, during Kenya’s upcoming elections.  Several challenges arise when questions of cultural context and resource availability are concerned, and Mazzucelli highlighted the significant strides made in the field of crisis mapping to address these challenges.

“We must be clear: technology is no substitute for human networks and community.  It can, however, be a value-add facilitator, a way to enhance the conversation.”

Mazzucelli highlighted two innovators in the field of crisis mapping: FrontlineSMS and DevInfo.  To discuss these technologies, FrontlineSMS CEO Laura Walker Hudson joined the conversation from Kenya via Skype, while DevInfo Aid Effectiveness and Development Technical Advisor John Toner joined us in person.

FrontlineSMS is software that aims to put mobile capabilities in the hands community members through local technology.  In areas where internet capabilities and, sometimes, electricity are scarce, FrontlineSMS uses the lowest common denominator of mobile technology (as Laura puts it, “the oldest Nokia mobile you have in your bottom desk drawer”) to give a voice to those who have been systematically silenced.  Hudson describes three essential functions of FrontlineSMS.  The availability of this technology puts citizens at the heart of the electoral process; it serves as a watchdog over political actors who would abuse the process; and most critically, it facilitates the response to emergencies if and when violations or violence occur.  It’s a way to say to the Kenyan government and citizens, “the world is watching.”

DevInfo takes the work of FrontlineSMS one step further.  It serves as a way to monitor human development by collecting, visualizing, and sharing reported information.  Endorsed by the United Nations, but meant to be accessible to, again, the “lowest common denominator,” John Toner paints a picture of data and statistics that are easily accessible, digestible and sharable to anyone who may want to know or may want others to know.

In concert, Mazzucelli, Hudson and Toner illustrate a situation in Kenya that is both precarious and hopeful.  As countries all over the world embark on new electoral processes, our eyes will be on Kenya and what crisis mapping there can tell us about global efforts to break the “conspiracy of silence” (Zerubavel, 2007) in elections.

This Week at NYU Wagner – September 10, 2012


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This Week at NYU Wagner – September 03, 2012

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