A few days before the start of the New Year, I had the opportunity to visit PeaceGeeks HQ in Gastown, Vancouver, to talk with Digital Projects and Fundraising Manager Cherrie Lam about all that PeaceGeeks accomplished in 2018.
The general feeling surrounding the past year was one of tremendous growth, along with the inevitable growing pains that accompany rapid change. While 2017 was marked by a winning streak for the organization—a Top 5 placement in the Google.org Impact Challenge and two new projects being greenlit by the Canadian Government bookended the year—2018 was defined by the intense challenge of living up to these commitments.
This challenge was accepted with alacrity. PeaceGeeks, running previously with just three full time staff members, finished the year with a complete team for the first time in its seven-year history. A full time developer works on the Google Impact Challenge-funded app for newcomers, transferring the design in-house. Marketing, communications, fundraising, and further project management support also came aboard. A team is now consistently working in Jordan, dedicated to the Meshkat Community Project, and regularly collaborates with the Vancouver office. PeaceGeeks, at the beginning of the New Year, finds itself moving from a small, volunteer-based organization, to a fully professional NGO.
As is par for the course, this rapid transition has been nearly as stressful as it has been exciting. Cherrie discussed the pressure to succeed that naturally accompanies the shift from a quirky startup to a more professional and skilled organization. Cherrie reminisced about the “good old days” when PeaceGeeks was mainly focused on small passion projects and relied heavily on volunteers: while neither of those qualities has changed about the organization, it is now working on significant publicly and privately-funded projects that have firm delivery dates and high expectations; projects that have the potential to be game changers in the peace-tech industry.
PeaceGeeks is developing an app for newcomers and refugees to the Metro Vancouver area. With an anticipated launch date of March 2019, the stakes are high to come away with an application that will fulfil the vision for what is required by the parameters of the Google.org Impact Challenge and government funding. The team spent most of 2018 referring back to their collaborative community ethos and consulting, conversing, and cooperating with partners and advisors on the project. After creating, scrapping, re-working, refining, and hair-tearing, the the project is progressing toward a clean, simple, effective, and user-friendly final product that the team and its partners are proud of and excited to share.
In Jordan, the PeaceGeeks team operates three principal programs: Meshkat Community, Artists-in-Residence, and the annual Peace Awards. Funded by the Government of Canada through 2020, Meshkat strives to promote alternative messaging defined by acceptance and tolerance online to combat the prevalence of hate and extremism in digital content in the region. The Artists-in-Residence program nurtures bloggers, filmmakers, and photographers to address critical community challenges and spark important conversations to create unity and advocate for positive change. The annual Peace Awards celebrate outstanding individuals who contribute to a safer, more inclusive community.
PeaceGeeks also took time in 2018 to transform its foundations in terms of what the organization stands for and how its mission and values translate from theory into practice. The PeaceGeeks team, led by a dedicated Board of Directors, determined to fully shape and understand their core statements in order to move forward with cohesion and intention. The organization now has a more concise and accessible byline: PeaceGeeks builds digital tools to empower communities in the pursuit of peace.
So what does the coming year hold for PeaceGeeks? The organization is continuing to refine its mission and values, with a reorientation of the signature speaker series “PeaceTalks,” to be more engaging and relevant to the contemporary socio-political climate and the Vancouver community, where the talks are hosted. The launch of the newcomer app in March will kickstart the project into a new phase defined by user feedback, marketing, and community engagement to ensure the app reaches its full potential of usability and positive impact for newcomers. Still a quirky startup in many ways, PeaceGeeks will continue to seek new and innovative funding opportunities to facilitate and expand its project base.
With a transformative year under its belt, PeaceGeeks is up and running with a refreshed momentum and the tools it needs to carry forward for the long term. With a full and diverse team of Board members, staff, volunteers, and a strong network of community partners, PeaceGeeks is providing digital empowerment tools to immigrants and refugees in British Columbia, challenging hate and extremism online in Jordan, and engaging with the Vancouver community to raise awareness and foster dialogue about peace technology and its potential to make the world a better place.
There’s much work to be done, and a lot to look forward to in 2019.
Daniel Morton is a PeaceGeeks volunteer and contributing writer.