As we see disturbing images coming out of Syria…of the latest atrocities, taken by the brave people of Syria who risk their lives to capture these gruesome acts on video and camera…pictures mainly of murdered children; one CNN reporter suggests a social innovation solution to respond to this terrible genocide; and that is to air drop approximately 20 million video cell phones into the country. So, that more people can capture these abuses to create pressure to stop these atrocities. The world needs to know and needs to see these images; it can then hold the Syrian authorities accountable for their actions.
So, what do we hope to get when we combine cutting edge imagery and data analysis? We hope to create a game-changing social innovation initiative that will document, deter, and seek accountability for war criminals and mass atrocities. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. It has been done before in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, where Ryan Boyette, an American has been working to arm locals not with weapons but with tools that will help them make digital recordings when bombs fall on the caves in their territory. Boyette organised a network of 15 people to gather information, take photos and videos, documenting atrocities. He used a solar-powered laptop and a satellite phone to transmit them to the ‘Enough Project‘, a Washington-based organisation that gathers intelligence from eyewitnesses on the ground to put pressures on government to act.
Ryan Boyette also supplied eyewitness interviews that helped the ‘Enough Project’ and the ‘Harvard Humanitarian Initiative‘ find evidence of atrocities, including eight mass graves, on satellite images. As a result he helped journalists understand what was going on. While, the social innovation ‘Satellite Sentinel Project‘ is another project which aims to monitor tank movements on the ground in Sudan, hopefully to give warning before an attack on a particular region with the intention of ultimately saving lives.
However, all of this is relatively small-scale stuff compared to the 20 million video cell phones suggested by the CNN commenter. However, some believe that there are limits to this approach…as what happens when the authorities then massacre the people daring to speak up? Without being able to defend themselves this social innovation idea would leave these people as good as dead. There is no shortage of cell phones or brave citizens in Syria; however, they have no way to protect themselves.
Are cell phones way forward and a social innovation approach that can be used to make oppressive regimes accountable? Well, Hollywood star, George Clooney who works tirelessly with the ‘Satellite Sentinel Project seems to think so and says, “We’re the anti-genocide paparazzi.”
Photo Credit: People gather at a mass burial for the victims purportedly killed during an artillery barrage from Syrian forces in Houla (Reuters)
Sangeeta Haindl is a staff writer for Justmeans on Social Enterprise. When not writing for Justmeans, Sangeeta wears her other hat as a PR professional. Over the years, she has worked with high-profile organizations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from her industry. She now runs her own UK consultancy: Serendipity PR & Media.