It began, as most good stories do, on a return flight from Africa. Shon Abegaz met a young woman who was struggling with her newly established NGO. The mission was worthy, but she lacked the know-how. It was clear that if this young lady could just spend fifteen minutes with an expert, it would change the course of her organization.
There is no shortage of Non-government Organizations (NGOs) in every corner of the world seeking to advance human security and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. From empowering women in sub-Saharan Africa to reconciling warring parties in the jungles of Colombia, the need is great, and the will is there.
Most of these organizations, however, lack the skills and connections they need to make a significant impact. That is where the International Institute for Human Security comes in. They operate knowing if you “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The answer was clear for Shon who said she knew someone who could help her: “I knew someone who would love to help her. I wanted to connect the two. This was not uncommon for me, but this time I wanted to do more, I just didn’t know what or how.”
Back in Chicago, recovering from jet-lag, Shon reflected on her own experience in the field. What was wrong with peace building? Why did it seem like those on the ground lacked knowledge to take projects to the next level?
Those Who Know vs Those Who Do
Shon recognized the individuals doing the work on the ground are often notably absent from the big conversations on peace building and human security. Peace builders operating at the grassroots level in underdeveloped countries simply cannot afford to be at the table; they do not have access to opportunities like high-level conferences and forums, which come with a hefty price tag. This prevents small players from benefiting from the expertise and knowledge-sharing that would help them grow their peace building projects.
In addition to being costly, financially and environmentally, in-person gatherings also remove peace-builders from the field of operations. Not all can do that, certainly not those who need the help the most. To be effective in conducting their missions, these people needed knowledge.
Knowledge is Power
Shon’s answer to this problem would become her organization’s flagship program: Knowledge Exchange. The Knowledge Exchange program connects those in need of knowledge with those willing to offer it: it links experts with locally based peace-builders. No conferences, no need to travel, no burden on the environment and most of all, very low operating overhead. Expert volunteers around the world offering know-how to those who need it. Simple as that.
From vision to organization, the Knowledge Exchange becomes the cornerstone of the International Institute of Human Security (IIHS). The IIHS is a peace building organization focused on knowledge sharing of human security know-how using a virtual platform.
The IIHS Big Picture
The IIHS focuses on six key areas of human security, or what are known as societal stabilizers: good governance, food security, indigenous liberties, climate protection, R2P and women, migrants and victims of modern-day slavery. The organization’s goal is to empower peace-builders anywhere working on these issues. “Our uniqueness comes from being fully virtual, but also from weaving the humanistic approach throughout our activities.”
All IIHS activities are conducted virtually. Even Shon’s team is spread in all corners of the world. A laptop and/or cell phone is all that is required to connect an expert to a local peace builder. Real time, personal connections also ensure that exchanges are relevant to the specifics of every peace building situation.
Thanks to this approach, in the past year, the IIHS has successfully launched its Knowledge Exchange flagship program and established regional coordinators in North America, Eastern Europe, East Africa, West Africa, and South and South East Asia. Within the next three years, Shon hopes to launch two new virtual programs supporting those without reliable internet access, a reality in many parts of the world.
The Woman Behind It All
Shon Abegaz is not a single-label individual. As an African American, as a woman, as a peace builder, and a thought leader, she brings a unique and uniquely personal perspective on human security to the table. She says her role comes down to a few things:
“I feel a strong sense of responsibility and personal connection to many of the global challenges of human security. Human security means everyone has freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from fear of food insecurity, climate destruction, racial and gender discrimination, modern-day slavery, targeted attacks because of an indigenous heritage, political instability or corruption. Freedom from fear of anything that would render one’s life useless.”
As for happiness, Shon says it is knowing those I love, my family and friends, are safe and healthy. Safe and healthy. Free from fear. Everyone, everywhere, deserves that.