The CyberPeace Builders, 5 months in.

The CyberPeace Builders, 5 months in.

The CyberPeace Builders is a network of corporate volunteers providing free cyber assistance to humanitarian Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) protecting vulnerable populations anywhere in the world.

The CyberPeace Builders network was founded on a powerful idea: Providing cyber assistance at scale to vulnerable communities globally. By working with NGOs and through the help we’d provide on the ground, we would document the harshest realities of cyberattacks and most particularly the cost to human life, so decision makers could change the rules of the game for all. Tactical actions leading to strategic solutions.

Who are we?

The CyberPeace Builders is today a simple concept. We focus on the humanitarian sector, at the lowest end of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is where we feel cyberattacks could be most disruptive, and hence most conducive of structural change if documented well enough.

We only help humanitarian entities, not individuals. The beneficiaries of our volunteer network are NGOs that provide access to water, healthcare and food. The Builders also do not help public entities. We believe it is a government prerogative to provide access to critical services to citizens and public actors should be held accountable for failing to shield such services from cyberattacks. Through the Builders, we seek to responsibilize such actors.

The Builders provide these NGOs with around 100 hours of volunteer time. We think this is material enough to get them started with their cybersecurity journey, but certainly not enough to create any type of negative dependency. 

How are we doing?

In July 2021, after much ideation, prototyping, mapping and input from external parties, we launched the CyberPeace Builders program in Geneva. That same month, we hired our first regional advisor and started reaching out. Since then, we have officially brought 15 NGOs onto the program.

Our target is to help 20 by the end of 2021, 100 by the end of 2022, and 1000 by the end of 2025. Quality over quantity. 

Helping 1000 NGOs by 2025 will give us a solid understanding of the hurdles and needs of the humanitarian sector, in order to  go back to policy makers and decision makers with factual arguments as to what works and what doesn’t.

In November 2021, the Institute was awarded the special jury prize of the chamber of commerce of Geneva, testament to our rather unique role as a bridge between civil society and the private sector. That same month, the Geneva Center for Security Policy awarded us with the first prize in a global security innovation competition. 

We also recently expanded the CyberPeace Builders reach, launching our first international recruitment in Nairobi, Kenya. We plan to pursue our expansion next year in Latin America, but we don’t want to stop there. 

Where are we heading?

As we reflect upon what we have accomplished so far, a few lessons emerge: 

  1. Relentless commitment and long hours have been our everyday since we launched. The NGOs we help seldom know about us, let alone trust us. Word of mouth and building trust are  a huge part of our outreach program, and we must bear that in mind as we expand into new geographies. 
  1. There is nothing free or cheap about running a volunteer network properly. Volunteers need to be recruited, onboarded, engaged, supported, held accountable and beneficiaries need to be provided with quality support via staff whose salaries we need to pay. Yet we remain a social impact effort for most and so our growth, at present, remains constrained by goodwill. For this reason, we are looking at diversifying our funding sources in 2022 notably via learning and development programmes.
  1. Not all NGOs we work with have particularly poor cybersecurity practices. Some NGOs have surprised us with their innovative approaches and require a more sophisticated form of support. As such, our flexible approach allows for NGOs with varying degrees of maturity to get real benefits out of working with our Builders. And we plan on strengthening even further our resilience programs so NGOs derive even more benefits from investing time in their cybersecurity. 

Whilst there is still much to do, in 2025 we want to pause, take a step back and reflect upon what the Builders have done. We don’t want to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our goal is to push for systemic change, not keep ourselves busy. 

In terms of our volunteer strategy, we are slowly getting to 30 volunteers. Our target for the end of the year was 50. For next year, we are aiming at 300 volunteers and 3000 by 2025. To support such aggressive expansion, it will be imperative that we scale our processes accordingly.

Although the situation isn’t as gloomy as one could expect, we are concerned for the future. We have been told that some criminal groups are starting to specialize in NGOs, as they realize that attacks are much easier, far less risky and yet just as profitable. Social tensions all over the world and government crackdowns on NGOs only add to our concerns. We truly believe that now more than ever, the world needs us. 

And you can help us, whoever you are, wherever you are, by talking about us to those around you. If you work in cybersecurity, consider volunteering with  us. If you work in the humanitarian sector, ask us for help. Educate yourself so you can make better decisions online.

We all have a role in cyberspace. What will yours be?

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