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Google’s “Broken Windows” Investment

Partnering with the U.S. Department of State, Google recently announced a plan to digitize the Iraqi National Museum’s artifacts. Google CEO Eric Schmidt made the announcement in Baghdad. In a November 24th New York Times article, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill is quoted as saying that the project is “part of an effort spearheaded by the State Department to bring technology to Iraq.” Since the outset of the Iraq War, over 15,000 artifacts have allegedly been stolen, or gone missing. The Google digitization project, already 14,000 photos underway and due for release in 2010, will provide greater transparency, and share the wonders of Mesopotamia with the online world. Google’s Iraqi National Museum digitization project, however, has even broader implications.

On the same day that Google made its announcement, the Iraqi government also announced the unveiling of its official YouTube Channel.  With 24,000 channel views, and over 400 subscribers already, the channel of the Iraqi National Media Center appears to be gaining quick traction.  It signals a forward-thinking acceptance of social media by the Iraqi government, and an aim for greater transparency and information sharing.

In a December 2 Ashoka Peace article, “What Can Social Media Do for Iraq?” author Priya Parker additionally makes a number of insightful observations about Google’s recent foray into Iraq. While this is a public-private investment partnership, it signals that creative innovation can also be compassionate, and that the ethos of investment in Iraq is undergoing tectonic shifts. Google’s announcement signals an opening salvo for business investment in Iraq, private capital investment that will have broad implications for macroeconomic stability, new infrastructure development, technology transfer, human capital capacity building, and job creation.

Moreover, as Parker explains, Google’s investment parallels the 1980s New York City Police Department’s tactic of mending broken windows to alter perceptions. Mending broken glass not only improves the neighborhood, but it changes how individuals perceive their surroundings, and in turn can alter human behavior. The Google investment is a start, and perhaps it will mend broken glass, fostering global appreciation for lost history, and creating the necessary normative change on the ground to impel peace.

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