The view from PS21 HQ.
The view from PS21 HQ, February 2015

Peter Apps, PS21 executive director

Two months ago on Monday, I was still largely bedbound in my cabin on the liner Queen Mary 2 as we slogged our way through north Atlantic gales to Southampton.

PS21 might only have been a couple of weeks away from launch but to be honest it consisted of little more than some considerable ambition, several confidential Word documents, a place holding website, a little preprepared content and rather more pledges of support. Also, encouragement from global fellows and others.

As I related in late February, we’ve come a long way since the first event in London on January 26.

A few weeks later, we launched our first blog channel PS21 MIDEAST. It’s been–I feel–a great success, showcasing excellent commentary and material from both within the region and the wider world.

Our third posting, Sultan al-Qassemi’s masterful study of social media in the region from the Arab Spring to ISIS, helped push us above 1000 page views a day for the first time.

It was quite rightly showcased by Foreign Policy that day as one to read.

This week, I’m delighted to say TIME chose to publish a somewhat shorter version of Ari Ratner’s equally impressive piece looking at the limits of American Mideast power.

The other contributions have also proved spectacular in both depth and scope. I highly recommend the last two we have published on Syria, from Rasha Elass on how the war has paradoxically increased freedom for many young people and from Miriam Cook on the outpouring of theatre, art and culture that has also followed.

Today, we are launching PS21 WORLD, our new landmark blog on globalisation, conflict, geopolitics and anything else we think casts light on a rapidly changing, fascinating planet.

The first piece we are running, Philip Thicknesse’s look at the new “long war” with Russia and the risks it brings with it, first ran Tuesday on Reuters.com.

Commodore Philip Thicknesse's article taking pride of place on Reuters.com
Commodore Philip Thicknesse’s article taking pride of place on Reuters.com, March 10, 2015

Sharing some pieces with editorial partners is central to our strategy of producing content people read as well as discussions they remember, helping drive traffic to the broader Project, and getting ideas to a much wider audience.

Next, we’ll be looking at the largely unnoticed war between hacker group Anonymous and Islamic State on the sidelines of the wider conflict. Future pieces will look at how the Internet is undermining — perhaps destroying — publishing and other business models. We’ll be looking at the dark Internet, tensions in Southeast Asia and the wider spike in recent conflict.

We are also building out regional blogs for Asia and Africa are again focusing on getting bright regional talent as well as international experts. Other topics and regions will follow.

As with PS21 MIDEAST — still being excellently curated by Carrie Cuno — we’ll be using these to help build a new generation of talent amongst our volunteer and almost invariably youthful editors. In particular, PS21 WORLD will rely on Claire Connellan in London and Anske Venter and Jinwoo Chong in Washington DC, already as close to the veterans of PS21 as anyone gets.

Which means, of course, that two of them joined us in January.

As we also push forward with an exciting series of new events, I think something of the character of the Project is becoming clear.

We are holding true to our founding principles of being non-national, non-ideological and non-partisan. Many of the discussions we’ve had to come down to the power of competing narratives and the difficulty in reconciling them, from the battles of the Middle East to the struggles of the Eurozone.

I don’t think that’s something we can particularly solve. What we are doing is providing a space whereby different narratives can be explored and discussed in a permissive and open-minded manner. As we spend our membership and operations further — soon to include Russia, China and elsewhere — I think that opens some powerful opportunities. And it might also achieve something.

This week, I discovered that Democratic Republic of Congo have become the first country in the world to start using giant solar powered robots to direct traffic. I also discovered — although I definitely should have known this — that Iran has the second-largest Jewish population in the Middle East.

Neither of those details, of course, is enough to overturn everything I think I know about either country. But nor do they entirely fit within it.

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