Coliving space on the conflict border - The plan

March 3, 2021
Edo Sadikovic
Good coliving spaces have powers. They are already solving the problems of abandoned rural. But if we build coliving on the border, they could be powerful peacemakers too.

The border

When I say border, I don’t think about the beautiful underwater tunnel that connects Sweden and Denmark. Neither the non-existing line on the street between Switzerland and France.

We are speaking here about borders with disputed territories. Many of these borders are in between the armed conflict (Syrian borders for example).

Some other borders are in a so-called frozen conflict stage (Cyprus, Kosovo, Northern Ireland…).

Frozen conflict is not anymore an armed conflict, but you never know what the next day brings.

Many borders are among countries officially in peace, but each side of the border - still hates their neighbors (google: “conflict in the Balkans” among others). I call them hate-borders.

There are even invisible hate-borders that are never crossed. The city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided by the Neretva river and it’s famous bridge. There are many 20-year-olds who never crossed to the other side, even though the border looks like the one between Switzerland and France.

The ideal location to open  a coworking & coliving space is between frozen conflict borders or between these hate-borders.

Better if location doesn’t belong to any side. Sometimes this space between borders is also called a buffer zone.

Why it’s not a good idea to build a coliving and coworking space on the armed conflict border?

— Because it’s too dangerous. Obviously.

You cannot build a space on the Syrian border and chat about tech news and vegetarian meals while at any moment you can get hit by a bomb coming from Erdogan, Putin, Assad, ISIS, Hezbollah, rebels, Kurds or US drones.

However, after the war, Syria could be the right place to build a coliving space.  

[Border] Coworking space [Border]

Once there is an “open-minded border” (sounds like an utopia) to offer it’s collaboration for peace, now we need a building (a big space) to convert it into coworking space.

That coworking space will be the common area where the magic happens. It will be located between the borders, in the neutral zone.

In-between zones are often the land of no one. As they were dangerous point of armed conflict in the past, there are many abandoned buildings along the fence.

These buildings are the ones that we need for the coworking space.

Who will use this border coworking space?

It will be used by students, innovators, entrepreneurs, artists… from both sides of the conflict. This space will be the heart of the whole project.

Space  will also host  international digital nomads who decided to travel and use this coworking as their office while sharing their worldview and meeting new reality.

Frozen conflict borders are often guarded by the military. Curious military soldiers can also visit the space and attend activities.

Maybe they will have a beer with the soldier from the other side while listening the talk about some new app that is built in this space.

Frozen conflict countries and territories with hate-borders are usually open for tourists, so we will use a coliving feature to host digital nomads from everywhere.

Design of the space

Coworking space can be rebuilt by using Download Sende blueprint. It will be minimalistic, comfortable, with a lot of natural light and plants. It should have a garden or patio for outdoor dining, for talks & concerts, and a kitchen with a restaurant-bar.

It will be very important that the design of this space doesn’t look like any other space that is related with the context of their war.

Ideally, a team from another cultural context would design the space, so any possible conflict about “tastes” is avoided.

Future coworkers from both conflict sides will help to re-build the space and feel the ownership while painting walls and building desks.

Design of the space will have no military colors or elements. Neither it should look like a typical NGO decoration with boring chairs, promo posters, PVC windows and white fake celings.

It could look like a hipster-Berlin-style space if we are building this coworking at the disputed border with Kosovo and Serbia or in Nicosia, Cyprus.

If we are in Northern Ireland, then it could look like a Morrocan-riad-style space because the hipster Berlin style has already arrived to N. Ireland and it’s not new.

This cultural contrast reflected through design is very important because we want that people forget on daily troubles for a moment and say (as soon as they enter): “Hey, what we can build today?”.

When a Serbian, Bosnian & Croat meet in Nurnberg in Germany, they often become the best friends. These same people could hate each other if they didn’t move from their realities.

Nurnberg represents different context for these 3 Balkan friends.

We can create this “Nurnberg effect” with design.

Coliving space on the conflict border. Or not?

Coliving element is very important in this peacebuilding plan. Because it will give wings to digital nomads. With coliving, we can bring  anyone from anywhere.

If we only open coworking space (without a coliving where digital nomads and guests would sleep), then locals from conflicted sides will not have a chance to hear different worldviews from digital nomads.

Without coliving, it would be more difficult to bring two sides together.

But when we have a third party in the house, it changes everything.

Let's imagine that this space exists in Cyprus. Marta, a digital nomad from Mexico will prepare 3 coffees and invite 2 locals to join her and sip a cup of coffee together. Marta doesn’t even know who belongs to which side. And that’s how we "arrange" peacemaking over the coffee.

Digital nomads interested in working from these locations (read: interested in peace) will be spending from 15 days to few months in the area.

They could act as accidental mediators (like Marta from Mexico) and their role would be fundamental.

Where and how to build a coliving part?

There are 2 options to build a coliving (a place where guests (digital nomads) will sleep).

Option 1: Difficult option is to build accommodation right on the border. This can happen only if the border has many abandoned houses or even hotels.

This option is way more expensive but possible.

Even though I think that a hotel cannot be a real coworking space (in this case it could work, only if it’s adapted from scratch to become a coliving and coworking space only).

For example, the hotel on the Nicosian border inside the buffer zone where UN soldiers are sleeping for years would be amazing (only if soldiers leave and digital nomad enter, of course).

Option 2 would be to involve local hosts from both sides who will host digital nomads. They could prepare extra rooms or floors while using our digital blueprint and earn a bit more money on the side.

Locals who are in between hate-borders could be open to getting some extra income.

It shouldn’t be hard to convince them to open their doors and earn extra salary.

At the same time, our peace plan will work even better because these locals and digital nomads can get to know their cultural differences and see the beauty in different world view. They will also tell them what is going on in the coworking space.

Drinking a beer for Peace. We were visiting buffer zone in Nicosia Cyprus
Buffer zone in Nicosia - Old hotel became an accommodation for UN forces

What will be happening inside the coworking space?

In order that peacebuilding process works, we must work on bonding topics.

The main activity in this coworking space will be “the office” where local coworkers and digital nomads will work online on their projects.

What about people who don’t work online?
All users will have our program available.

It means that locals Samira  or Kristos who would like to start something online and provide an income for themselves (like digital nomads do) can access Village nomads program and download complete tutorials that teaches them how to do exactly what other digital nomads do.

But not everything will be related to people who work online. There will be experimental workshops, Hat talks (see highlighted stories), art galleries, concerts, and all kind of events that involve creative working with hands etc.

It is very important that none of these programs deals with sensitive topics that could make someone angry.

For example: People can cook together. The best group-buildings in Sende are happening around cooking and the food.

But there won’t be talks which are involving local politics or comparisons on which side is stronger, or which side lost more people in the stupid war.

This last part must be avoided (at the beginning).

People from conflicted parts work together on some joint/neutral challenge (e.g. Building an electronic-cat-feeder for stray cats coming from both sides, while the locals can add food leftovers in these machines).

This type of activity where local coworkers & digital nomads brainstorm and speak about innovation while building solutions instead of discussing who bombed first will be the most important peacebuilding method.

Only when this space gets a lot of trust, when people become friends, then we can bring in Youth Peace Ambassadors (that is a network where Sende and our team take part) and do one of the trainings where we speak about dialogue, human rights, conflict resolution & how to bring  this peace effect outside of the walls of our coworking space.

Bar & restaurant

This coworking space will have a big kitchen with open-source recipes. Local agricultors would bring veggies and groceries every day and they might create ideas as COlive.

People can cook together, or they could just buy their meals which local chefs from both sides with prepare.

Cooking and eating together at the same table is more powerful than one big international organization peace mission.

How exactly we are going to make peace between the two sides with coliving and coworking?

The armed conflict usually works like this:

Both sides attack each other (some attacks more, some less). There are casualties on both sides. Each side only sees its own propaganda in the media (including social media) and enforces its own belief that they are right, and others are wrong.

Because they never mix, under the same roof to talk and empathise, the anger gets worst.

That’s where coworking & coliving comes in.

People are hardwired to assume, stereotype, and put a group of people in one box (assuming that they are all same). But you know very well that once you meet someone, then you start building totally different opinions.

I had a chance to learn and teach about conflict resolution on many frozen conflict borders and hate-borders all over the world.

During the first two days of these trainings on conflict resolution, people from conflicted sides don’t even look people from another side in the eyes. They almost project each other as invisible human beings.

But after 8 days of working on conflicts, dialogues, and human rights topics, these “eternal enemies” often become (best) friends and love couples. We all cry and laugh without imagining that the 8-day process could change anything.

When you put people from both conflict sides under the same roof in a creative space, then you add people from other countries and you ensure creative liberty, the peace just happens. That’s it. We saw it over and over, and over again.

Maybe some people will not “fit” each other's personal taste and they will not become friends. That is OK. But the reason will not be war. The reason will be shity music taste, or whatever!

Marketing and social business

Let’s say that we have already built a coworking & coliving space (between the conflict borders). Locals prepared their houses too, so they can host digital nomads.

Now we need to make this place financially sustainable and tell the world about it (this last part is also known as marketing).

If Sende builds this space, it would probably come with free access.

Locals would earn their money by opening their homes for digital nomads (while emerging in intercultural experience).

Coworking space would be for free for all local visitors from both sides.

Only digital nomads would pay a fee to use the coworking space and to be part of this project. With that money, we would cover all current costs (electricity & water cost bills, rent of the space, and salaries).

Everyone chips in for the food groceries that are being cooked together. When someone doesn’t want to cook, they can buy food from our restaurant.

Organizations and companies would be encouraged to rent this coworking for their events and retreats.

The marketing part is easy:

Name me one journalist would not like to cover the story of a peacebuilding coworking & coliving space on the conflict border?


This kind of projects comes with obvious challenges:

How to get border access and build this coworking space? How to provide trust so locals from conflicted sides actually come and mix with others?  How to explain to soldiers on the border that we are trained to make peace with hearths while they are trained to make peace with weapons?

Well if it were effortless someone would do it already. But there are possible ways:

1. To get this space, we would need some good lobbying with both sides where they literally have to do nothing. Just to direct us to the abandoned building and give us the liberty to build.

Positive part in this negotiation:  Politicians from both sides don’t need to do any extra work.

The negative part is: Why they should do it, what they get? If they prefer peace, they would already do something. Until we ask, we don’t know.

2. How to gain the trust and attract local entrepreneurs, students, and artists from both sides?

First, we start bringing more open-minded people who are not full of hate.

These are people who understand that it’s not their fault that war happened and that people on the other side are in the same mess.

Believe it or not, there are many people in the war zones who do see the big picture.

The next phase will bring people who have less trust in this project. They neither trust so much the other side. Bringing them in will happen very slowly. Digital nomads who will be sleeping in the local homes will speed up this process.

Children and neighbors from the locals who are hosting digital nomads will start spreading the positive stories of their experience as hosts. Bit by bit their neighbors will go and sneak peek into coworking space, then they will enter, then they will start collaborating.

There is also a group of people who would never admit that peace is possible. They will never ever enter our coworking space. And that is ok.

Peacebuilding process is very slow.

3. How to explain to the military the presence of such space?

With a lot of patience, they befriend people from the space.  Then they could befriend militants from the other side, then they might understand that their job is actually obsolete and they will leave forever.

Are we going to build this for real?

Yes. At least as the partners or consultants. This blog post is the start.

Do you know about the border, that is “open” for building such a space? Contact us please.

Traumbajter made a cover photo with the Mostar bridge. We sent him the shortest brief possible (map and the bridge), and he came back with a quick solution. You can hire him for your blog posts here.

Photos in this article: Unsplash (Aladdin Hammami, @freetousesoundscom, Sende) 
Special thanks to Agata and Haker

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