2014-15 Calls to Action by Peacebuilding Institutes

Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) enactment scenarios
The enactment of scenarios is often part of the experiential training of peacebuilders, as seen at this 2013 session of the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute.

Recurring themes emerged as we prepared this Peacebuilder on SPI-inspired initiatives around the world. We have summarized these as 14 calls to action. They are in addition to the lessons identified by an EMU conference 10 years ago, covered in “The 2004 meeting of institute leaders” on page 75.

  1. Address environmental survivability. Rapacious, unfair land and water usage, destructive resource extraction, and climate change are growing contributors to violent conflicts. Peacebuilders need to help empower communities to deal with these issues positively. In the South Pacific, for example, entire communities are already being uprooted as islands disappear under rising waters. Peacebuilders have a role to play in helping newly configured communities to live in harmony with their neighbors while maintaining the fabric of their traditions, families and peoples.
  2. Use social media to reach the masses. “I would be hard-pressed to find a single person in the conflict transformation field who has got a formula for reaching large numbers of people through social media,” said Ron Kraybill as he was wrapping up his UN work in the Philippines in 2014. “This will take time and effort, but it is critical for the field of peacebuilding to envision reaching a half million people in the next three to five years.”
  3. Integrate conflict transformation into school curricula. Young people are our best hope for positive change, yet they are also the best recruits for those pursuing violent agendas. Cultivating young people’s ability to solve problems non-violently – and to recognize efforts to turn them into violent pawns – is as essential as teaching them math, reading and writing. This is the reason for the spread of peace clubs in schools in South Africa and a half-dozen other African countries.
  4. Be linked to a larger institution. Peacebuilding institutes that are freestanding, lacking affiliation with, and ongoing support from, a larger “mother” institution, tend to struggle. In the quest for stability, the trend seems to be toward linking peacebuilding institutes with a degree-granting institution of higher education. But it needs to be the right college or university – that is, ones with an underlying philosophy compatible with peacebuilding (and these tend to be faith-based institutions). Otherwise, peace studies may be viewed as expendable when educational fads move in other directions.
  5. Expand the funding base for this field. Conflict transformation is still not viewed as an essential and permanent ingredient – as basic as salt – in all recipes for ending war, running organizations and communities, and developing cultures that don’t resort to violence. “In addition to the needs for health, education, shelter and food, donors often forget the basic human need for peace,” says Ali Gohar of Pakistan. Most donor agencies look for results measurable in the short term, which is not how peacebuilding works. In an effort to free themselves from short-sighted donor dependency, a few peacebuilding initiatives have developed income-generating enterprises. An English-language training institute in South Korea, for example, generates some funding for the Korea Peacebuilding Institute.
  6. Recognize the impact of trauma. Cycles of violence emerge from unaddressed trauma. The importance of addressing trauma cannot be over-estimated. This is a worldwide need for billions of people, both on the personal and societal levels. This is why Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) is one of EMU’s fastest-growing programs.
  7. Engage with government and other state-level actors. At least half of the 12 peacebuilding initiatives have ongoing interactions – often through providing trainings – with civil servants, politicians, and officials of the military, police and judicial systems. There is a synergistic relationship between grassroots civil society and state-level actors: the former can provide impetus for national-level peace processes, as well as help ensure their successful implementation; the latter hammer out the cease fires and peace accords.
  8. Develop a global network of peacebuilders. If all of the peacebuilding institutes were networked to exchange lessons, support each other, and give rise to a common voice, major international donor agencies could be better educated about the field and could be encouraged to support peacebuilding in an ongoing, sustainable manner. Ideally, donors would come to think of this work in terms of a decade or longer, even multi-generationally. They would not impose their own agenda, but would be responsive to the desires of the communities. They could be inspired to visit those working at the grassroots and to see the difference they are making, rather than demanding reams of written reports and computerized data. Conversely, peacebuilders could be educated on how to assure donors that their funds have been invested wisely.
  9. Connect practice and theory. Most peacebuilding institutes try to provide space for practitioners to delve into peacebuilding theory in order to see the broader picture, to pull back and analyze what they are trying to do, and to ascertain whether they are doing their work effectively. Conversely, academicians gain from putting themselves and their theories to test in the “real world” by collaborating with practitioners linked to these institutes.
  10. Engage religious leaders. In many places, the institutions with the most local legitimacy and influence are faith-based. Unfortunately, the prevailing Western paradigm is to view religion mainly as a source of divisiveness and violent dogma. The world’s religious leaders are not sufficiently engaged as a potential source of peacebuilding and disaster responsiveness. Places like South Africa and Mozambique show that religious leaders can and do play very positive roles, often in an interfaith manner. Governments, militaries, and international organizations like the UN need to be educated on how to engage positively with religious people.
  11. Tap indigenous peace practices. In every country, in every culture, long-standing peace principles and practices exist, though some must be dug from the memories of the elders or from age-old literature. By hearkening back to their own traditions, people feel greater ownership, more self-esteem, and less dependency on the ways of the developed West. Peacebuilders need to encourage their communities to retain life-giving, healthy traditions, but to give up or transform ones that are oppressive, even life-threatening, to women and other groups.
  12. Budget for trained, paid staffers. Any peacebuilding initiative that is utterly dependent on passionate, devoted volunteers will not endure. Successful peacebuilding initiatives develop an institutional infrastructure and have a core group of experienced employees to keep the work on track.
  13. Fill in where the “global architecture” is lacking. In our current highly volatile world situation, peacebuilders cannot depend on the UN – or “on the global architecture” – to solve global crises, or even to prevent them. Instead peacebuilders must take the initiative to do this work themselves at the local, national and regional levels.
  14. Explore and nurture yourself. Almost all trainings of peacebuilders involve some form of exploring how each participant deals with conflict. Some trainings also explore how their organizations do this. Almost all trainings emphasize that peace begins with oneself and that peacebuilders need to take care to avoid burnout. With proper training and awareness, potential breakdowns can be turned into breakthroughs.

— Bonnie Price Lofton and Lauren Jefferson