Last week marked Peace Direct’s fourth international Peace Exchange (PEx) where we bring together all of our peacebuilding partners from around the world to share knowledge and network. On this occasion we were also joined by two of the winners of our new competition, Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders, both of whom came from Uganda. With 33 people in attendance, the group represented four continents of the world and some of the best of humanity.
Held in Bujumbura, Burundi, the backdrop was a very apt setting. On the one hand you have Burundi as a success story, where a long history of genocide and civil war has made way for almost a decade of relative peace. On the other hand, the peace in Burundi is fragile and, as elections loom, there are fears that old tensions will be reignited. The juxtaposition of potential for peace alongside a very real fragility is something all of our partners attending the PEx are faced with in their own countries, and a reminder of why local peacebuilding needs greater support internationally.
Since the first PEx in 2010, Peace Direct has seen changes in attitude towards local peacebuilding, and the international community does seem to be getting more and more behind the concept. However, there is still a long way to go and more needs to be done to prepare local peacebuilders and the international community to work better together.
As part of this preparation, Peace Direct is looking more closely at how internationals can best support local peacebuilders, and often we are learning through our own work. Last week’s PEx was a chance to deepen this understanding. In the recent Keystone Survey, which assesses the quality of partnership between international organisations and their local partners, Peace Direct came first of 62. However, there is always room for improvement, and at the PEx we asked our partners to make recommendations about how we could improve the way we work together. Largely this came down to improving communication, and we are now adapting the way we communicate with our partners to be more systematic and clear.
We also wanted our partners to help us with our overall vision for the next 5 years. Peace Direct celebrates its tenth anniversary next year, and as we enter the new decade, we want to stride forward with big ambitions and a clear vision for growth. At the PEx our partners gave us many ideas that we can work on – for example, reaching out more to regional associations like the African Union, or creating an online knowledge hub to share expertise between local peacebuilding organisations across the world.
For me, easily the best day was the one on storytelling and stories from our partners’ programmes, where we heard the incredible work they are doing, from female empowerment in South Sudan to young people tackling religious extremism in Pakistan.
For our partners, one of the most memorable sessions was a presentation of the Most Significant Change (MSC) model of evaluation, which quantifies keywords of stories from community members. The approach has been implemented by Chirezi in South Kivu, supported by Peace Direct volunteer Alana Poole who worked with them for 7 months. The partners appreciated the human focus of the storytelling, which is key to MSC – quantifying their impact and turning their stories into donor-friendly statistics.
At the end of the PEx, we conducted a mini-MSC exercise for the PEx itself, asking what was the most significant change for the participants. The common words that were identified were ‘knowledge’, ‘relationships’ and ‘inspiration’. I couldn’t agree more.