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Ten lessons from our ten years

  • Published

    2 November 2014
  • Written by

    Carolyn Hayman

Peace Direct celebrates its 10th birthday this year, marking a decade of finding and funding outstanding local peacebuilders and promoting the importance of their work to people with power and resources.

In this time, we’ve learned a few things, both about the peacebuilding that is going on across the world led by local people and organisations, and about how we, as outsiders, can best support it. Here’s our top ten list…

  1. We have confirmed our belief that wherever there is conflict, there are local people building peace. Our Insight on Conflict website has found over 800 organisations in 25 conflict areas, which are showcased online, and soon this will be extended to 40 areas. We’ve never failed to find a Local Correspondent to cover a conflict area, and they have always found local peace groups active in their country. Often these are working right through a ‘hot’ conflict, when many international agencies have withdrawn to safer places. Another indicator of the number of local peacebuilders is offered by our new competition, Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders, which attracted 225 entries from 53 countries in 2014.
  2. Women are just as likely as men to be leading local peacebuilding initiatives, but they are still seriously under-represented in national-level peace negotiations. While women rarely feature in the latter, as either senior members of delegations or external mediators, our sample of 16 field partners shows more or less equal leadership by men and women. Gulalai Ismail not only started Aware Girls with her sister Saba when she was only 16, but continues to run an organisation where all the staff are women under 30 – yet they work with some of the most hard-line proponents of religious extremism in Pakistan.
  3. Locally led peacebuilding can be large scale. We struggle to persuade donors that lack of scale is due in many cases to a lack of funding, not a lack of capacity. Scaling up does not necessarily mean one organisation taking over the whole field, but rather collaborating with others so that the value of very local connections and history is preserved, while working collectively with others to have a wide-scale impact.  The Collaborative for Peace works in South Kordofan to build peace committees based on local leaders and activists that can mount rapid responses to conflicts, where they are known and trusted by the participants.
  4. Building trust between rival groups – whether religious, army versus militia, or political factions – is a precondition of creating a peaceful society, but peacebuilding rarely stops there. When people from opposing groups work together to create new social capital, peace begins to be embedded in daily life. An example would be women and ex-combatants, mobilised by revived community courts in DR Congo, working together to restore markets.
  5. Even the most implacable forces of the state or of religion include right-minded people who want a different kind of society. Local people have the personal and family connections and the insights to seek out such people and work with them. Using such entry points to change hearts and minds is likely to have longer term impact than the tired model of ‘capacity building’ from outside. We have seen the impact of this in Zimbabwe, where contacts created during the liberation struggle are used 40 years later to train state organisations in non-violent conflict transformation.

So what does all of this mean for donors?

  1. Judge organisations by what they can do, not by what they can’t do. Capacity assessment can be a sterile process of judging against predetermined standards, often based on Western models, and taking little account of the constraints faced in many local environments. At Peace Direct, we have learned first to look at the motivation of the founders of an organisation. If people have given up well-paid jobs, or are volunteering their time, or have Cput their own savings into their organisations, they are unlikely to be in it for the money. So the risk of fraud, which is always a possibility when managing relationships at a distance, is negligible. Such leaders attract followers, because people can see that their motivation is not self-interested. So we expect to see substantial community mobilisation by the organisations we support. We don’t expect that they have no paid staff, but we do expect that the paid staff mobilise volunteering and that they are paid salaries that do not separate them excessively from their communities.
  2. Be patient. Peacebuilding needs to be nourished with the right amount of funding at the right time. In our experience, it can take several years to refine the model, because our partners are generally experimenting with a new approach. (So, for example with the religious clergy in Sri Lanka, our partner first worked with clergy from each of the four religions separately, before experimenting with ways to bring them together. Chance events that could not be planned moved the work forward. One day they were holding an event with Hindu and Buddhist clergy in a hall, and decided to move it out into the park in a mainly Sinhala area. The Director, Dishani, said to me – ‘They couldn’t have been more shocked if we had been standing naked in the park.’ The hostility that was displayed in the park to Tamil participants opened the eyes of Buddhist participants to the situation their Hindu peers were facing.)

But once the model has been refined, then it needs large-scale funding for it to be rolled out, finding other local entities to join the programme and continue to develop it. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to find revenue sources that can match this particular need.

  1. Creating pockets or islands of peace has real value, even if it doesn’t solve the overall national-level conflict. The reality is that there is often little that outsiders can do to deal with that – yet the instinct is that if ‘root causes’ aren’t addressed, somehow peacebuilding has little value. If the same logic were applied in health, the UK would not provide diabetes services, because they do not address root causes such as obesity but only act as a palliative once the disease takes hold.

And finally, we’ve learnt two challenging lessons for Peace Direct.

  1. The cost of collecting data to demonstrate impact can be disproportionate to the amount of resources deployed, even before embarking on the ‘gold standard’ of ex-post evaluation several years after our funding has ceased. And the latter is likely to be particularly challenging when trying to measure ‘intangibles’ (such as the continuing use of systems to resolve conflict, or levels of trust between different groups) as these may be affected by a myriad of other factors. Nevertheless, we need to shift the focus of evaluation to include ‘intangible’ as well as ‘tangible’ results, because we believe – but we need to evidence – that this is where the lasting impact of peacebuilding can be seen.
  2. Local peacebuilding efforts badly need to be scaled up at the point when conflict is beginning to be felt but not yet raging. This requires large-scale local intelligence from across the world, and funds that can be deployed when conflicts are not yet exciting political and media attention. Cracking this problem would allow the power of local peacebuilding to be used where its effect can be greatest. Otherwise we will always be in the position of saying – ‘If only we had been able to act earlier, we would have had so many more options.’

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