The Peace Exchange was an opportunity to connect with our partners outside of our day-to-day work, and for them to connect with one another. It gave us the space and time to explore important topics, to share lessons and experiences, and to reflect on our collective goals and work. Our Head of International Programmes, Charlotte Melly, shares a few of the key points that struck her as she left Beirut:
This meant getting to know one another and providing support and encouragement as people. We made sure we carved out space to discuss how our work affects us personally, what our fears are, and how we cope with the depressing and difficult contexts of conflict we are trying to address. These human elements are fundamental and must not be disregarded. We will make sure that we continue to create space in future meetings for (in the words of our partner from Sri Lanka) ‘unloading, unlearning and healing.’
Our partners expressed a strong desire for us to further develop our relationships, irrespective of financial arrangements. They asked us specifically for partnership agreements as opposed to grant agreements, and for us to evaluate our partnerships as equals. While financing is one important element of enabling peacebuilding programmes, support and solidarity are just as important.
We were struck at different moments by the bravery and commitment of partners operating in difficult and repressive situations. In environments where governments may seek to intimidate or shut down civil society groups, our partners are impressively and courageously navigating their personal safety and security to create a more peaceful future for themselves and for their communities.
Given we are often searching to highlight the impact of our work, there is enormous pressure for us to prove how successful and effective it is. This means that we rarely make the space to think about and discuss failure. We did this at the Peace Exchange, and it enabled us to frankly and openly share what has not worked so well and what can be improved. We also did this for our partnerships, asking the simple question: ‘how can we be better partners to one another?’, which led to some incredibly useful conversations and feedback, which we have listened to and are now integrating into our work. We will only be effective if we work together in an open and honest way to acknowledge our mistakes, and most importantly to learn from them.
During the Exchange we shared the findings of our research into Facilitating Financial Sustainability and encouraged our partners to reflect on how they can develop as impactful and sustainable organisations. We discussed building different kinds of support, pursuing different funding models, and what increased sustainability would mean to them. Ideas were shared on establishing social enterprises, developing more solid volunteer bases and how communities can provide in-kind support to the local organisations they benefit from.
One of the aims was to broaden our analysis of the local contexts to think how we can better build peace. We did this by reflecting on who else we should engage with, and how to link up with other processes, movements and groups. This was difficult for participants to do because it is hard to break out of our existing contexts and think about our work in very different ways. While we made an initial start in discussing how to extend our reach, we need to take these conversations beyond the Peace Exchange to improve our conflict analysis to make our work more successful and impactful.
Ubuntu is a term from the Nguni Bantu language of Southern Africa which one of our longstanding Congolese partners talked about at the start of the Exchange. When discussing his motivation for peacebuilding work, he feels the term captures the humanity, connection and the bond which all of us wish to develop. It’s critical that our efforts to build peace don’t just focus on preventing conflict and violence – we have to build compassion, understanding and Ubuntu into everything we do.
Beirut was a thought-provoking setting for our conversations during the Peace Exchange. The ability of the Lebanese to turn the city around after the civil war which ripped it apart in the 90s, and the fact that there is now little overt political violence, is inspiring for peacebuilders. However, at the same time, the deep divides which remain in the country and the structural problems which have not been overcome, still represent a challenge. This observation was clear demonstration of the stark differences between negative peace (the absence of violence) and positive peace (healing and reconciliation in communities). The conditions that maintain a negative peace must be avoided and transformed so that societies filled with harmony, tolerance and respect can be built – societies of positive peace.
After an intense week I left Beirut feeling energised and motivated by the commitment and enthusiasm of the local peacebuilders we work with. We are confident that the discussions and meetings that took place during the Peace Exchange are further demonstration of the willingness of grassroots organisations to change their communities for the better, and how we can work together to do so.