“What is the meaning of Peace Building?”

In the third post of our blog series entitled, “Ask the Experts,” Generations For Peace is joined by 9 of the world’s leading peace-building NGOs to answer a new question in honour of the movement to add the word “peacebuilding” to the dictionary. To learn more about this campaign, visit its website here.

Melanie Greenberg | Former CEO at the Alliance for Peacebuilding

For me, peacebuilding has always been a calling rather than a profession. Learning the stories of pioneers like Louise Diamond and John Paul Lederach first inspired me, but when I actually met peacebuilders transforming conflict, I knew I had found my life’s work.

It is the courage of peacebuilders in the most dire of situations that keeps me in the field. No matter the conflict, there are brave souls who find endlessly creative ways of making peace and reweaving the threads of societies ripped apart by violent conflict.

Peacebuilding gains its tensile strength from the constant interplay between personal transformation and deep social change. Neuroscience is confirming what professionals have long suspected – our brains are wired in more powerful ways for peace instead of violence. Through peacebuilding, enemies who have suffered incalculable loss find the slightest sliver of common ground in order to reconcile and build a more peaceful future.

Places like my home in the US are not immune to violence and polarization. There and around the world, researchers and policymakers are analyzing peaceful societies, creating programs that allow communities and nations to address conflict through dialogue and politics, not violence. We need experts and visionaries in bridging divided societies and teachers who can give the next generation the skills to resolve conflict in their homes, communities, and nations.

In an increasingly polarized world, peacebuilding offers hope, and the tools that can change society, and ourselves.

Mark Clark | CEO of Generations For Peace

First, peacebuilding must go beyond halting direct violence to address deeper issues of structural and cultural violence, which unless addressed, will continue to provoke, legitimise, and normalise repeated cycles of direct violence. Peacebuilding must shift attitudes, stereotypes, relationships, structures, and capacities.

Secondly, it’s about complex social systems. It’s not a maths problem with a technical solution, but more like nurturing plants in a garden, supporting the right environment and enabling conditions for sustainable growth over time. It’s not linear: peacebuilding embraces non-linear experimentation, learning, reflection, and adaptation.

Thirdly, it’s a never-ending journey: “peace is the way.” Human social systems tend to fall apart without positive nurturing. So peacebuilding demands long-term commitment and broad participation. Person by person, conversation by conversation, action by action, strand by strand, layer upon layer, peace can be built to have the strength and resilience to sustain systemic shocks when they threaten violence again.

Talia Hagerty | Research Fellow at the Institute for Economics & Peace

Peace is remarkable for its quietude. It is most present and impactful when we do not notice it at all. When asked what peace looks like, I imagine a white man and a black woman waiting for an elevator. They say good morning, and that is all. She is not afraid to be alone with him; he has no prejudice toward her. They share a space for a few minutes, and then go about their day.

Peacebuilding means building up all the norms, mechanisms, and structures that make thousands of minor things go right. In a peaceful society, we should each have an even chance and be able to rise to the challenges of the day. We should be able to solve our shared problems and even if we don’t always succeed, we should have a sense of progress writ large. Peacebuilding means making societies work.

Cindy Chungong | Nigeria Country Manager at International Alert

I’m at an airstrip in a conflict zone, facing an imposing immigration officer who tells me my passport stamps are not compliant and he is entitled to detain me and collect his “dues.” I am bracing for the worst, but then he tells me he has participated in a peacebuilding programme and he is different now. He stamps my passport and wishes me a safe journey. As I head to the plane, I mull it over: did he participate in a peacebuilding or an anti-corruption programme?

As the flight takes off the answer clear: peacebuilding is any process that takes us towards a society where people relate to each other respectfully and with a vision of the common good, a world where people expect and do better. And whether that means negotiating a ceasefire with rebel groups or letting a visitor catch her flight, peace is within our power.

Julia Roig | President at PartnersGlobal

I believe in an expansive view of peacebuilding, where anyone can consider themselves to be a “peacebuilder” whether they are a trained peacebuilding professional or not. The concept of “peace” touches all of us at an individual level, affecting our families, our communities, our nations, and our world. Therefore, peacebuilding can be practiced at any of those levels and can include any activity that furthers human understanding, connection, and well-being. If you want to contribute to building peace, find something you care about and work on it in a way that you are building bridges with others who think differently than you and connect to their efforts.

At PartnersGlobal, we have been working with the Alliance for Peacebuilding on a Narratives for Peace initiative to help redefine ‘peace’ so more people can see themselves as active participants in a peacebuilding agenda. With a refreshed peace brand and shared narrative, we hope to connect with more allies who might not currently name what they do “peacebuilding.” (See Julia’s TedX Talk “We Are All Peacebuilders”)

Charlotte Melly | Head of International Programmes at Peace Direct

Peacebuilding is when the people who are most gravely affected by conflict find their own solutions to end violence. It is when communities come together to address the root causes of extremism, radicalisation and violence, when those who previously stood on the battlefield now stand for reconciliation and tolerance.

War and violence dominate our headlines. Peacebuilding is giving a space to the actions crafted by remarkable people living in war zones who believe that something can be done to stop violent conflict. From a young girl who faced being married to a fighter but now faces an education, to a former combatant who said ‘no’ to re-joining a militia and ‘yes’ to resettling into civilian life.

This, and the many more inspiring stories, demonstrate the determination of those who believe in building trust, building hope, and building bridges even in the most trying circumstances. That is how we define peacebuilding.

Bahman Shahi | Policy and Advocacy Intern with Search for Common Ground & Fulbright Scholar from Afghanistan at the Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University

Peacebuilding is building trust, building relationships, and enhancing people’s resilience in times of conflict. Conflict transformed by peacebuilding is an opportunity for positive changes.

In Afghanistan, I worked to train university students in communication and critical thinking skills. Then, these students – most of whom were from the rural provinces like Badakhshan, Samangan, etc. – were invited to Kabul. There, they engaged in discussions over sensitive topics such as co-education, democracy, religious freedom, and women’s rights, which are considered drivers of the conflict.

Three things happened. First, we established a platform to have difficult conversations over sensitive topics. Second, young men and women from different ethnicities, languages, and backgrounds listened to each other and engaged in non-violent problem-solving. Third, we strengthened the youth’s resilience with the communication and critical thinking skills.

While conflict is inevitable, violence is not. Peacebuilding helps make this a reality.

Todd Shuster | Co-Founder of The Peace Studio

Peacebuilding entails creating and protecting the conditions that allow all people to pursue their lives trusting that they are loved, cherished, and safe, that their unique qualities and differences—the ways in which they think, feel, look, believe, behave or exist differently from others—will distinguish rather than endanger them.  Peacebuilding starts with the individual: each of us must hold steady and keep cool in spite of life’s barbs, disappointments, and triggers.  We must bring this equanimity to friends, family, and colleagues, helping them navigate opportunities and challenges with grace and mindfulness. Finally, we must extend our love to the communities we share, insisting upon justice for all, offering others the caring—and the education, health care, and economic opportunities—they need to thrive.

Henk-Jan Brinkman | Chief of Policy, Planning, and Application at United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office

Peacebuilding aims at reducing the risk of violent conflicts, for example, by ensuring inclusive political dialogue, strengthening institutions (e.g. political, judicial, and for social service delivery), and enhancing capacities (e.g. to manage conflicts in a peaceful manner), which would involve, for example, the increase of trust of authorities (national, regional, local) in the eyes of the people and trust among (groups of) people. Any action in a country can change the conflict dynamics in a positive or a negative way.

Activities need to be based on conflict analysis to ensure that the positive impacts on peace are maximized and the negative impacts are minimized. Best practices are bad practices because peacebuilding needs to be adapted to local contexts – ‘one-size fits all’ or blueprints don’t work. Because the nature of violent conflicts is changing – becoming more complex and protracted, involving many more non-state armed actors with cross-border linkages – addressing the drivers and root causes of conflicts need to be comprehensive and coherent across development, peace, security, political, humanitarian and human rights areas.

UNOY Peacebuilders at United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY)

UNOY understands that peacebuilding as an aspiration to promote positive and negative peace, instead of thinking of it as an end in itself. The process of peacebuilding, therefore, aims at addressing the roots of conflict, at preventing and mitigating all forms of violence, and at working towards the construction of just and inclusive societies.

This aspiration can only be met by the inclusion of all members of society, particularly youth through intergenerational dialogue and by the practice of non-violence. Non-violent and peaceful means strive towards the promotion of a culture of peace in all societies. UNOY promotes the culture of peace around the world by promoting youth participation and leadership in dialogues and by social, educational, and advocacy activities, at local and international level.

*Note: to avoid bias, responses are placed in alphabetical order of organisation name

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