Author: Safiya Ibn Garba,

Director of Institutional Learning December 2021


Learning has a range of definitions. For one, it is said to be a process of acquiring new skills and knowledge. Alternatively, it is defined as a process of change or of developing new skills and knowledge. Whichever way you define learning, it is generally perceived as something that will bring about improvement and positive change.

One could argue that peacebuilding is all about learning. For example, peacebuilding enables you to learn new things about someone from another perspective or to correct opinions based on a misunderstanding or on incomplete information, which led to a clouded perception.

Peacebuilding also enables you to learn about yourself and your capacities, which you might have never explored or knew you had. Learning within peacebuilding enables you to recognise your agency and resilience by opening your eyes to what you already innately know and have been able to achieve or overcome in the past.

Learning in the context of peacebuilding can happen anywhere and at any time. It can happen in deliberately created safe spaces known as “containers” in the container, differences and exchanges model (Glenda H. Eoyang. The Union Institute and University, 2001) when conditions have been carefully set up for exchanges and learning across differences or even in times of complete solitude when you engage in reflective practice.

Learning enables you to exercise your reflective “muscles,” and reflection in itself leads to a level of maturity that any individual is able to reap benefits from. Reflection brings about a deeper level of understanding of concepts, the world, and yourself.

Therefore, if learning is so important to and embedded in peacebuilding, what do you need to practice to “learn?” Some simple tips are:

You need to be open to learning. That sometimes takes time and certainly requires a deliberate acceptance of and awareness that you do not know everything.

You need to be curious and, in your curiosity, ask questions. This gives you an opportunity to collect new data and information.

You need to be able to share. Share your experiences, your thoughts, and opinions in respectful and sensitive ways so that others can learn from you too.

You need to be willing to unlearn what you think you know sometimes; this will open opportunities for you to grow and see the world differently.

You need to be honest with yourself and not be afraid to be so.

One of my favourite learning-related models is, “The Conscious Competence Matrix” or “Ladder of Learning” developed by Noel Burch in the 1970s.

This model helps you understand the emotions you experience during the learning process and facilitates the identification of where you actually are in terms of knowledge and competence on any subject.

Levels of competence (knowledge, skills, and ability) are closely linked to consciousness and self-awareness. Therefore, if you do want to learn, you have to be honest enough with yourself about where you currently belong and where you desire to be.

Source: Gordon Training International

Lastly, learning while peacebuilding is extremely rewarding. Its benefits are both individual and collective because learning equips and elevates you to new levels of understanding and developing new ways of thinking and doing things, which is likely to lead to a more sustainable culture of peace internally and externally.