By David J. Smith, May 30, 2016
The 2016 Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) annual conference met May 24 through May 26 in Washington, DC. The theme of this year’s conference was “Next Gen Peace,” focusing on innovation and how new approaches and solutions can be applied to today’s challenges. Nearly 500 practitioners, academics, and policymakers attended the conference which was held the first two days at FHI 360 and the third day at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).
The program featured an array of sessions and workshops on creative ways of building peace in a world where violent conflict continues. The first day of the conference opened with Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, the Administrator of NASA, who talked about the space program as a peacebuilding strategy, and Andy Walshe, Head of High Performance at Red Bull, who shared about hackingcreativity.com as a resource for peacebuilding.
The midday keynote presentation was given by Ambassador David Malcolm Robinson from the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the U.S. State Department. He addressed the increasing focus on peacebuilding strategies used by diplomacy, especially in looking at countering violent extremism (CVE). Bridget Moix from Peace Direct commented on Robinson’s talk and facilitated a conversation with the audience. Among the ideas that emerged included the need for “war and peace” colleges, more peacebuilding training, and ways of making violence less glamorous.
Several sessions on the first day focused on CVE, including looking at the “hackathon”
model to respond to CVE, reconsidering the conventional wisdom on extremism, and taking a “whole of society” approach to responding to CVE. Other topics examined through workshops included the need for resilience of those working in the field, climate change and conflict, media perspectives, social enterprise, monitoring and evaluation for atrocity prevention, and storytelling.
During a lunch tabletop talk, I participated in “Applying Peacebuilding Approaches to the New Administration in Our Divided Society” in which we engaged in a role-play exercise with each person representing a member of the new President’s cabinet who was to make recommendations.
The day ended with a meeting of the education and training affinity group of AfP. This was a great opportunity to meet with other educators and look at efforts they are advancing. Featured was a presentation by Civilian Peace Service Canada on the notion of a certification process.
The second day of the conference opened with a keynote by John Paul Lederach, currently a senior fellow at Humanity United. Lederach is a well-respected practitioner/scholar in the field having written over 20 books and worked extensively worldwide. His talk focused on his work over 13 years in Nepal and lessons learned from that experience (featured in his book Memoirs of Nepal ). He focused on three aspects of the work in Nepal: the need for “embodied narrative,” which enhances presence in doing field work; the use of community mediation in advancing “participatory action research;” and working in national resource conflict transformation, which was critical in post-conflict Nepal. Overall he emphasized the need to move from a “project” to “movement” mentality, the importance of building relationships in working on the ground, and committing to long term -often in excess of 10 years – efforts.
Other sessions that day included looking at peacebuilding evaluation, applying peacebuilding approaches to local U.S. communities, the importance of reflection, and using technology to forecast and document electoral violence.
The afternoon I participated in the Young Peacebuilders’ Forum, facilitated by Craig Zelizer of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. The session was designed to assist aspiring professionals to better position themselves for the job market. Small group sessions looked at community-based peacebuilding, start-ups, starting your career, and resume review, where I met with a number of graduate students looking at their resumes along with Cheryl Saferstein from USIP and Susan Lenderking from FHI. During the forum and throughout the conference, I had a chance to promote my book, Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace.
The third day was held at USIP. The program started with a keynote address by Jeremy Richman, founder and CEO of The Avielle Foundation (named after his daughter who died in the Sandy Hook Shootings in 2012). His foundation focuses on looking at the connection between the brain and violent behavior, and better ways of promoting “brain health” to reduce violence.
This was followed by a panel discussion on peace and governance in fragile states, and sessions on civil-military coordination, and nonviolent movements. During the session on nonviolent movements, Shaazka Beyerle from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict talked about a 6-step process that includes: (1) information gathering, (2) training locals, (3) educating and mobilizing citizens, (4) inspecting project sites, (5) public hearings, and (6) follow up.
Afternoon sessions included examining tools for systems thinking in practice, the peace process in Colombia, and the cost of war. The concluding session featured a presentation on the Peace and Security Funding Index, established by the Peace and Security Funders Group. A panel of experts talked about peacebuilding funding opportunities.