PeaceCon 2019, 10/2 to 10/4, Washington, DC

PeaceCon 2019, the annual conference of the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP), was held October 2-4, 2019 in Washington, DC. The first day was held at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), and second and third days at FHI360.

Here are a few highlights from the sessions that I attended.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Day one (10/2) started in the Carlucci Auditorium at USIP. After USIP president Nancy Lindborg, Peace Direct and AfP chair Dylan Matthews, and AfP president Uzra Zeya welcomed the group, the keynote address was given by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former president of Liberia. She spoke on the importance of women in the peace process in Liberia. Sirleaf had hope for the role that women can play in the bringing about stability and reminded us of the large numbers of women involved in government and civil society in Liberia and Rwanda.

This followed by an onstage conversation moderated by Lindborg of Stephan Hadley, USIP chair and former National Security Advisor, and Avril Haines, former Deputy National Security Advisory. Haines talked about the need to bring trust back for public institutions and ending the serious divisions in global society. Hadley felt that the international order needed a “facelift.” New adaptations are needed to changing times.

USIP Great Hall

The morning breakout session I attended was on “Reorienting International Aid to Fragile and Conflict-Affected States: Toward More Strategic and Preventative Approaches.” The panel included Mary Ann Peters from The Carter Center, Caroline Bahnson from the World Bank Group, Peter Quaranto from State, Mark Segal from the Stabilisation Unit of the the UK government, and Katy Thompson from the UN. Because the conversation was “off the record” I can’t report what was said specifically. The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act was discussed. This bill has been advocated for by AfP.

After lunch, I attended a session on “The U.S. Government’s Capabilities for Responding to Violent Conflict: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities.” The panel included Richmond Blake from Mercy Corps, Adam Mausner from DoD, Tess McEnery from State, Peter Quaranto from State, and Julie Werbel from USAID. Again, this event was “off the record.”

NCAC Fulbright members

The final keynote was provided by William J. Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Burns talked about “back channel” negotiations needed to advance peace, and a previous era of “enlightened self-interest” which is not the case today with U.S. foreign policy.

After the event, reception was held at the Hive Hotel and Bar. The event was co-sponsored by AfP and NCAC Fulbright Association – the chapter that serves DC alum of the Fulbright program.

Day two (10/3) was held at FHI360. After a welcome by AfP’s Zeya, the morning morning keynote was provided by Judith Heumann, former Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the UN who talked about better was of integrating diversity in the peacebuilding community. She talked about the fact disabilities are still for the most part “invisible” to many and that some 10-15% of Americans have disabilities. A panel that included her and Carla Koppell from Georgetown University, Matthews, and Alexandra Toma from the Peace and Security Funders Network followed. Each panelist looked at ways in which diversity can be broadened in the field. Heumann talked about getting around the fear of hiring those who are different. She also commented on the fact that data is missing often on how organizations are hiring for diversity.

Binalakshmi Nepram

I then attended breakout session on “Locally-Led Peacebuilding: Transforming Partnerships to Reshape Our Field.” Presenters including Bridget Moix from Peace Direct, Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soinget from URU, Mehreen Farooq from Counterpart International, Judy McCallum from Life & Peace Institute, Anyway Mutetwa from Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust, Binalakshmi Nepram from Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, and Joseph Sany from FHI360. Each talked about successes they have seen – what is working well. Nepram felt that getting attention drawn to the crisis in Manipur was a success, as was her attending the conference. All talked about the importance of partnerships and working with young people.

During lunch, I attended a session hosted by Andrew Blum of the University of San Diego, Julia Roig of PartnersGlobal and Madeline Rose of AfP looking at “Transforming Peacebuilding: Narratives, Evidence and Coalitions.” The focus of the session included looking at the determining the impact of peacebuilding and the need for evidence of outcomes. Roig talked her work with the Frameworks Institute in helping create an agenda for peacebuilding. Rose talked about her work with +Peace and the fragility act. She emphasized the need to mobilize.

Mena Ayazi asks a question

After lunch, I attended a session on “Repeat the Peace: Putting Young People at the Center of Violence Reduction and Bridge Building Around the World.” This session centered on the work of NewGen Peacebuilders, which is working with youth to advance peacebuilding, with a focus in the U.S. NewGen shared this model which was heavily experiential in nature. Patricia Shafer, Phill Gittins, and Jelena Jevtic presented, as well as students from the program.

Movements panel

Day three (10/4) first plenary panel looked at movement building: “What Works: Building Modern Movements.” Michael Silberman from MobLab, Rebecca Crall from Rotary, Gulalai Ismail from Aware Girls, Claire Sliney from The Pad Project, and Bria Smith from March for Our Lives presented. They talked about the importance of working across generations and through “intersectionality.”

This was followed by a session on “The Humanitarian-Peacebuilding-Development Nexus.” The panel consisted of Maya Assaf of World Vision, Robert Groelsema of Catholic Relief Services, Mesfin Loha from World Vision, Mike O’Brien from Relief International, and Jennifer Ulman from Management Systems International. All emphasized the increasingly need to learn about the root causes of conflict, which will lead to peacebuilding approaches. A “conflict-sensitive lens” is critical. For those interested in working in the field, practical experience is critical.

Graduate education panel

A panel on “Innovations in Peacebuilding Graduate Education” followed. This panel focused on USIP SR 246, Graduate Education and Professional Practice in International Peace and Conflict, which I co-authored in 2010 which at USIP. The lead of the panel, Ana Patel from Outward Bound Peacebuilding and panelist Tom Hill from New York University are looking at updating the report. Other panelists talking about graduate education and employment included Kimberly Hart from Search for Common Ground, Laura Descher from Rotary, Chip Hauss from AfP, Mary Mumbai from the University of Notre Dame, and Patricia Marquez from the University of San Diego. Many emphasizes the need for graduates to have monitoring and evaluation (M&E) skills, planning abilities, and the ability to develop a budget.

I attended a final session that was hosted by CDA and looking at the group’s work in the field. CDA advanced “Do No Harm,” and publications used in the field.


Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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