What has surprised you about peacebuilding during your time at Conciliation Resources?
I think what has surprised me most is how little support, focus and funding there is for peacebuilding when we so badly need peace. I’ve worked in international development for 15 years, and come across a whole range of organisations through my work at the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI). And all the lessons I learned before, ring even louder in peacebuilding. Particularly, that the only way to achieve a real and lasting difference is to truly engage with and support local people and organisations for the long-term.
Peacebuilding works. We see this in Northern Ireland, in the Somali Regional State (SRS) of Ethiopia, and through the many examples and lessons of positive peacebuilding shared through Conciliation Resources’ Accord series. It requires intense patience and understanding of a conflict, but it works. And it costs so much less than war and humanitarian relief. Conciliation Resources’ six years of support to the peace process in the SRS of Ethiopia cost less than one challenger tank. Ultimately what dismays me, is that governments are increasing spending on defence and taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to peacebuilding - it’s illogical and it’s wrong. Anyone, anywhere in the world (most of all those who experience conflict) will tell you that education, health and economic development are vital, but if you don’t have peace none of these things can flourish.
Measuring success in peacebuilding is very difficult, and evaluation and learning is something I care a great deal about. One thing I’ve been really impressed with is Conciliation Resources’ approach to learning - it’s not done after the event and left to sit on a shelf as with so many evaluations, but is integrated into the work teams do with partners so that they can adapt and respond to what’s working and what’s not. This is a new approach and I hope other NGOs across the sector can learn from it.
What role do you think peacebuilders play in tackling the major challenges facing the world today?
Climate change and conflict are two of the biggest challenges facing the world today. The two are absolutely connected, and I think they will be increasingly intertwined as life on our planet becomes more fragile. The climate crisis exacerbates conflict and social inequality putting pressure on livelihoods, governance and cultural identity. People will increasingly be forced to live in an utterly changed world, and peacebuilders play an essential role in ensuring societies can make this transition peacefully. There are too many people and organisations responding to the climate crisis in silos - governments, environmental experts, civil society - and I see peacebuilders as the connectors who can bring these people together and use their knowledge and insights to ensure these responses don’t risk driving even further conflict.
I’m delighted that in the last few years Conciliation Resources and their partners have started examining these intersections and connections, listening to communities impacted by climate change, figuring out where peacebuilding and peacebuilders are needed, and sharing what they’re learning. Because inevitably, we’re all going to be affected by the climate crisis and will need to understand how to find ways to live together peacefully. We can already see this happening through the work of partners supporting relocated communities in Fiji and indigenous communities in the Philippines, and the lessons we’re gathering and sharing from this.
I see gender inequality as another major challenge in today’s world, with concerted efforts to roll back the rights of women and diverse groups and anti-gender movements seeming to take root across the world. Women are, of course, particularly vulnerable in conflict but they are also essential to achieving and sustaining peace and their voices are all too often silenced. Peacebuilders can play a role in not only responding to gender inequality, but in helping to transform it and I was really pleased to see this aspiration in Conciliation Resources new gender strategy - it’s ambitious, and forward-thinking.
What does the future of peacebuilding look like, how can peacebuilders be better supported?
There could not be a more important time to take peacebuilding seriously. Global peacefulness has been declining for 10 of the past 14 years and the World Bank estimates that violent conflict causes 80% of all global humanitarian needs. But despite this, funding for peace is in decline. And too often, funders want to achieve long-term impact with short-term funding - which is simply not an approach that is going to bring about sustainable peace.
All conflicts have to end in peace, and violence and suffering could be averted earlier if only we could multiply the kind of work Conciliation Resources and their partners are doing. For instance, last month marked five years since a peace deal was signed in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia. I’ve seen how our support for a long-term, inclusive approach to peace, with those most affected by violent conflict at the centre of change, has ended 30 years of conflict and transformed the future for hundreds of thousands of people.
I call on all governments to make peace a political priority and on those in the peacebuilding sector to explain much more urgently what peacebuilding is, how it works and the impact it has. It’s been a huge privilege to work with Conciliation Resources staff and partners for the past seven years. It’s vital work supporting people who show huge courage in the face of terrible conflict and trauma. If there is ever a time to get serious about peacebuilding, it has to be now.