Last week, the Alliance for Peacebuilding hosted its annual PeaceCon. As it does each year, the conference allowed us to show the world what our members have done and, more importantly, what they plan to do in the year(s) to come. This year, more than 800 people registered for the open day held at the United States Institute of Peace and over 300 attended each of the other two days which are designed for our members.
I usually try to stay off the program because I’ve done way too many conference presentations over the years. This year I had to be on two sessions on the Rondine method which I’ve described elsewhere and on graduate education. As a result, I spent even less time going to formal sessions to learn new and getting an overview of the conference as a whole because, as always, I spent a lot of time networking.
Still, I came away from four takeaways about how peacebuilding is expanding.
We went out of our way to attract young people this year. Not only did we have a few panels on the role of youth around the world and continued giving our young peacebuilders awards, but we encouraged young members to attend the final afternoon of the conference by waiving the admission fee.
New Gen in action
By far the most impressive presentation was made by New Gen Peacebuilders. Led by former Rotary Peace Fellow, Patricia Shafer, New Gen has already established dozens of peacebuilding groups in high schools and colleges st in the United States and a number of countries, including South Africa and South Sudan. In part because New Gen can get the support of local Rotary Clubs, it is able to attract diverse groups of students and give them extended training in the complexities of peace and conflict studies. The New Gen Peacebuilders from Houston, Charlotte, and Charlottesville talked eloquently both about how local issues drew them into working for peace and how New Gen’s toolkit helped prepare them to do so.
Engineering and the Private Sector
This was not the first year that we’ve explored the links we would like to create between peacebuilders and the private sector. Readers who know me also know that I’ve been talking about incubating a for profit, peacebuilding community for years.
This year, we actually saw signs of that happening, not surprisingly in technological sectors. Readers who know me also will know that I’ve long been involved with Build Up^ and its annual Build Peace conference.
This year, those issues made it on to the conference program, most notably with a panel on peace and engineering that was moderated by former NASA Director (and AfP board member) Charlie Bolden. Participants included Margarita Quihuis of Stanford’s Peace Innovation Lab, Mira Olsen of Drexel University’s new peace and engineering masters program, and Kamil Agi who runs a new multi-university peace and engineering initiative.
As Charlie wanted it to do, the session involved the audience as much as the formal speakers and we all lurched toward an important conclusion.
Peace may not be the direct outgrowth of work engineers do — although there are plenty of cases in which it could be. However, we do a better job of designing projects in development, gender, climate change, or dozens of other issues in which a more peaceful society would be an outgrowth and byproduct of that other work.
Peace engineers ,,, and me
I was particularly taken by the number of young peace engineers who attended PeaceCon, some of whom all ended up in the same spot with Mira Olsen and me.
Of course, we peacebuilders would have to understand that we are not the primary drivers of such programs. Once we do, we should be able to gain new support from the corporate world as we build programs that both help companies turn a profit and build peace either as a direct or indirect effect of their work.
At AfP, we have long worried about the lack of diversity in the peacebuilding community. That took on new importance after Uzra Zeya became our new CEO earlier in the year.
So, Uzra began the members portion of PeaceCon with a report on the state of diversity in our field, which I’m delighted to say that Gretchen Sandles (my wife) helped prepare. It turns out that AfP and many of its members actually fare relatively well on gender if not racial diversity grounds.
The Gender Panel
Even more importantly, at smaller breakout sessions, it became clear to almost everyone there that actually diversifying our professional workforce will mean reaching out to new communities and encouraging people to work as peacebuilders because our work can help them reach their own goals — not because they can become part of our team.
At one panel in particular (which I’m also glad to say that Gretchen participated), participants looked at how we can confront diversity issues in our community by, for example, by creating a bystander training program to confront sexism and racism when they “raise their ugly heads” as, alas, they do more often than we like to admit.
Toward a Movement
Perhaps most importantly of all, we spent a lot of time launching a political movement in support of peacebuilding. That will take a number of forms, the most important of which (for now) is the Global Peace Alliance or +Peace. We expect it to morph into a number of movements in the US and around the world that will shift cultural norms around issues of war and peace so that policy makers then have to follow suit.
In launching the movement, a number of us spent the day before PeaceCon began talking to the staffs of members of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees. In the case of the House, we wanted to thank them for passing the Global Violence Reduction Act and urge them to endorse a similar one on youth which is about to be introduced. On the Senate side, we urged staff members to convince their Senators to remove the holds that have been placed on the violence reduction build so that it can be voted on later this year.
We have had “advocacy days” at previous PeaceCons. This was the first time, however, that they we actually spent time in congressional office.
We actually found that it was fun.
I’ve spent my life going to conferences and much of it organizing them. Therefore, I know that once the dazzle of the event wears off, so, too, does the enthusiasm for actually doing what was talked about.
This time will be different. I know that I, at least, will be working on each of these issues to see to it that they don’t disappear into thin air.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.
Originally published at Chip Hauss.