Pathfinders: Forging ahead in 2021


By Liv Tørres, director of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

UN Photo

We are approaching the end of a peculiar and extraordinary year… A year where we have had to re-assess everything around us: not only our security and health, the safety of our loved ones, the resilience of our institutions, but also ourselves and our own strength. As we approach the close of 2020, you will hear a lot of people saying that next year will be better, that we will get out of lockdown, that the vaccine is close, that we will return to normal. But the reality is that there will be no going “back to normal”. Our world will look different. Millions more people will face unemployment, hunger, and extreme poverty. We will continue to see poverty and anger undermining the resilience of many institutions. Our respect for human rights, tolerance, and democracy will be further tested under the weight of our own prejudices, and societies’ increasing polarization and escalating anger. We will likely see countries and institutions stumble, with many leaders failing where others prevail.

When COVID-19 hit us at the beginning of this year, Pathfinders knew that we needed to manage the pandemic through an SDG16+ lens, keeping an eye on the state of peace, justice, and inclusion the world over in order to ensure that neither the fight against the pandemic nor our recovery are blighted with negative socio-economic and political spill-over effects, escalating unrest, and violence. The situation we find ourselves in now is risky. We are facing the very tensions and polarization on a national and geopolitical scale, that we had feared early on. In this context, calls for the world to double down on the transition from rhetoric to practice in leaving no one behind are growing more urgent.

We, at Pathfinders, have done what we can to contribute to and amplify solutions this year, with new research, data, analysis, and commentary on the challenges arising in areas of peace, justice, and inclusion. Throughout, we have presented new information; pinpointed emerging challenges; highlighted risks and possibilities; underlined the urgency of the situation; and identified evidence-based strategies and solutions. We have repeatedly — urgently — made the case for addressing crisis issues of peace, justice, and inclusion now before we have bigger problems on our hands.

The Pathfinders have issued a statement reminding the world of our top priority right now: to focus on ensuring that peace, justice, and inclusion — SDG16+ — form the basis of the pandemic response and recovery. A broader alliance of civil society and multilateral organizations have issued a similar statement. The cost of investing in SDG16+ now will incur less financial burden on countries than issuing repairs later. What does investment of this kind look like? Making sure, for example, that assistance packages are distributed to the most vulnerable first; transitioning to more cost-effective means of meeting peoples’ justice needs; focusing on conflict-resolution and mediation efforts to reduce tensions before they explode in violence, etc. We know what to do. We have solutions and best practices to draw from. Now, we need to mobilize the political will to act.

In the five years since its formation, Pathfinders has grown to a mature coalition of 38 UN member states, joined by many multilateral and civil society partners. We have seen the successful launch of the Task Force on Justice’s Justice for All report, which is shedding light on the massive justice gap we face and the gains made possible if we invest properly in people-centered justice. We have seen the launch of the Grand Challenge on Inequality and Exclusion, with key countries leading the way towards the publication of next year’s Global Flagship Report, which will lay out key policies to help fight inequality and exclusion. And we are now in the process of laying the foundations for the third Grand Challenge on Halving Global Violence with a group of experts and key countries taking the lead on one of the most delicate challenges we face in the next decade. We have produced a wealth of analysis; presented our key messages around peace, justice, and inclusion at hundreds of meetings, conferences, and events; we have delivered input into UN discussions and to national policy-makers; and we have helped to convince and train decision-makers, as well as civil society activists, on best practices for SDG16+ implementation on the ground. All in all, Pathfinders has become known as a unique initiative of states and partners willing to speak up for, take leadership and deliver on some of the most difficult, but also crucial policy areas of our time. During this year of unprecedented challenges and risks, we have managed to highlight the importance of key investments in peace, justice, and inclusion, and have reminded a broad swath of actors and stakeholders to keep their attention focused on these pillars for the good of our collective future security. After all, this is what the next 75 years of the United Nations and our global multilateral architecture must be rooted in.

No doubt, we will be tested over the next few years. The likelihood of our success will depend on the caliber and accountability of our leaders, the strength and resilience of our institutions, and the trust people have in them. The caliber of leaders will determine both priority-setting and deliverables as we go forward. The best leaders are always those who are good at listening to their people, those who understand that they are there to serve and are willing and able to transform people’s needs and goals into policy. As we exit the first phase of this crisis and start feeling the shocks of the economic spillovers, despair will become more apparent, but also the anger over unemployment and the shortage of preparedness plans and stockpiles. The resilience and strength of our institutions will be vital. Trust in institutions and leaders, no less so. Trust has in fact become a thermometer not only for the resilience of countries, but also for crisis management. And trust is built on clear, evidence-based, honest communication and a focus on solutions and deliverables.

We will do our best to contribute to strengthening leadership, governance, and institution-building towards peace, justice, and inclusion in 2021. An initiative like Pathfinders is powerful: a coalition of willing UN member states committed to delivering and willing to lead. And we will have loads of opportunities to raise issues around peace, justice, and inclusion in the next year. As we move forward, Pathfinders plans to shift more attention to communications and advocacy in our work and to highlight the policy coherence among and interlinkages between justice, inequality, exclusion, and violence. We are already planning for our engagement in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the SDG16+ Forum, the Pyeongchang Peace Forum and Geneva Peace Week, the Innovating Justice Forum in The Hague, Peace One Day, and many other events. We look forward to the review of SDG16 during HLPF 2021, preparations for UNGA 76 and the upcoming special session of the General Assembly against corruption (UNGASS), as well as several other crucial platforms that give us an opportunity to make issues of peace, justice, and inclusion the basis of a global reset and resilient recovery. Among these efforts, we will work to ensure that justice for women is lifted higher up on the agenda, and that social contracts get more attention and are substantive. We will contribute to the UNSG Common Agenda and ensure that the phrases: “halve global violence”, “people-centered justice”, “bridge the gap”, and “prevent exclusion” are heard loud and clear throughout corridors of power in the coming year.

In that spirit, we wish you — and us all — a happy new year!