The Alliance for Peacebuilding held its annual conference in Washington DC from 13-15 May 2015. It was our most successful yet, with more than 350 people attending the first day at the United States Institute of Peace and about 200 coming to our working sessions on each of the following days. As we always do, we helped bring our members up to date on activities in the field. But even more than we have in the past, we helped our members and friends see the need to break new ground in dealing with domestic political issues in the United States, the media, the private sector, and neuroscience. Over the next few weeks, videos of the keynote talks and summaries of the panels will appear on the AfP web site.
The State of the Art. We did most of our work on current peacebuilding efforts during the day at USIP. For example, Assistant Secretary of State Sarah Sewell spoke of the new security challenges facing the United States through a peacebuilding lens. Similarly, another panel considered the role corruption plays as a cause of and obstacle to peacebuilding. More generally, we continued our work in expanding the peacebuilding agenda to include other security related issues that we refer to as Peacebuilding 2.0.
Most of our work in the second two days was dedicated to our efforts in defining Peacebuilding 3.0 that take the complex and networked nature of our globalizing world as its starting point.
Domestic Issues. AfP was created about fifteen years ago to help a small group of American-based NGOs that worked on global conflicts work more effectively together. Since then, we have added members whose base of operations was outside the United States, but until now, we had largely avoided domestic political conflict at home. The events in Ferguson MO finally convinced us that we could not ignore problems here at home any more. Therefore, we organized a panel that included one of our newest members, Cure Violence, that treats urban violence as an epidemic, trying to stop the violence and then addressing its roots cause. The panel also had presentations on conflicts involving immigration and the aftermath of Ferguson. It is not clear yet how AfP’s programming will reflect this interest in American domestic politics, but there is certainly room for our members to share the expertise they’ve gathered on identity based politics around the world to the tensions and political gridlock here at home.
Media. Although we talked about it all week, we actually only focused on ways of better using the media during the final session led by board member, Michael Shipler, who directs projects in Asia for Search for Common Ground. He walked us through some amazing videos, including some powerful ones used by ISIS and its supporters. On a more optimistic note, he also shows us ads made by Coca Cola and Google that marketed their products and, even more importantly, evocatively spoke of reconciliation between India and Pakistan. It wasn’t so much the videos Michael shows that grabbed me, but his plea that we learn how to use the media and other tools that help people emotionally come to grips with wicked problems and other issues that call out for profound change. Even though I have spent most of my career as an academic social scientist, there is no doubt that people are more likely to commit themselves to political change if they are engaged personally as well as intellectually.
The Private Sector. To our surprise, the best attended sessions focused on the role of the private sector and, in particular, the importance of social impact investing. Most of the attendees have realized two things. First, we can no longer operate as traditional nonprofits and base our work primarily on our values and our desire to produce what the MacArthur Foundation calls a just, verdant, and peaceful world. At AfP, we have focused our efforts in that respect on a multiyear project on monitoring and evaluation so that our members can work more effectively. Second and more importantly, the seventy or so people who sat in on that workshop realized that will have to find ways to partner with the corporate world leading us not only to new investors but a new way of doing our work that focuses literally on our impact.
Neuroscience. Perhaps the most surprising part of the conference was the enthusiasm for our work on the potential use of findings by neuroscientists for our work as peacebuilders. For the last few years, AfP has been active in this work through its member organizations, Beyond Conflict and the El Hibri Foundation, which funded the fourth in a series of workshops in January 2015. While we still have a long way to go, we took the next steps toward creating both a scientific research lab to conduct further research and another project to begin exploring the links between neuroscience, spirituality, and peacebuilding.