How does conflict affect a country’s long-term development?
Violent conflict sets a country’s development back decades, especially when it is protracted as it was in Sri Lanka and as it is currently in the Casamance region of Senegal. Even countries that create peace agreements but do not address the grievances or the sources of conflict are more likely to experience conflict again within 10 years. It is critical to work on mitigating and managing conflict in countries. Otherwise, we are simply pouring hundreds of millions of development dollars into a country and seeing those gains wiped out by violent conflict. That is why working on conflict is so critical.
How do we deal with conflict?
The first step is understanding the grievances that led to the conflict. Grievances can arise in a number of areas and can be found across many sectors. Because we are a global organization that works across sectors — such as health, education, economic development and the environment — we are able to address specific grievances in these different sectors.
How do we approach the peacebuilding process?
We must have support from the people who are affected by the conflict. A peace agreement is not as sustainable if it does not have involvement and buy-in from the people on the ground. One overarching approach that we use in our programs is what we call “inclusive collaboration.” We recognize the value of bringing everyone involved to the table and giving people a voice in the process. In a number of our programs supporting peace processes, we focus on linking the top-level leaders at the negotiating table to the communities so that there is an exchange of information and views from the negotiators to the grass roots and vice versa. We do that through various means, including the media and surveys that track what people are willing to accept in a peace agreement.
How do you get communities involved in the peace process?
We create ways for divided communities to support peace initiatives and promote tolerance. For example, in Chad, Kosovo, Niger and Sri Lanka, our experts created forums where minority populations could participate in their community’s civic life and development. At this grass-roots level, we brought together a truly representative group of people to discuss common priorities for their community.
We also recognize the importance of making sure women have a seat at the table. Time and time again, women have played a critical role in pushing peace agreements forward. In Senegal, for example, we created working groups and networks of women’s organizations to promote the peace process.
So, bringing organizations together also is important?
Yes, this is especially important for sustaining the progress made. In Kosovo, for example, we created a network of 12 local nongovernmental organizations that served minority communities. The idea was that, united, they would have a greater voice in influencing reforms or implementing policies. The groups had never considered that kind of role before. Gradually, we equipped them to more effectively represent the interests of the minority communities. Now, they are feeling more comfortable with that role and are continuing to have an impact.