Peace-Building Through Networking by Elise Boulding
I traveled to Sweden last month for an international conference on government-NGO (non-governmental organizations) relations in preventing violence, transforming conflict and building peace. Representatives of nearly 40 international and national non-governmental organizations and government officials from 10 countries plus the European Union and the UN attended.
The conference focused on the issues of how governments and NGOs can strengthen their respective conflict prevention and conflict transformation capacities, what forms of cooperation among NGOs and between NGOs and governments need to be developed, and what resources and structures will be needed to accomplish this. It was a moving experience to hear about the courageous peace-building activities of local NGOs in South Africa, former Yugoslavia and Guatemala from activist speakers, especially since in the case of South Africa and Guatemala we were hearing from government representatives as well as scholar-activists. The conference established a new model for NGO-government interaction.
The term "NGO" was rarely used, most participants preferring the more directly descriptive term, "people's organizations." Many valuable experiences and strategies were shared. One of the greatest needs in the peace-building field is skill training. Display tables were filled with a great variety of handbooks describing various training methods. Some were published by people's organizations, some by governmental and intergovernmental agencies.
My task at the conference was to give an overview of the different roles NGOs can play in reducing or preventing violence. The three emphases of my presentation were: [1) learning peace-building skills by practice in one's own] country before going abroad; 2) taking a learning stance when abroad (using John Paul Lederach's concept of discovering conflict resolution techniques indigenous to the culture in which one works), and partnering with locals; and 3) mobilizing NGOs in the fields of environment, development and human rights, as well as peace NGOs, to work together in a multi-dimensional approach to peace-building.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the conference was the opportunity for networking, though time constraints meant that participants had to be content with primarily laying the groundwork for a longer-term, more comprehensive process. The Swedish Peace Team Forum, consisting of over 30 peace NGOs is an exemplary model of networking. It has brought together specialists and organizations from around the world in consultation and workshops in recent years. It's members have also trained peace teams that have worked in Africa and parts of Europe.
The new European Center for Conflict Prevention began as a peace development project in the Netherlands but became an all-European program. This Center will be taking the lead in connecting the new European Conflict Prevention Network founded at the February conference with networks in other regions.
Canada offers a particularly creative example of country-wide networking--a detailed 24-page questionnaire will be distributed to Canadian NGOs in the fields of humanitarian assistance, development, conflict resolution, peace, human rights and democratic development as well as to academic institutions and training centers. The analysis of the replies to this questionnaire will give the most comprehensive view of non-governmental peace-building activities that has ever been produced in any country.
The Forum Civilian Peace Service in Germany was also represented. The peace team/peace services newsletter which I begin several years ago as an international networking device for peace teams around the world is now edited by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan of Nonviolence International/Asia in Bangkok, Thailand.
Kevin Clements, (the other U.S. participant in the conference) and I have resolved to push for a formation of a comprehensive U.S.-wide network. Such a U.S. network could serve as a counterpart to the growing number of national networks and become part of a needed global network of peace services. Because of my personal involvement with FPTP, I will work to link that Quaker network with the broader U.S. network as well as with the emerging global network.
Participants at this conference left with the determination to reach out to broaden their organizational network and reach out to people's organizations whose work is highly relevant to peace-building and that do not yet perceive this relevance. The conference helped to create a sense of urgency as officials from governments, the European Community and the UN pointed out how much needed is the varied expertise of NGOs, how limited official governmental options are in conflicts situations and how much more flexibility NGOs can offer both in crisis situations and in the long-term task of creating a more peaceful world. For the global civil society of people's organizations to fulfill its potential, the already mobilized organizations will have to reach out to the unmobilized as well as increase their own skills. And NGOs generally need to learn more about inter-organizational cooperation, and how to resist a tendency to "claim turf"!
This whole report has been written without my mentioning peace culture, the subject which is so central to my work these days. So let me say in closing that I think the kind of networking among peace-builders that has been described here is at the very heart of the task of strengthening peace culture all around the world. And I invite all readers of this report to join in that networking process. Note: Edited from a longer article. -Editor