Equity Diversity Interdependence
Promoting a Peaceful and Fair
Society based on Reconciliation
and Mutual Trust.
John Paul Lederach Speech
Live Issues Conference
22 October 2003
First, I should like to thank the organizers of this event for the warm welcome I received arriving here yesterday afternoon, cars lining the airport streets outside the hotel mid-afternoon -- and for arranging a significant breakthrough at midday with a cause for pause and a “we are set back” and “everything is falling apart” by late afternoon. All this was arranged on the day prior to the conference on sustainability. I had to rewrite this introduction three times in two hours. I have often said that when the media paints a picture that the peace process is dead, it is well and good to be cautiously optimistic. And when they paint a picture that a breakthrough will now lead us forward to the final conclusion, it is well and good to be stubbornly realistic. For this is the nature of building peace in settings where deep divisions, pain and violence have ruled. As you well know peace is not built or destroyed in a single event, nor is its goal a miraculous fairy tale ending. It is uneven, permanently evolving and complex, in the sense that we increasingly understand there is no such thing as a peace process in the singular but peace processes that share and inhabit human environments. Permanency is rooted in the challenge that forging peace in settings of historic violence is the intriguingly urgent and meticulously slow work of building and supporting constructive change processes. And this brings us to the topic of this conference: Sustainability. The topic raises this question: How do we understand and support constructive change?
Since being contacted by the Community Relations about this conference I have been pondering what might be most useful to share on this wide-ranging topic and concern. I was heartened when the local paper in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado printed an editorial about a conference on poverty at our local university. The editorial was titled “Sustainability can solve big problems!” While raising high hopes the title misconstrues something ever so slightly. As I see it in reference to peacebuilding, sustainability is not oriented at solving a problem. Like the immune system in the body or a healthy ecosystem in the environment, sustainability is oriented toward supporting the dynamic platforms necessary to generate innovative and adequate processes and emergent solutions to the ebb and flow of social conflict and thereby keeps peace alive and healthy in the human community.
While there are many facets of sustainability we could explore in our short time this morning, I should like to divide my comments into three categories of reflection. First, it seems to me that it is useful to remind us what makes up sustainability. Here I want to recover a few key principles with some examples of application from other settings, while leaving to you the questions of application here in Northern Ireland. Second, some very brief thoughts on the nature of learning about and sustaining change. And third, a few reflections on that dogged topic that connects sustainability with funding.
A number of common principles of sustainability emerge from parallel fields of work like that of community development, agriculture, and environmental studies. They make common sense, though we don't always keep them present at the level of our peacebuilding work.
Examples: Mindanao, and the quick response team is an example. Mediation was provided by higher-level officials and outside conciliators. The quick response team was the idea of building response at local levels that could move quickly. The same idea was used in a different form Wajir, Kenya by a group of elders.
Somalia /Somaliland is an example of large scale money invested in a high level peace process in only a few weeks, but very little money spent on a long, slow dialogue in the Northeast. Example in Nicaragua working with ex-combatants. Peacebuilding and mediation training was combined with micro-enterprise development, small rotating loan funds at the community level. It was not just a matter of solving disputes. It was a matter of making a living possible.
One of the best examples of this was WANEP, who engaged in a longer process of consultation and located existing resources and the felt needs, and then devised proposals based on value added toward the gaps that existed across the resources.
In the US, why are Hispanics or Mhong not using our resources, local mediation centers? One way to see this is to suggest that conflict in a community is a little like rain. Into every community it falls and then finds a stream as it runs off. The metaphor suggests a question as a starting point: When rain falls in this community where and to whom does it stream? Where do people go to find remedy for their issues and problems? Those places and people are often the most direct fit. An example of this is teahouse managers in Tajkistan. They are direct, simple and find the best fit that matches resource and need.
I want to talk a bit further about this element of sustainability. In my mind one of the most significant keys to sustainability of peacebuilding is the capacity to adapt to changing and on-going circumstances that none of us can fully predict or control. Adaptation however depends much on a capacity to learn. As such, sustainability to a large degree depends on whether a system is devised that keeps learning a constant part of what we do. A number of stories come to mind on this, but let me relate the one from Wajir and five women who attempted to stop a war. They started a women's group for peace, then found need to expand as they learned, including elders, youth, businessmen, parliamentarians, and police. Some conclusions about why the process was sustained:
In sum, learning and then adapting process was the essential component of keeping the processes alive. A key is simply this: Never approach evaluation from the lense of success/failure around activities. Approach evaluation as learning endeavor that feeds and nourishes the life of change processes, where successes may hide what is really going on and failures may help illustrate things we did not fully comprehend. The key is to learn about constructive change, how it works and how we can support it.
I enter now a most delicate conversation based essentially on the horizon of a forthcoming reality. External funding for community relations and peacebuilding will not go on forever at the intense level it has attained in the past 6-9 years. Let's start with what we do know. We know this about Northern Ireland:
1) Over the next years the need will not diminish and will in fact rise for community relations and peacebuilding;
2) Comparatively, there has been enormous investment in NI, of the kind you will not easily find in Somaliland, Tajikistan or Nicaragua;
3) Diminishing investment of the type received in the past few years is likely
4) Innovations and resources in peacebuilding have been gained, and in great quality and quantity in Northern Ireland.
In other settings there have been a range of options -- not contradictory, isolated or either/or choices – that have proven to be ways in which people created sustainability when phases of outside investment diminished. I think we can expect that a range of the following will likely happen in this context:
Let's start with the obvious and perhaps painful: Not all, maybe not most of the existing initiatives and organizations who have lived off the outside investment will survive without the level of finances they have enjoyed to date. What does survive will fall into several categories and each poses intriguing challenges and questions.
1) Volunteerism will increase, whereby people in civic, church, clubs, associations and just neighbors will continue components of this work from a base of good will. In many parts of the world where finances and resources are scarce and conflict and violence is abundant, volunteerism carries the day. The question posed is how much of this work can and should be a function of volunteer and simple good will, or expressions of the mission of organization that take this on as contribution?
2) There will be a process of regularizing, institutionalizing by which
A) Some of the work will be absorbed into state functions, and
B) Some will be absorbed by existing institutions as part and parcel of their mandate.
The key here is whether there are niches of particular interest that should be promoted and that could take on more of the work creating a regularity of service. Education, housing, transportation, public policy, policing, courts all have shown themselves in this and other settings to play this role for peacebuilding. Is it possible to innovate, network and maximize what can be taken up by the regular functionary role? In my mind, the biggest challenge here is finding the simplest response, the greatest renewability and the in-built capacity for learning and innovation that is not always known to take place in state bureaucracies. This however is a likely scenario over the next years, who will plan it? To whom will it be responsive and accountable? Both are important questions.
3) Some of the work has been and will continue to be taken up and promoted by the private sector. This will survive by fee for service and innovation.
The rule of thumb I have generally seen here, though not always appreciated, is that the most innovative and highest quality work emerges because people are paying for it and demand a level of response and accountability. By its very nature it has a “professional” and “pricy” quality to it lowering its accessibility. The key question: Is it possible to build a fee-for-service model that is responsive to communities with scarce resources? Innovation must carry the day to answer that question.
4) Old platforms will need to adapt and new platforms will be innovated, by this I mean networks that pool together and whole new ways to face conflict will likely emerge.
By platform I mean a capacity to generate and support process that create ways to respond to evolving situations. Community Relations Council was such an innovation and I think will continue to be one, but likely with innovation. A key here is an ability to provide independent platforms the support interdependence. In other words, independent from the ebb and flow of political level tensions and impasses while promoting relational spaces and processes that link levels of the society. The key here is how to create a platform that provides response in an on-going way to make a range of processes possible.
5) New approaches to funds, grants and grantmaking will emerge.
If I were to project several possible directions it would be these: 1) Local groups and sectors of groups will form their own trusts, be them small at first, they will grow and eventually provide regularity of income for the services; 2) funders should and will require that all grants initiated develop a plan for their financial viability independent of the originating grant to sustain the work after five years; 3) monies will be delivered in a way that it creates rotating funds and a greater interdependence of groups and activities, so that success of one group is enhanced when another is successful, this is particularly true of microenterprise loan procedures, a model and principle I expect will emerge in community relations.
What might all of this mean for you and your organizations? If some of these are true, then we might, as a conclusion suggest three exercises, or maybe we could call them sustainability health exams, for assessing the health your particular group, initiative or sector of work.
1) Take a financial dependency test. It asks you this: If your funding was cut in half or removed, could the core work that you are pursuing be taken up by alternative means? Or could you in a timely way find other ways of supporting the work financially?
If your answer is no, absolutely not. Then you have a high dependency factor and a low sustainability factor. Remember: Pab=Dba. The power of A over B is equal to the Dependence of B on A. To increase sustainability you have two options: develop strategies to broaden the ways financing is generated or broaden the ways the services are delivered.
A theory for you test: The more narrowly you are dependent on a single source of funding the more likely your work/service is vulnerable and not sustainable. The more avenues you have for delivering the services and for generating resources, the greater likelihood of sustainability.
2) Do a sustainable service assessment. In reference to the services you are providing, if you were not here tomorrow, who would do them? If your answer is nobody, this should give you pause for a deep reflection. It suggests a very low interdependency factor and correspondingly a likely low sustainability. Your reflection should cut in two directions:
First, the key here is to do a deeper analysis of what might exist naturally in the community or beyond the community that represents a resource to do what you are providing. Are you connected, networked, linked with those resources? Make sure to think widely in your analysis and take a small humble pill. Generally speaking in peacebuilding, if one of us goes away the whole thing does not collapse. But the point is to recognize resources and to optimize what might create greater impact and sustainability.
Second, if in fact it is true that what you are doing is a deep felt need in the community and you are the only one doing it, then you should think long and hard about how to help create, replicate and build resources beyond yourself. At some point sustainability will require creating a wider web of response that is not dependent on one person/group to meet the need. The greatest test of sustainability in peacebuilding is to work yourself out of a job and have the services continue.
A theory to test: The more a system has interdependent ways of responding to need, the greater the sustainability of the change processes aimed at those needs.
3) Do a learning/vision exercise. This requires addressing the following questions: Can you put in concrete terms three changes the work you are doing this year will support and make possible in ten years? In a slightly different format: How will your community be different ten years from now because of what you are doing this year?
The exercise pushes you to think more concretely and specifically about the linkage between activity and change, that is, you articulate your change theory. Second, it requires you to increase your horizon of time such that necessarily you begin to reflect on the nature of those activities in reference to sustaining the changes you work for, not just an evaluation of whether the activity was completed and the result it had on those participating.
The theory: The greater your capacity to understand, learn from and build activities around a change theory, the more likely you are to identify ways to sustain that change over time.
Reflections on sustainability can be on rather daunting challenges and can in fact pose a certain crisis. Let it not discourage you. Think of where this began. For the challenge of sustaining peaceful change is no greater now than the challenge you had of how to get the violence stopped, increase justice, and build healthy community relations 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, my assessment as an outsider is that you have displayed in this context enormous innovation, extraordinary platforms to support small and large processes of change, and a great deal of adaptation in a political environment that is about as volatile as the Irish weather on any given day. The mark of whether the system of community relations is healthy and adapting by my view has been found principally in the web of activities, people and initiatives, primarily at the community level that created an infrastructure that has not gone away and will not go away no matter which way the political winds blow. Your challenge in the next years is to find that same source of inspiration and innovation for building the greatest of all platforms: the capacity of response and creativity that is not primarily dependent on outside resources. In a place where your poets write prophetically you have enormous inspiration, for you live where “anarchy” was “loosed upon the world”, yet you found a “center” that held. You gave flesh and life to the hope “on the far side of revenge.” You never ceased to “believe in miracles and cures” and you your healing wells, well, they have and will serve you well.
This is the challenge and contribution of sustainability -- to draw deep from your own wells; to replenish them; to find and nourish the center that holds.