Sustainable peace is inclusive peace, and it is enriched by a diversity of voices and new ideas. To stimulate thinking across and between four very different contexts, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and Shared Studios, a social change company, launched “Talking Peace”, a first-of-its-kind virtual conversation series held as part of the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary and the exhibit “The Work of Peace”.
Throughout 2020, over three months and 11 conversations curated by Shared Studios, participants from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Iraq and Rwanda met virtually to share their experiences leading community-based efforts for peace through innovation, art and new technologies. Each of the conversations brought together local peacebuilders to explore subjects such as the role of technology in advancing peace initiatives; the use of art in local peacemaking and conflict-prevention; and how pop culture shapes norms of peace.
The conversations highlighted that although the platforms and mediums for community engagement depend on the country and target audience, participants held shared values and principles for engaging communities on difficult subjects such as conflict prevention and resolution, trauma and peacebuilding. Findings included:
The benefits of striking a balance between education and entertainment
Many actors employed storytelling or “gamification” to challenge deeply entrenched societal norms and effect change. Musekeweya, a popular Rwandan radio drama series, for example, aims to integrate educational components into contemporary storylines to change social norms and behaviour. By infusing the continuum of violence into every storyline - violence evolves slowly, by-standers matter, and close personal relationships can help stem violence - over 16 years Musekeweya has been able to help communities unlearn hate-based ideologies through an educational foundation. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the country’s first female film director in the post-Taliban era uses a bingeable online TV-show format to challenge societal norms.
Fictionalization helps to communicate difficult messages
Assisting people in internalizing messages that challenge their beliefs requires careful and creative communication. Using fictionalized characters based on real storylines is a powerful way to transcend issues related to identity-based conflict. For example, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the Quechua community-led radio station Kancha Parlaspa (“The Market Speaks”) creates fictionalized radio novellas inspired by stories heard in the marketplace. As María José Andrade, Kancha Parlaspa’s director, explained: “We developed a series whose main character was an alien. The alien had many questions about how the constitution works or what reproductive rights meant. He became so popular that people would come to the station and ask for ‘the Martian’. Fictionalizing helped communicate messages that are easier to receive, less personal, more neutral.”
Sharing resources can bridge divides
Community leaders have found that integrating long-term economic incentives and promoting sharing resources among reconciling parties can strengthen peacebuilding efforts. “Cows for Peace”, a Rwandan post-genocide reconciliation programme that seeks to foster relationships between genocide survivors and direct perpetrators through cow sharing, is an example of this. During the Talking Peace series, the programme’s founder explained how sharing a cow requires individuals with conflict and trauma between them to confront one another and learn how to trust and forgive. The economic incentive the cow provides encourages both parties to work together to maximize mutual benefit.
Youth have an appetite for capacity building
All local innovators believed that youth inclusion and participation should go beyond advocacy and conference participation, towards capacity building to engage at the policymaking level. Ineza Umuhoza Grace, the founder and CEO of The Green Fighter, a Rwandan youth-led NGO that designs and implements community-based projects that protect the environment, spoke about the desire of schools in her community to teach youth about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. For her, this is evidence of eagerness among youth to be equipped with the background and language to meaningfully participate in policymaking processes.
For the Talking Peace conversation series’ finale in December 2020, participants further unpacked their findings and “future-tested” them. Teaming up with the Design Futures Initiative (DFI) and as part of UNESCO’s High-Level Futures Literacy Summit, Talking Peace gathered local innovators, UN officials and the public to think through the question, “How might we create a future of peacebuilding led by women and/or youth?”
Through the conversations between local peace-innovators, we heard about their knowledge, expertise and passion, and resilience in the face of uncertainty. In the final conversation, the project team applied concepts of futures-testing and -proofing participants’ important initiatives against rapid societal and technological change as well as uncertain events.
“Futures thinking, such as strategic foresight and more exploratory methodologies such as speculative design, provides the tools not only to test programmes against possible future scenarios but also to uncover assumptions and biases that may prevent actors and decision-makers from achieving structural change,” said Minji Song of the DPPA Innovation Cell and a core member of the Talking Peace team. “Gathering diverse actors in one room to imagine peacebuilding in the year 2035 provided a safe space to speculate and opportunities for participants to question whether existing activities and efforts are fit for purpose for their preferred future(s)”.
These Talking Peace conversations among participants from countries with very different experiences of conflict, reconciliation and peacebuilding, made apparent the importance of listening to the people on the ground and learning from their experiences and different approaches. But they also highlighted the common ground underpinning their work and approach. The goal for these conversations among the networks of practitioners formed through the Talking Peace initiative to continue, and for the creativity and insights of participants to help inform conflict prevention and peacebuilding practices around the world.
This article was co-authored with Shared_Studios.
To discover more of the “Talking Peace” conversation series, visit the dedicated project website: talkingpeace.events
Also read the related article on “How to spark unlikely conversations about peace”.
For more information on DPPA’s recent initiative with the Design Futures Initiative on speculative peace artefacts that evoke novel futures of how to sustain peace better, visit futuringpeace.org.
Title picture: Norke Leaf, Bolivian muralist and activist, uses building-walls as canvases, painting murals that celebrate local cultures and transform perceptions of communities. From the Talking Peace conversation on using art to spark dialogue. Photo courtesy of Shared_Studios