Peacebuilding Program Adopts New Guidelines to Confront Evolving Challenges

By Perry Cammack, program director

In light of conceptual evolutions in the peacebuilding field and geopolitical developments, in June 2020 the RBF trustees approved new program guidelines and revised grantmaking strategies for our Peacebuilding program.

The nationwide protests for racial justice that erupted in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd provided a potent reminder that peacebuilding is not a linear or antiseptic process. Peacebuilding is tense, turbulent, and confrontational. And for peacebuilders on the front lines of social change, it is often dangerous.

In developing the new guidelines, the Peacebuilding program team took inspiration from a wide range of peacebuilders. Some are internationally acclaimed figures like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Vaclav Havel, and John Lewis. Others are the less well-known but equally inspiring partners whom the Peacebuilding staff is privileged to work with and learn from.

Popular narratives of peacebuilders often focus on epic negotiations and historic compromise intended to formally end conflict. But successful and enduring peacebuilding is grounded in understanding and addressing conflicts’ root causes—from authoritarianism and endemic corruption to systemic racism and the lingering effects of colonialism. Peacebuilding requires support and protection for communities working to disrupt dominant narratives and transform—or dismantle—oppressive economic and political systems. It also requires building pro-peace movements with genuine political power.

Toward the overarching goal of advancing just and durable peace, the Peacebuilding program will focus its grantmaking through the following four strategies:

  • Developing analysis and policies to advance peacebuilding: Policymakers and civil society require robust analysis of conflict dynamics and creative policy solutions to address underlying drivers of conflict. This strategy includes support for policy analysis and reporting on specific conflicts and on peacebuilding theory and practice more broadly.
  • Supporting collaborative approaches and networks for shared security: Courageous collaboration is the heart of conflict transformation. This strategy supports efforts to provide government and civil society leaders with tools, methodologies, and networks to de-escalate conflict or increase cooperation.
  • Strengthening constituencies for conflict transformation: Peace becomes possible when entrenched power structures are weakened or dismantled. This requires pro-peace constituencies to mobilize and build political power.
  • Defending civil society and human rights to foster sustainable peace: There is a symbiotic relationship between rising authoritarianism and conflict. Around the world, principles of good governance, human rights, the rule of law, and a strong civil society are under assault. As a result, the protection of civil society and communities affected by conflicts is a critical aspect of conflict transformation.

From building movements to disrupting prevailing narratives, from supporting political compromise to protecting communities at risk, the program team believes these four strategies constitute a robust approach to peacebuilding. Within these strategies, the Peacebuilding program will continue to prioritize the inclusion of women, youth, local communities, and excluded groups in peacebuilding processes.

The Peacebuilding program will continue to support civil society efforts that work to transform specific conflicts, focusing on Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine. But the complex ways in which local conflicts interact with regional and international geopolitics are becoming increasingly clear. The Middle East and South Asia regions, where the United States has been in a state of near-continuous war since 1991, lie at the epicenter of international geopolitical confrontation and the global arms trade. Conflict, as well as climate change and authoritarianism, have displaced millions of people throughout the region. It is impossible to understand individual conflicts without reference to these regional and international dynamics.

Regionally, the Peacebuilding program will support civil society initiatives that aim to transform confrontational dynamics that both drive and arise from conflict. This grantmaking will focus on reducing geopolitical tensions—including between the United States and Iran—as well as on transforming the political economy of conflict and increasing protection for forcibly displaced communities.

Lastly, the program supports a smaller body of work on international peacebuilding. These efforts allow the program to support the further development of the field and to explore synergies that can exist across different geographical contexts.

The United States and the world seem to be at a crossroads. Amid a global crisis of confidence in politics, institutions, and governance, the risks of rising xenophobia, nationalism, and authoritarianism are only too clear. But this moment also creates an opportunity to imagine new frameworks of shared security and interdependence, fresh thinking about U.S. foreign policy, and an invigoration of the broader practice of peacebuilding.

This is an ambitious agenda, but it is a necessary one. In the words of the great peacebuilder Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”