I’ve recently joined a local trust board. Their remit is to distribute funds to organisations and individuals engaged in peace work. Anyone joining this board is faced with the unavoidable question of what it means to fund peace work in the 21st century.
There are two main sorts of work that we immediately think of here. The first is what I call ‘getting along’ work. They are programs which support communication, the understanding and celebrating of differences, and relationship building across societal divides. The second could broadly be called ‘conflict resolution’ work. These are programs such as peer mediation, which teach and support processes for resolving disputes constructively, and without violence.
Most of us would readily think of these two things as peace work. In turn, these kinds of programs also see their place within the realm of peace. And if someone already thinks of their work as peace work, then when they search for local funding options, our trust board will be likely to appear. In short, these sorts of applications find us.
However, in undertaking my research, it has become clear to me that there is lots of work beyond just conflict resolution and ‘getting along’ that contributes significantly to peace. Work such as addressing food and housing insecurity, youth employment, environmental action and anti-corruption work. All these are peace work not because they are just ‘good things’, but because they address conflict risk-factors, and as such, help to secure the very foundations of peace. If you have read this blog before, you will not be surprised to hear me talk about this kind of work as Proactive Peace Work. But because we don’t often talk about this kind of work in relation to peace, it is not what usually comes to mind when we think of peace work.
Peace orientated NGOS pay less attention to it than they do to other types of peace work, fewer reports are written about it, and little academic attention is paid to it.
Which brings me back to the local trust board that I am on. This trust does in fact have a broad understanding of peace, which encompasses and funds Proactive Peace Work. But part of the invisibility of Proactive Peace isn’t just that funders don’t recognise it as peace, but that people engaged in this kind of work don’t always think of it as peace work either. This means that they are far less likely to reach out to our trust board when looking for funding.
So it strikes me that there are two things which need to be done in response to this. The first step is a relatively easy short term measure. It is simply to stop waiting for this kind of peace work to come to us, and to actively seek it out. To approach organisations that are engaged, or are likely to be engaged in Proactive Peace Work and to introduce the trust. To explain who we are, what we fund, and to encourage them to apply.
The other part of the response is a little harder though, but it is one of the goals of my research. It is to build the visibility of Proactive Peace. To change our narrative so that it firmly includes Proactive Peace Work in our vision of what peace entails. So that those engaged in Proactive Peace Work think of themselves as peace workers too.
Because without Proactive Peace, our getting along and conflict resolution work seems shallow. After all, how meaningful is it to try and teach children how to resolve their differences without fighting in the school playground, if the food insecurity those children live with goes unaddressed? Surely their hunger contributes to the fighting.
I feel fortunate to be in a position to try and make that happen.