"Imagine if every town and village could call on its own agents of transformation”

Sensemaking / "Imagine if every town and village could call on its own agents of transformation”

If we want to see how collaboration works where it is most needed, we should look to locally led peace-building initiatives, says Scilla Elworthy, three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

By Scilla Elworthy / 26 Jan 2015

In the 1990s, for the first time in recorded history, more wars ended by negotiated settlement than by military victory (42 vs 23). This started a trend that has since accelerated: between 2000 and 2005, 17 conflicts ended in negotiated settlements; just four ended in military victory. Since 2000, the number of locally-led peace initiatives has increased five-fold. In Kenya, for instance, local peace committees (LPCs) operate at district, municipality, town and village level, combining traditional conflict resolution mechanisms with formal dispute arbitration processes. A survey traces their origin to the efforts of women peacebuilders in Wajir in 1995. Today, they face many challenges, not least maintaining a legitimate and impartial status under the devolution of power.

 Imagine if every region of the world had its own 'infrastructure for peace' – a network of skilled councils who would be immediately involved if a dispute arose, and who would set in motion their preferred cultural methods of transforming that dispute. Imagine if every town and village in the world could call on its own trusted ‘agents of transformation’ – respected people who had learned since childhood how to embrace the energy of conflict and provide a strong enough ‘container’ for conflicted parties to listen to each other ‘for as long as it takes’. This is what prevented civil war in the run-up to the first free elections in South Africa in 1994. Imagine if we systematically trained peace-builders in every part of the planet in the skills of Gandhi, Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi – the skills we see today in people like Gulalai Ismail in northwest Pakistan, who persuades young men not to become suicide bombers, and Henri Bura Ladyi, who goes deep into the Congolese bush to swap goats for children kidnapped by militias to become child soldiers?

 What if a course combining the practical skills of peace-building with the development of inner intelligence or self-knowledge became a basic qualification for public office? If collaboration is now our most-wanted skill, we need to acknowledge that women tend to collaborate more easily than men. But women’s experience of war is not represented in global peace-building initiatives. Together with children, women make up the majority of conflict refugees. Yet they make up only 2.5% of signatories to peace agreements – surely contributing to the fact that half of peace agreements fail within five years. To begin to build a world of collaboration, this situation has to change.

 The organisation Rising Women Rising World aims to build constellations of women worldwide, mentored by experienced specialists to bring about change in fields including economics, environment, governance, peace building, media, belief systems, agriculture, community and education. Adapting global education systems to facilitate awareness of other cultures and societies, and encourage young people to envisage and imagine the pressures other people experience and the indignities they may suffer, will enable them to empathise more readily. This combined, with clear information about the challenges facing the global ecosystem, and what people are doing to help the planet regenerate, may do more than anything else to build a sense of global community, positive action and collaboration.

 Scilla Elworthy is a three-times nominated Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Her new book is Pioneering the Possible: Awakened Leadership for a World that Works (North Atlantic Books).

Image credit : Flickr / Japanese Peace Cranes by Clara T S H

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