The current state of peacebuilding – and why we need to create more conducive spaces for peacebuilding

More than 2 billion people live in fragile and conflict affected states today. By 2030 it is likely that most of the world’s poor will live in fragile and conflict affected states. This forecast corresponds with the increasing number of conflicts the world has witnessed throughout the last two decades. The number of conflicts increased from 99 in 1996 to 136 in 2016, while the total number of deaths related to violent conflict increased from 71,940 to 103,180 in the same period of time. With a devastating 60 percent recurrence of old conflicts, international support must focus on building sustainable peace and preventing violent conflict.

Supporting peacebuilding in more effective ways does not mean that international donors or international peacebuilding organisations should come up with the solution of how to do it better in a concrete conflict affected context. It means providing a ‘conducive space’ for local actors to bring about these solutions themselves.

There is a proliferation of policy developments — including Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Pathways for Peace by the World Bank and the UN, the Review of the United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture, the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, and the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States of the International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding — that point, on the one hand, to the need to enhance international support for long-term peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts, and on the other hand to the need for change in the way support is provided. All of these reports point to the institutional challenges in supporting sustainable peace.

While at a policy level there exists a strong recognition that conflict-affected areas present unique characteristics and that a different approach to programming is needed in such contexts, donors and institutional partners are not successful in reconciling institutional and programmatic requirements with what is needed to create conducive conditions for peacebuilding at the local level. Instead, we need to look to the institutional framework and practices embedded in development aid architecture to address the challenges in support to and collaboration on peacebuilding.

In general, there has been a gradual change in the framework of development assistance and diplomacy in recent years, which has significantly changed the terms on which peacebuilding is implemented. Among the systemic changes that have elicited new problematic practices with relevance for effectiveness of peacebuilding are the following:  Smaller local organisations — with the ability to implement strong and innovative peacebuilding efforts — have difficulties accessing funds due to comprehensive donor requirements for proposal development, few donor mechanisms available that administers smaller funds (with the declining capacity in donor organisations), lack of technical support to small CSOs to develop proposals (often in a language other than their own). Furthermore, donor requirements for monitoring and evaluation provide less opportunity for joint learning and for using lessons learned for ongoing development. Results based management requires a pre-defined framework of indicators which steers the implementation process and makes it more difficult to take advantage of windows of opportunities, adapt to changing conditions, and test innovative approaches. And finally, predictability of funding from donor agencies has declined, making long-term programming (for long-term peace-building processes) more difficult. Short-term and transitional programmes (3-5 years), have lacked impact due to a mismatch between the timeframe of such efforts and the time needed to promote sustainable peace.

While there is plenty of evidence of these challenges, there is less emphasis on how to address these challenges in practice. And while recognized widely within the system itself, the challenges have largely been considered necessary, unavoidable, and irreversible. The aim of the Conducive Space for Peace initiative is to take on this challenge, and to facilitate a shift from rhetoric to system transformation and new practice.

Conducive Space for Peace (CSP) is a collaborative partnership that explores how to effectively promote sustainable peace and bring about institutional change in the international system of peacebuilding support. It works through developing and supporting new and innovative ways of collaboration on peacebuilding that puts local actors at the center of peacebuilding efforts. The aim of the Conducive Space for Peace initiative is on the one side to generate evidence in a manner that is convincing to decision-makers and thus mobilize a strong motivation for change, and on the other side to develop knowledge of alternative ways to support peacebuilding and innovative ways to facilitate institutional transformation within the international infrastructure for peace.

This piece is part of HU’s ongoing series exploring a new approach to peacebuilding. Follow the discussion at https://humanityunited.org/conducive-space-series