Transforming Peacebuilding Q&A

We at Humanity United are embarking on a new strategic initiative ambitiously called Transforming Peacebuilding. Building on years of work, lessons learned, and working with a variety of partners, we are rethinking traditional peacebuilding with the goal of demonstrating better approaches to prevent conflict and promote lasting solutions to cycles of violence.

To begin, the initiative will involve deep engagement and long-term commitments in two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – Zimbabwe and Mali – locations that face varying risks of violence on their horizon, but also provide opportunities to promote new approaches and lasting change. We plan to maximize our role as a facilitator and enabler for those individuals and organizations with untapped potential to move towards lasting solutions. In addition to our in-country work, HU will also partner with innovators and influencers in the peacebuilding field to demonstrate the effectiveness of “doing peace differently” and gradually building the demand for more holistic reform.

We’re excited to get started with this new body of work and want to take this opportunity to tell you a little more.


Why is Humanity United launching this new strategy?

HU was founded almost 10 years ago on a fundamental belief in the power of people, a belief that the best of humanity – acting together – can overcome the worst angels of our nature. We’ve supported a significant amount of work over the past decade in some of the world’s most violent countries, and we’ve learned a lot about the obstacles and opportunities for lasting peace. Over the past two years, we deliberately reflected on the systems that contribute to violent conflict and impede peace, as well as some of the recurring challenges we face in effectively overcoming violence. With this understanding and context, and in partnership with a variety of individuals and organizations, we developed a new strategy to more effectively influence these systems of violence with the goal of discovering and promoting new approaches to building lasting peace. This strategy aims to work with others to promote a more effective peacebuilding system.


What did you learn from the fundamental review of the state of the conflict prevention and peacebuilding fields?

The review helped us better understand how and why the world’s collective efforts to prevent conflict and build peace are falling short of their ambition. Through our own work and that of others, we learned that we needed to improve our response to early warning signs, more effectively preventing the outbreak of conflict before it becomes a generational cycle of violence. We also recognized that the current peacebuilding system often collectively fails to develop the solutions that allow countries and societies to permanently exit violent conflict. These lessons are at the heart of the peacebuilding system we want to see.

In trying to better understand why solutions haven’t been effective, we identified the ongoing power imbalances within the system and over-reliance on top-down solutions as one of the major problems. Local and national actors are closest to the conflict and have the greatest potential to develop creative and lasting solutions – and yet all too often there is a failure to place them at the heart of our efforts.

We also found that although the shortcomings in the peacebuilding field have been widely discussed, and numerous initiatives have been launched to try to improve approaches, there is still limited momentum for a fundamental shift in peacebuilding practices


What role does Humanity United seek to play in addressing these issues?

Our Transforming Peacebuilding strategy has two major components.

The first part is centered around a long-term commitment to building peace in two new focus countries, Zimbabwe and Mali. In these countries, we are aiming to work with diverse and dynamic national and local partners to help them develop and drive alternative and more effective approaches to building peace. Through this work, we want to explore how we can better harness the potential of local and national change-makers who haven’t had the opportunity to engage meaningfully in their own peace processes. We seek to work with emerging actors–such as social movements and private sectors–to increase the prospects of positive social change. We see our role as much more than a provider of financial capital. We want to challenge the classic ‘project’ approach and explore alternative ways of supporting emerging actors to successfully tackle entrenched social problems. Ultimately, we hope that our work in Zimbabwe and Mali will contribute to lasting peace in these countries.

Just as importantly, we will use lessons learned from our engagements in these countries as evidence to drive the second part of our strategy: working with leading innovators and influencers to promote greater focus on how we can transform peacebuilding practice and build demand for reform. By bringing together the right actors and building new networks, we will promote debate and critical reflection on some of the most essential questions for the peacebuilding field. Since adopting this strategy, we have already seen a number of initiatives emerge that call for a renewed focus on peace, from the incoming UN Secretary General, to coalitions of leading peacebuilding practitioners. We’re keen to work with these and other like-minded actors to make a compelling case for change and, together, make sure that change happens. 


How does this relate to your other peacebuilding work?

The Transforming Peacebuilding strategy represents a new and ambitious vision for HU’s work on conflict. The strategy involves a significant shift in the countries and issues on which we have traditionally focused, as well as the partners with which we work. Our in-country work will involve a deliberate focus on local and national changemakers – a principle we believe is fundamental if we are to increase our collective capacity for peace and support lasting solutions. We believe that these changes will better equip us to enable the reform we need to see. Alongside our Transforming Peacebuilding work, we remain committed to Sudan and South Sudan – the countries in which HU began working when we were founded. New strategies for both these countries are currently under development.


What are the next steps for the strategy?

Our first priority is developing relationships and networks in Zimbabwe and Mali so that we’re able to effectively promote initiatives for positive social change and sustainable peace in these countries in the years to come.

At the same time, we are reaching out to individuals and organizations with a shared interest in increasing the long-term impact of peacebuilding work and partnering with them to better understand the challenges and opportunities for change. This will provide a solid platform for deeper engagement at the level of the peacebuilding field in subsequent years.