Our Global Participation
Educators, peacebuilding advocates, and survivors of extremist violence explored approaches to strengthening peaceful communities and classrooms at a virtual Peacesharing Forum on March 29-30.
The two-day program was latest in a series of Peacesharing forums co-sponsored by the Global Peace Foundation (GPF) and Co-operation Ireland. The forum addressed evolving priorities faced by educators, the growing impact of social media on youth and its potential as a tool for peacebuilding, and the role of NGOs in mitigating conflict and fostering sustainable peace.
Co-operation Ireland coined the term “peacesharing” following its efforts to support dialogue and reconciliation during the turbulent decades of conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Peacesharing is a process to share the lessons learned with other communities embroiled in violence and conflict.
“This year’s peacesharing forum has special meaning,” said GPF Vice President for Education Dr. Tony Devine. The forum “is on the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which essentially ended three decades of violence that had wrecked Northern Ireland since the late 1960s. Very fortunately Northern Ireland has enjoyed peace for much of the twenty-five years since the agreement was signed.”
Co-operation Ireland Chief Executive Peter Sheridan said the Good Friday Agreement was a strong symbol of peace around the world. “If you look a cities like Belfast or Derry today they are unrecognizable from the place they were during the conflict. We now need to focus on the next twenty -five years and the voices and contributions of our young people to strengthen peace in communities and schools.”
“Effective schools and education programs can empower youth with knowledge, skills and good character which then can contribute significantly to strengthening peaceful communities.”
“Too often approaches to peacebuilding are rooted in short-term, project-based execution of activities,” Mr. Sheridan said, “but the challenge is long term transformative outcomes, like altering young people’s attitudes and beliefs about peace and violence. UN Resolution 2250 recognizes the essential role of young people in preventing and resolving conflicts and sustaining peace. Governments and civil society increasingly recognize this; however, the core challenges remain. Structural barriers are limiting the participation of young people and their capacity to influence decision making.”
Peacebuilding: an ongoing process
Global Peace Foundation International President James P. Flynn noted that any peace process can be highly complex. Peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and peacemaking, he said, are each distinct stages in the process of moving from conflict to peace. Peacekeeping is typically intervention in conflict, separating hostile factions, or policing a conflict zone. Peacemaking involves a negotiation of grievances to reach a settlement. Peacebuilding refers to efforts of all levels of society to improve human security, address root causes of conflict, and strengthen resilience and cohesion within communities and society at large.
“That’s why this forum emphasizes the interconnectedness of peacebuilding and education,” Mr. Flynn said. “Effective schools and education programs can empower youth with knowledge, skills and good character which then can contribute significantly to strengthening peaceful communities.
“In my view peace is not an end state but an ongoing dynamic process. Our lives, communities and circumstances are always developing and changing. There is always a new generation coming to the fore, with new ideas and facing new challenges. Peacebuilding should become our way of life and we should learn from each other.”
The forum also addressed national efforts to renew education in the context of the 2022 United Nations Transforming Education Summit in New York. Ministries of Education in partnership with the Global Peace Foundation have introduced new education frameworks to promote lifelong learning and the development of a host of skills to enable students to thrive and positively impact their communities.
Community and private sector involvement is critical for education to be relevant to the changing expectations of the workplace and society. Character, creativity, agency, interpersonal relations, transferable skills, and transdisciplinary learning are among the soft skills that the learning environment needs to foster and prioritize.
Countering extremism through social media
The forum also brought focus to the growing influence of social media among youth and the associated risks of radicalization.
Shana Kemp, a Managing Partner of Greene Street Communications, identified four things that come together to make a terrorist: “a group, an ideology, social support, and whatever is inside the individual. Nowadays social support appears on your telephone. You can be searching the Internet, and you can suddenly jump right into a group where everybody endorses, following a terrorist ideology. Everybody says you’re going to be a hero.”
Social media can also promote “a culture of nonviolence and encourage positive behaviors,” said Cat Lockman, the International Director of Organizational Development at the Global Peace Foundation and portfolio director for GPF’s efforts to counter targeted violence and terrorism. “Media is a positive tool for peace building. By providing education and information about warning signs, risk factors, resiliency, and resources available, social media campaigns really can help individuals and communities identify and prevent potential acts of targeted violence.”
Another session examined some of the approaches adopted by leading peacebuilding organizations to evaluate program effectiveness. Panelists shared insights on lessons learned from measuring the impact of their peacebuilding programs and underscored the importance of a more evidence-based approach to peacebuilding.
While there are multiple evaluation approaches adopted by peacebuilding organizations, said Shaziya DeYoung, a researcher of Learning and Evidence at Alliance for Peacebuilding, “one constant element are indicators and measures of success. Irrespective of the evaluation type, you do have to ask questions that inform whether your program has met its objectives and its outcomes: Is it impactful? What are some of the failures and challenges?”
Another panel addressed the impact of political violence or targeted violence and the lasting wounds of survivors, families, and communities. Exploring ways to move beyond these traumatic experiences could not be more relevant across the world today, said session moderator Sallie Lynch, Senior Program and Development Consultant at Tuesday’s Children, which supports victims of mass violence. “More than 350,000 people have been killed in global terrorism since September 11, 2001,” she said. “More than 10 mass shootings are happening per week in the United States.”
The session included moving testimonies of survivors—a young man who as a youth lost his father at the Pentagon attack on September 11, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, a parent who lost his daughter in a mass shooting, and an Indian woman who lost her father to street violence.
The deeply personal stories expressed the lasting pain after physical wounds healed, which one survivor described as seeing “colors that just weren’t colorful anymore,” and another as a sense of dislocation, of confusion and loneliness.
Programs like Tuesday’s Children provide survivors and families with resources, skills, and connections that bring hope and an assurance that no one walks alone on the long road to healing and resilience.
The two-day Peacesharing Forum also included workshop-style training to support safety and security in schools, the workplace, and community. The training brought focus to potential threats as well as proactive steps that can support shared values and responsibility for peaceful engagement. Participants earned a certificate after completing the professional development workshop.
Learn more about Global Peace Foundation’s work to raise awareness to recognize and prevent targeted violence and terrorism.