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Peacebuilding: the Global Local Challenge

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Conflict Resolution Institute

John Paul Lederach Visits DU

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Recounting his work and experience in Nepal during his CRI talk in September, John Paul Lederach focused on the process of conflict transformation at his talk in September, sponsored by the Conflict Resolution Institute. Conflict transformation is a practice that emphasizes the agency and capacities of local actors and communities in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, facilitating their potential to become leaders in peacebuilding. This is in contrast to typically practiced high-level political discussions and western-oriented NGO approaches that can dominate the conflict resolution field. Lederach argues that there tends to be a "vertical gap" between these upper echelon actors, and the grassroots communities that experience conflict, including Nepal.

Lederach's involvement in Nepal began 13 years ago when the civil war between Maoists and government forces was still devastating much of the country. In 2003, he accepted a peacebuilding grant from the McConnell Foundation to work within Nepali communities. Lederach's stipulation to initiate the project required that the Foundation commit to 10 years of support, and not tie their funding to quick results or the completion of short-term projects. This decade-long commitment allowed him and the organization the necessary time to reach a comprehensive understanding of the conflict and the context in which it occurred before moving toward change and action. The freedom and time that the McConnell Foundation allotted Lederach and his team would arguably pay off in the form of local conflict transformation in regions all over Nepal.

Many foundations and multinational agencies would consider Lederach's long-term, learning oriented timeframe a show-stopper since it directly contradicts the dominant project mind frame which organizations are used to using. These short-term projects fulfill organizations' need for concrete results to provide to donors, even if the outcomes do not truly benefit the community in the long-run. They are carried out without a complete understanding of the people and circumstances that engendered conflict. Although this result-centered approach is common, Lederach argued that it can be counter-productive, unsustainable and can exclude the community from the process.

The 3-6-3 Plan
From this frame of mind, Lederach proposed a "3-6-3" plan in Nepal, where the first three years were dedicated exclusively to deep discovery, learning, and deciphering how to approach the conflict. The learning process was not undertaken by asking experts, but rather by asking the Nepalese people for input and advice. Instead of intervening and using his expertise to impose ideas, Lederach knew that 'accompaniment' with local Nepalese was crucial to true conflict transformation and sustainable peace in the country.

To gather local perspectives and opinions, they began by sending out radio messages asking local citizens how they thought conflict could be resolved and how best to build peace in their war-torn country. Through the hundreds of pages that they received (many handwritten) broad themes arose that Lederach's team would eventually incorporate into their project. Namely, they realized that any approach to peacebuilding in Nepal should include women, microenterprise, and the arts or theater. These central themes, important to the Nepali people, may not have been present in a project that was implemented exogenously, as opposed to learning from within the country.

One of the helpful tools that locals revealed to Lederach's team was what he called 'User Member Groups'. These groups were a pre-existing infrastructure in Nepal that Lederach was able to utilize to initiate the project. Specifically, Lederach worked with natural resource user member groups, whose membership was based on the use of a particular natural resource, such as water. These groups were often directly affected by the conflict, since water, as with other natural resources, are often diverted for military purposes, or access inhibited as a result of collateral damage. Rather than starting from scratch, Lederach worked within this community structure to begin conflict transformation.

Lederach's second stage examined Nepal's local mediation network using the Participatory Action Research model. This model focuses on scale at depth rather than scale of breadth. Groups of 30 participants were divided into two groups; mediators and trainers. What he found was that while many mediators had not participated in extensive training sessions, the majority of the trainers, who were in charge of educating the mediators on how to mediate, were inexperienced at actually conducting mediations. This kind of exercise reflected an apparent disconnect between upper level trainers and the grassroots people handling mediations, and taught Lederach to trust the embedded facilitators in the community.

Healing Through Inclusion
The final aspect of Lederach's project was a trauma healing initiative, focusing on the inclusion of women, who he believed to hold unparalleled knowledge of the conflict's context, as well as the capacity and resources to provoke community action. The women were able to collectively begin a healing process of the traumas that had plagued their villages for years through mediation and storytelling, Due to Nepal's caste system and patriarchal society, women are often relegated to the sidelines of public life. Even more devastating, women who were widowed as a result of the civil war are shunned from their family and community. Despite the stigmatization in Nepali society, Lederach found that it was often these very women who became leaders in their communities and were viewed as pillars of strength by their peers. With this understanding, the life story project was born.

Women who had never been asked about their life, their struggles, thoughts or feelings, were asked to tell their life story to groups of locals. Many women were so unaccustomed to being asked about themselves that they would ask, "What is a life story?" or even "Where do I get one?" However, once the program started, it became obvious how empowering the process of telling life stories could be and the healing potential of sharing personal narratives with a group who could relate to their experiences. As a result of the life story project, women were given a voice. They were no longer "invisiblized" in society and could therefore work towards conflict transformation. The women's experiences became an agent to peacebuilding and change, rather than external peacebuilders coming in to implement it.

Lederach's project centered around the idea of transformative leadership, where Nepalese who were previously marginalized became legitimized and empowered to be the forces of change, and to ultimately build peace. This idea was emphasized in a personal story Lederach told of a Nepali man who he met through one of the user member groups. This man had been enslaved, and marginalized to the lowest caste of Nepalese society and yet, had become a leader and voice for peace in the community once given the opportunity through Lederach's project. The idea of allowing locals to be the agents of change, and focusing on the communities that experience conflict, rather than being dictated by grant funding and evaluations is how Lederach's project has become so successful.

-Caitlin Trent, MA '16