By Cathyrn Meurn
It is that time of year again, where those students who have completed their studies don their graduation hats and gowns. We listen to speeches urging us to follow our dreams and make a difference in an impossibly hot room, waiting to walk across that stage. For me, I’m actually included in this year’s crop of newly minted conflict analysts, resolvers and peacebuilders – and yet I don’t necessarily feel ready to resolve anything! How after two years of study and practice are we supposed to solve the world’s problems? At our ceremony, we were told that we are the vanguard, those set to repair the broken relationships in our world that inevitably lead to conflict. Our world is at a perilous time, and its up to us to help resolve its issues.
Whoa – that’s a lot of pressure! It’s an intimidating prospect, especially having been told by our mentors for years that we won’t make any money, jobs are limited, and that having a family life will be next to impossible. But that’s exactly the problem, because we start to believe it. We live in a world where people look at conflict as insolvable, and the data doesn’t do much to help. We know that most conflicts, particularly over the past ten years, are reoccurring – ones that have lied dormant, only to reignite. As we attempt conflict management and settlement processes, searching for answers, we reflect knowing that conflict costs more than just lives. Conflict causes food shortages and famines, increases infant and adult mortality, pushes large numbers of internationally displaced persons to other countries and regions – all of which costs money and wreaks havoc on our global climate. All of which refuels the exact cycles of conflict we seek to mitigate.
But that is where we come in, the next generation of peacebuilders. We are the ones that grew up with the CNN effect, have mastered social media, and the ones that see the intricacies and the systems of conflict and institutions with which we need to work from within, around and ultimately disrupt. The ones that understand, that we cannot do this work pro-bono like some of our mentors have suggested. No, I don’t think so. This is our passion and our work. We understand that we need to unlock the business models that underlie resolving conflict.
If according to the Global Peace Index 2012, the economic benefit would have been an estimated US $9 trillion if the world had been completely peaceful in 2011, there is no reason we can’t learn how to turn a profit in our field and fund the projects that result in long-lasting and sustainable peace. It won’t be easy, but we need to be able to “sell” what we do. We need to learn how to weave stories together that induce empathy and cause for action, along with a savvy business and management sense – all the while not loosing our morality and values in the process. We also need to learn how to share our tactics, theories and techniques – they are not ours to keep but ours to impart to anyone that will listen. Most of all, we need to learn how to get people to listen and not think that we are some liberal hippies.
There is a lot against us in achieving our goals and aims for a more peaceful world. Take for instance the funding structures that exist within the realm of international development. Conflict itself is hard to measure, let alone proving that our conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) theories and associated projects work. Therefore we need to harness new technologies and branch out from traditional forms of monitoring and evaluation. We also need to show the intricacies, and learn to communicate them with clarity and not a sense of dismal doubt – but rather excitement and a knowing that we can make a difference.
As organisations compete for funding, and the competition is intense, we need to collaborate and work together – and not just within our field. Corporate businesses are not dirty partners and making money is not a bad thing. Government isn’t all bad, and organisations such as the UN albeit bureaucratic are not failures. After all how can one achieve anything complex without having different skills sets and knowledge at the table, and the money with which to actually do the work? Communication, sharing of resources and information, along with cross-sector collaboration are key strategies that need to be finally implemented, instead of just highlighted in reports.
This is always the job of the next generation, to see the gaps and work intently to fill them. When we reach maturity, a new crop of issues will have emerged in which we will look for a set of fresh minds, uninhibited by what their mentors, and the world says. I myself am not quite sure how to set about changing the gaps my fellow colleagues and I have identified, but the fact that we all see them and know that our methods and theories need to evolve is something of a step forward itself.
We must harness the power of positive psychology, and change the language of our field from “it’s hard”, to look at what’s worked and how we can replicate that. And perhaps the most important aspect is to believe that we can do what I’ve outlined. And that is something that the previous generations of peacebuilders have taught us. That although the world constantly progresses, there is always room to change the direction of our future. So as we take off our caps and gowns, and place them in the closet as keepsakes, let’s remember that we do have the knowledge and practice – along with a new perspective – to help repair the broken relationships in our world.
Cat Meurn is currently working towards the completion of her master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, she will be graduating in August of 2013. Throughout her research, Cat has focused on systems theory, complexity theory and the effects of transnational issues on conflict situations. Prior to this, Cat worked at the United Nations Foundation on various projects including the use of mobile technologies for health, disaster relief and conflict management. Coming from an international studies background, Cat has spent time abroad in various countries focusing on the politics of deeply divided societies. Her undergraduate degree is from Dickinson College in International Studies with a concentration in Human Security and Globalization.