Accelerating conducive spaces for peace

By Mille Bojer

During Geneva Peace Week 2018, the Conducive Space for Peace (CSP) Initiative has chosen to host an accelerator at the SDG Solution Space. The accelerator brings together 5 multi-stakeholder cohorts working in conflict-affected contexts on innovative practices involving international-national collaboration on peacebuilding.

The idea of an “accelerator” originally comes from the startup world, primarily out of Silicon Valley.  When we first had the idea of using this word for a peace-oriented process, inspired by the Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) Accelerator hosted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, I was not convinced it would be well received.  I thought “accelerate” may be a great verb for technology and energy transitions, but it won’t be appropriate for the peace space, where more common words are rather “facilitate”, “enable”, “strengthen” and so on.  But as we tested the idea, the feedback was very positive.  The freshness and energy of the concept was welcomed.

What our accelerator has in common with the ones in Silicon Valley is that it is cohort-based rather than focused on individual entrepreneurs, that part of the value it provides is through connections and mentoring, and that its purpose is to fuel and accelerate a high-potential initiative in a short and concentrated amount of time.  It is however not focused on start-up businesses nor is it associated with an investment fund, and some of the ingredients of success are very different and tailored for the peace-building domain.

Our diverse group of facilitators from Reos Partners and Magenta Studios provide a structured learning and design process, while advisors offer customized content and tailored feedback for each team’s unique project. The process moves iteratively between cohort time, plenary time, learning sessions, and cross-cohort learning/feedback. The CSP Accelerator will help unlock opportunities for the cohorts to move forward more effectively, helping them to tackle their particular complex problems in an energetic, focused, and collaborative environment.

The cohorts participating in the accelerator are each composed of a mix of international and national peacebuilding actors working on complex issues such as enabling locally owned sustainable youth-led dialogue platforms in targeted/ conflict-sensitive locations in Bosnia and Herzegovina; linking local digital innovation in peacebuilding with elite mediation efforts to enable broad and deep participation in high level peace negotiations on Syria; placing the local population at the centre of the peace-building system in Mali through systemic action research; and supporting and accompanying young female peace leaders in playing effective roles in peace building (in South Sudan, Liberia, Nepal). Some of these initiatives are ideas recently brought into existence while others are collaborations that are well under way.

The cohorts each offer a partial and practical answer to the question: “What would an institutional framework for peacebuilding support look like that is better fit for sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict than what we see today?”  This is the question behind the larger CSP initiative, which grows out of the increased attention to how some practices of international engagement in conflict affected countries can have a negative impact, and a recognition of the need for new forms of collaboration on peace-building.

In this sense, the Accelerator needs to work on both the “outer dimensions” of strategies, tactics and intervention design as well as the “inner dimensions” related to leadership, values, assumptions, and mindsets.  In this sense, the CSP initiative offers a self-reflective space where international actors (including IGOs, ICSOs and bilateral donors) can ask themselves how they are part of the problem, and to creatively and in collaboration with national level stakeholders carve out feasible, effective, and sustainable ways forward.

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