Plenary session 2

Breaking Silos: A New Movement for Prevention?


After the first panel explored how global and regional frameworks, such as the Agenda 2030, can help enhance peace on the national and regional level and what the challenges of their implementation are, this panel went a step further and focused on prevention: How can we detect and strengthen existing capacities to resist violence and sustain peace? What kind of institutions, leadership and resources are needed? Finally: How can we support multi-sectoral, collaborative approaches, inclusivity and ownership in order to advance prevention before, during and after violent conflict?

Key takeaways

Addressing peacebuilding from a preventive perspective also requires rethinking traditional understandings and, thus, critically assessing our own role as part of the peacebuilding community. A fruitful self-critical dialog yielded the following points:

1. Rethink our approach and critically assess our own role

Although conflicts have been present for many years, peace building is in fact a fairly new field and discipline and, thus, still needs to be further delimited. Consequently, peacebuilders need to rethink their approaches and critically assess their own role in transforming conflicts and searching for peace. What is our part in “this mess”? Are we really bringing our story and our experience of the complexity of conflict in a systematic nature into the discussion?

2. Embrace the messiness of conflicts

Many of the terminology that the peacebuilding community employs fails to adequately address the complexity of conflicts. Instead of constantly trying to redefine outdated concepts, peacebuilders should move beyond the limitations of terms and frameworks and embrace the messiness of conflicts. In doing so, it also needs to be acknowledge that the past, the present and the future are inter-connected and they all play an important role in peacebuilding.

3. Develop a positive frame for peacebuilding

Instead of constantly reminding people how complex their situation is, peacebuilders should try to inspire them. Giving people a vision that it is possible encourages the building of alliances, helps setting concrete goals, and makes it possible to define ways on how to get there. It gives people something tangible to work on. Therefore, the focus should be more on “just, inclusive and peaceful societies” instead of “conflict prevention”.

4. Listen to the people we work with

Do we listen enough? Do we really hear what people want? We should not only talk about inclusion, but also listen to and learn from the people that are already contributing to sustaining peace. Meaningful inclusion does not begin with implementation, but with planning. Therefore, when designing projects and measuring progress, local people who know the situation should be able to define targets and indicators specific to the context. In the same way, inclusion should not stop once a program is designed or implemented. On the contrary, it is a continuous process.

5. Embrace the potential of the youth

Tired of being boxed into one category and being defined by others, young people are defining themselves. In doing so, they are transcending the boundaries of our typologies and inventing their own strategies. Peacebuilders cannot only learn from them on how to break silos, but also embrace the potential they present for sustainable peace. They are untapped resources with valuable innovative approaches, partnerships, peacebuilding tools and resilience. Give them a voice – Let them define targets in agendas!

6. Expand the focus to address structural violence and exclusion

The focus continues to be largely placed on physical violence, preventing other forms of violence to surface. Consequently, our understanding of prevention is largely based on the former and, rather than targeting the root causes of conflict, we are focusing on treating the symptoms. In this sense, the main problem that peacebuilders around the globe face is the struggle against structural violence and exclusion. Supporting resilient societies is crucial for preventing conflicts and building sustainable peace. However, prevention does not only happen in the Global South, but also in the Global North. In this sense, the SDGs provide a set of goals that state and non-state actors can aspire to and around which they can form partnerships and alliances. The key, however, is turning these agendas into achievable goals.

7. Think Justice with a big “J”

Justice should not only be understood as a set of institutions or the delivery of a series of services, but also as the lived experiences of injustice that encompass a much broader set of issues. Instead of talking about “Transitional Justice”, we should be talking about “Transformative Justice” – going beyond institutional reforms and thinking about justice as a transformative process.

8. Shift the focus from immediate action to prevention

Fighting the trend of narrow and short-term investments that prioritize ‘hard security’ and marginalize issues of exclusion and growing inequality will remain one of the most pressing tasks of peacebuilders worldwide. Financial resources have to be shifted from short-term and security-driven investments, to those that strengthen the resilience of societies to build a sustainable peace. To achieve this shift, incentives for preventive measures should also be considered.

Conclusion / Open questions

The Agenda 2030, the UN Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, the German Government’s Guidelines, among other international agendas, have opened a window of opportunity for the peacebuilding community. How this window is used, however, is up to us. To ensure that societies have the necessary tools to not only build peace, but also to prevent conflict from (re)emerging, it is necessary to keep the afore-mentioned points in mind, as well as to continue to constantly reassess our own role in “this mess”.


David Steven
Center for International Cooperation (CIC)/ New York University
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Dr. Emma Leslie
Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Cambodia
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Graeme Simpson
Interpeace, USA
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Natascha Zupan
Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt)
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The FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum is a series of events on current and overarching challenges and trends in peacebuilding. With the Peacebuilding Forum, we want to provide future-oriented impulses for the development of peacebuilding and strengthen the visibility and importance of the policy field in its entirety.


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