Alliance Breakfast Club: #Peacebuilding

Amy McGoldrick

Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) opened its doors and welcomed attendees to Alliance magazine’s latest Breakfast Club on peace-building on a bright summer’s morning. ‘I suspect there are a few of us who would say that we are not peace-building foundations,’ began Moira Sinclair, chief executive at PHF. ‘But in the June magazine, some of the characteristics that described the foundations and trusts working in this space – the need for coalitions of funders, a more nimble, asset-based approach, programmes that enable voice, advocacy and movement building, and flexible funding – those of us working in the social justice space will recognise those as core to the way we do business.’ Sinclair stated her hopes that this strong link between peace-building and social justice would result in more collaboration to come.

Barry Knight, secretary at CENTRIS, was this session’s chair. Knight was also a strong supporter of this issue, and a champion more widely of initiatives such as Foundations for Peace. ‘This issue was borne out of twelve years of frustration,’ said Knight. Foundations for Peace had held a meeting in Brussels many years ago, ‘thinking that philanthropists would like to come – and we found ourselves talking to ourselves. The area of peace-building is largely invisible to foundations.’

Sustainable peace is only achievable if it’s rooted in communities as well as being owned by the political decision makers.’

On the panel alongside Knight were Stephen Pittam, former trust secretary of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) from 2001 until 2012, and Celia McKeon, co-founder and coordinator of the peace-building network Rethinking Security and recently announced new chief executive of JRCT. McKeon also wrote in Alliance’s peace-building issue on national and international security. A third panellist was set to speak, Rasha Sansur, communication and resource mobilisation officer for the Dalia Association in Palestine. One of this issue’s guest editors, Sansur wrote two pieces, but unfortunately was unable to have her visa secured by the UK Embassy. ‘This is a signal for what it’s like if you live in Palestine, a conflict zone, and what happens to people,’ said Knight. On Sansur’s behalf – who was listening to the session via Skype – Knight told the audience that ‘there can be no peace without justice’. For Sansur and Palestine, ‘peace’ is problematic because they see do not see this as a neutral term. ‘Rasha,’ said Knight, ‘set out five key goals with this issue.’ These were:

  1. To illuminate the field of peace-building philanthropy with examples of practice;
  2. To bring some coherence to the diversity of funders, methods and approaches;
  3. To critique the peace industrial complex, because so much in peace-building happens in very rarefied, elitist circumstances;
  4. To explore the merit and value of community-based, rather than state-based approaches to philanthropy;
  5. Inform philanthropists and philanthropy practitioners about who they can partner with.

Before asking the panellists to speak, Knight noted that within this issue he surveyed the field. The results, he said, ‘show peace-building is a low priority, but increasingly social justice isn’t,’ noting that there is a new social justice framing of philanthropy which ‘simply wasn’t there fifteen years ago.’

McKeon was first to speak. Having started out in the peace-building field about 20 years ago, it then ‘quickly became very apparent that sustainable peace is only achievable if it’s rooted in communities as well as being owned by the political decision makers.’

Moving into a policy role, McKeon attempted to get the UK government to buy into this idea, and to encourage their support for peace-building processes. However, although there was a degree of success, her own experience suggested that beyond a few cursory departmental ‘buy ins’, often peace-building commitments were trumped by other concerns, including arms export, trade and geo-political alliances.

Peace-building can never only be about elite negotiations or even cross-community dialogue. It needs to be rooted in the needs of communities and in understanding the drivers of conflict,’

These were all explained under the guise of ‘national security’, explained McKeon, who noticed this dominant narrative even after she then moved into a grantmaking role. ‘It’s not just the narrative, but the policies that flow from it and the practices that work on the ground,’ continued McKeon. ‘These are actually some of the main drivers of global insecurity and some of the main causes of harm that we see in communities.’

Rethinking Security has been identifying and tackling three of the main, flawed assumptions contained within this narrative:

  1. Security can be achieved by extending or consolidating political and economic control and power for one group at the expense of another;
  2. Priority should be accorded to treating some of the symptoms of the problem (such as extremism, national terrorism) rather than addressing and tackling head on the deeper, underlying causes;
  3. Security can be achieved by extending control over particular territories or communities through military capabilities, super power alliances and restrictions on civil liberties at home.

For philanthropy, this means interlinking peace-building with the wider work of social justice. ‘We need to be connected to each other. Peace-building can never only be about elite negotiations or even cross-community dialogue. It needs to be rooted in the needs of communities and in understanding the drivers of conflict,’ McKeon explained.

For McKeon, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity for foundations, whose agility and ability to engage over the long-term and work at the intersection sets them apart from other actors. The challenge is ‘recognising that if you don’t get it right, you can do harm – and also waste your money.’ However, the opportunity is there to ‘understand how interventions that might be framed in terms of social justice more broadly, can contribute to the dynamics of peace-building.  Whether that is because they address the drivers of the conflict, promote inclusion, create a human rights framework – these are all important contributions to the wider process of building peace.’

Pittam was next to speak – ‘coming out of retirement’ after seven years to speak on his work with JRCT. ‘The mission of JRCT is to seek to transform the world by supporting people who address the root causes of conflict and injustice,’ said Pittam.

Having worked in the Middle East, Pittam spoke of toying with the phrase ‘balanced partiality’. This, explains Pittam, is where ‘you can’t be impartial to injustice, but you do have to think about how you can get a dialogue between two different sides.’ Pittam said this helped his perspective during a few situations where the whole concept of ‘peace-building’ presented real challenges.

Citing a review by the Berghof Foundation a few years ago, Pittam said he was amazed to learn that ‘80 per cent of money going into peace-building around the world was coming from European governments, and the UK government was the greatest contributor’. $419 million was committed between 2007 and 2014. However, following on from McKeon’s points, Pittam noted that so much of that money was going to states. Issues there include the money going to ‘restore the state’s monopoly of the use of force, strengthening law and justice mechanisms and the implementation of liberal rights and freedoms’. So much of this money goes into state building, argues Pittam, whereas the role of philanthropy should be in strengthening civil society.

‘But you can’t bridge capital unless you have strong foundations on either side.’

There are two areas within which JRCT was engaged in areas of conflict – South Africa and Northern Ireland. South Africa, explained Pittam, because the old Rowntree company had their factory there, from which the foundation got its dividends. ‘We were not convinced that the factory was playing a progressive role in the change which we wanted to see there.’ This led the trustees to make a commitment that the resources from this factory would go into peace-building in South Africa, which remained for fifty years.Northern Ireland was chosen as it is far closer to home. To this end, since the 1970s, JRCT has always had a program of work based in there. Based upon those programs around peace-building, Pittam drew three reflections:

  1. You really need to know the conflict. Here Pittam called for more philanthropic money to go to community institutions within the Foundations for Peace network, and also spoke of Peace Direct.
  2. You need longevity – ‘a bottom-up approach. The foundation of JRCT’s work in Northern Ireland was about community development, to think about what their problems were and how we might address them’.
  3. Foundations need to be adventurous – ‘we have the ability to do things that others can’t.’

Pittam recommended to foundations that they build social capital. For the first twenty years in Northern Ireland, he told the audience that JRCT were funding ‘single identity’ work to build understanding. ‘But you can’t bridge capital unless you have strong foundations on either side.’

Pittam also referenced a time when JRCT broke its own rules. The separatist organisation ETA came to the IRA and asked them how to start a peace process. The IRA in turn pointed ETA to South Africa’s Brian Currin. Currin then approached the JRCT, who told them that he could not do this without resources. Even though this was outside of their criteria, in the end the foundation made five grants. Currin was able to work in the Basque Country, and persuaded organisations associated with ETA that they had to have a political arm which was able to negotiate with the state. This led to ETA eventually declaring an unconditional ceasefire, and committing to the Mitchell principles of working only through democratic political means – ‘obviously other factors were at play, but it is a remarkable story for us in taking those risks’. Pittam also spoke about Alliance editor Charles Keidan’s own risk-taking as the former executive director of the Pears Foundation, which was touched on in June’s editorial piece.

Jane Thurnell-Read from Life-Work Potential Limited asked first, as she was interested in Pittam’s ‘balanced partiality’. Thurnell-Read understood how to be impartial, but less so how to be balanced. Pittam referenced Palestine in his response, asking ‘what is the role of peace-making there? You can’t take an impartial view, but neither can you ignore the perpetrator. You have to have some sense of engagement with both sides, otherwise you’re not building peace.’ Pittam argued that one of the dangers in peace-building is inadvertently reinforcing the ‘insularity’ of partners if you’re not careful.

Dylan Matthews, CEO at Peace Direct, asked how to take risks for peace. Matthews stated that systems – for example banking systems, politicians, government policies, and even our own boards – are becoming increasingly risk averse, and therefore much more restrictive. How then can we find the space to take risks?

‘We need to be open to doing our programming which breaks out of the silos we put ourselves in.’

Pittam agreed that it is a real dilemma, in particular for boards. However, he believed that ‘if philanthropy can be confident about its role, and if there was a real sense of solidarity within the foundation sector saying ‘this sort of thing is important’… you can’t break through on these issues without taking risks.’ McKeon responded that she begins her days acknowledging that she has colleagues around the world taking far bigger risks in extremely difficult circumstances. Citing her imminent position at JRCT, McKeon said that she will be asking where some collective action by foundations might make a difference through enabling risk-taking. Knight agreed that there is a ‘role for the collective in philanthropy’, including organisations such as the EFC, DAFNE and Ariadne.

James Logan, director of European Office at the Fund for Global Human Rights, stood up and said silos came to mind, and the work to be done to make the case about how peace-building connects to other issues, such as to the environment, to community, to land rights. ‘How do we facilitate this conversation?’ Juliet Valdinger, philanthropy consultant, suggested that one useful framework could be via the SDGs.

McKeon agreed that this could be useful. She also stated that whilst it would be ‘wonderful to persuade more philanthropists to have a peace and security lens’, it should also be turned around to foundations who work on social justice to have more of a peace-building lens. ‘We need to be open to doing our programming which breaks out of the silos we put ourselves in.’

Julie Broome, director of Ariadne, said that as a grantmaker she has experienced difficulties in keeping decision makers involved in long-term conflict situations where very little change can be seen over a short amount of time. Broome asked what the panel thought about impact and incremental change. McKeon responded that both herself and Puttam were involved in Northern Ireland through JRCT, and that it would not have been possible without the active participation of the trustees in the grantmaking process, sitting in on conversations. ‘There is no substitute for that… direct, tangible relationship-building which has built the commitment and passion for the work over time.’

Richard Reeve, chief executive at Oxford Research Group, said that defining terms to beneficiaries had been a challenge. ‘Conflicts are obvious, we need to do something about them, but conflict prevention is about making something not happen. Donors aren’t funding ‘the world’, so how can one make beneficiaries of the common good?’ Pittam responded that he had a critical view of how philanthropy tends to operate: ‘it’s moved over the last 20-30 years into knowing outcomes, and who the beneficiaries are… [philanthropy] doesn’t have to have a discourse at that level.’ Pittam continued that there are interesting conversations to be had about evaluation. For the JRCT, it was about ‘changing hearts and minds’, but how can this be evaluated? And over how long? ‘I don’t have the answers, I just ask why we do it? Independent funders, who have the freedom to not think about performance indicators?’

Alliance’s Charles Keidan was next to speak, relating back to Broome’s point about impact. Keidan suggested that perhaps achievements are always provisional in nature. Referencing the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) – ‘perhaps the US equivalent of the JRCT’ – he noted their ‘instrumental role on the Iran deal, which could be seen as a great achievement. But of course, the gains may be undone in the current situation. Does that mean that the investment made, the advances, weren’t important?’ Keidan also pointed to RBF’s Hope Lyons’ (one of this issue’s guest editors) article pointing to the ecosystem of players, and the need to think in a more lateral, less linear way about the gains we’ve made.

In closing, McKeon remarked that ‘when people come together to talk about a conflict they’re experiencing, it’s hard for them to separate this interconnect of government and justice… it’s hard to see how peace-building wouldn’t be connected between social justice, just because of what people are coming together to talk about.’ Just because the work is unpredictable, doesn’t mean it’s not important, or impactful.

Pittam’s final comments were on the importance of being a responsive grantmaker. At JRCT, ‘we weren’t doing the work ourselves, but we were responding to initiatives which we felt had the potential to make an impact.’ Pittam also reiterated that the role of trustees is to make engaged decisions in supporting others. ‘We need to have some sense that we’re getting somewhere, but I’m interested in the idea of liberation, rather than putting people through hoops.’

Amy McGoldrick is the Marketing & Advertising Officer at Alliance magazine.

The next Alliance Breakfast Club will be on ‘Human rights philanthropy’, Thursday 26 September at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). Registration will open in August – make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest information.

To listen to the full recording of the panel debate, click below.


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