What it means to talk about conflict


Amy McGoldrick


Alliance’s readers chose How should independent philanthropy engage in contexts of conflict and crisis? as its poll winner – an interesting choice, as an estimated 110 conflicts rage across the world.

This fishbowl session was the only one to be added by the Philea team directly; with all that’s occurring in our time, ‘we strongly felt that we could not have an event on philanthropy and trust without having a conversation on this issue,’ said Delphine Moralis, CEO at Philea.

First to speak was Patricia McIlreavy, President and CEO at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. ‘The scale and frequency of natural hazards is increasing – conflict is often driven by the need for land, economic needs, so the more we are pushing communities into dire straits with natural hazards, the more you’ll see additional conflicts.

‘We don’t know what the word ‘unprecedented’ means anymore. Every year we’re breaking records, we’re saying something is unprecedented. Until we do something, we’re going to continue to face the same challenges every year – more people on the move, more conflicts happening.’

Humanity needs to be the driver, argued McIlreavy, not strategic or geographic focus. Her points of action to the room included:

  • Discard silos – look at common purpose and collaborate
  • Go deeper in your programming
  • Let communities drive the solutions themselves
  • Cede leadership space
  • Be open to working differently
  • Embrace and allow for failure

‘Risk exists,’ said McIlreavy. ‘We will never have a risk-free programme, there will be loss, there will be challenges, but you can ask for the organisation that you work with to do everything in their power to mitigate, report, stop and report it when it happens – and to feel that you’re a partner in that, not that they have to hide it from you.’

Next to speak was Inna Pidluka, Deputy Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine. 24 months after the full-scale invasion by Russia, 15 million people are internally displaced, ‘and for many of them there is no home to go back to.’ 1/3 of the GDP is also gone.

‘It’s a very traumatised country,’ added Pidluka. ’70 per cent of them need mental health support, most will never recognise they do. There’s a lot of resilience.’

Assisting this resilience throughout has been civil society. It has ‘played a tremendously important role, coming in immediately and responding when no other support was happening. There was a lot of volunteering, a lot of self-realisation, a lot of giving. We have a whole new culture of giving. We saw unprecedented growth of trust in Ukraine – unconditional trust. 80 per cent of people trusted volunteers to help, trusted civil society organisations and trusted governmental institutions.’

What’s been discovered now, as Pidluka puts it, is people’s need for people. ‘They really need to be able to connect with peers and do things for themselves, and for their communities. People need to be able to have some resources so that they can connect.’ Reconstruction and recovery strategies have been powerful, ‘because it gives them a perspective of the future. It gives them control of their lives so they feel they are doing something.’

Anas Darkaoui, Civil Society, Partnerships & Engagement at Asfari Foundation, is Syrian but works in London. ‘We haven’t changed since 7 October, by default we’re focusing on thar region and we’re committed in the long run. But we keep learning, and collaborating with others. We’re always to share what we’ve learned, what works, what doesn’t work, and learn from others.

‘Burnout is real. We are based in London and we are traumatised, let alone the people we are working with.’

Next to speak was Catriona Gourlay, Executive Director of PeaceNexus, who broke down what it takes to fund in conflict-affected regions:

Be conflict-sensitive
‘To be conflict-sensitive is to understand the context, understand the impact on you and your impact on it, and then act on that understanding over time. When you look at your context where you’re going to be funding, the first thing I’d say is to put yourself in it. Everybody tells you what the conflict, the actors, the issues, are – but how are you perceived in that and what relationships are you going to be able to influence and build on? That’s an often-neglected part and important.’

Enable your partners
‘If you’re seen as only being allied with one group, or one side, that impacts your perception and who you can work with. ..It’s [also] about giving space throughout the process. Funding inception phase: even before you’ve got a project proposal, so they can really do the consultations, and the reflections, give space for it; meet with others that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to, or incentivize adaptation, encourage adaptation.

‘How do you make sure you have champions within your grantees who can facilitate difficult conversations? Internally and externally. How can you design a process – where people want to run, where everything is urgent – how can you slow down and prioritise when that’s absolutely against every instinct you have?’

One of the last voices spoke up on a subject that had not been as discussed as much as I thought it would be. ‘Many of the really excellent examples to philanthropy’s response to various conflict and crisis situations… are simply not applicable in Gaza, in Rafah. We can’t build civil society when we’re still pulling children’s bodies from the rubble.’

They continued on that there were two things philanthropy could do more of:

‘We’re so proud as a sector of the influence that we hold and the expertise that we have, but I don’t see examples of people standing and demanding governments for a ceasefire, demanding a ceasefire, and demanding that they stop selling arms to the Israeli government.

‘Secondly, when we think of our endowments, and where that money goes really matters and makes a huge difference, almost more than anything else that you can invest in. It’s incredibly important to think about where endowments are being invested, because if you’re funding arms to any government, then particularly if you’re investing in companies like BAE Systems, then you’re bankrolling genocide. So I’m surprised that that hasn’t come out.’

This commenter had agreements throughout the room, and sparks hope for a louder, bolder philanthropy to begin emerging.

Amy McGoldrick is the Head of Marketing, Advertising and Events at Alliance magazine

Tagged in: PhileaForum2024

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Fostering dialogue, sharing insights, and coordinating efforts across the philanthropic sector can enhance the effectiveness of disaster response and conflict mitigation.

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