Reflections and Learnings from the Inaugural CSP’s Global Peace Summit
May 14-16, 2018 – Kampala, Uganda
Written by: James Waruiru, 2016 CSP Fellow.
#SolutionsSummit #PeaceIsPossible #Peacebuilders
Community Solutions Program (CSP) is a program of the US Department of State, implemented by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). In May 2018, with the help of the United States Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, CSP organized its first ever global peace summit. The summit brought together global thought leaders in peacebuilding, violence prevention, and conflict resolutions. Set in the pearl of Africa, Kampala is a city rich with organic food and hospitable people and played a wonderful host to the event.
This article comes one month after the summit, having had the opportunity to reflect on the highlights that were born from the inaugural event. For all lovers of peace and cohesion out there, this article also aims to share the successes of the summit and create a space for dialogue. I believe this is crucial, as the subject of peace is so vast, and so huge a task as peace creation is achievable only through concerted action. With a huge number of applications from CSP alumni since the creation of the Program in 2011, selecting participants was a grueling search of ‘first among equals’. The Summit brought together 33 global peace activists from every part of the globe, from Africa to the Pacific, East Europe to the Caribbean, and the United States to Asia. Also of great note, the summit was attended by representatives of Community Solutions Fellowship host organizations. These delegates are not only world-class instructors on peacebuilding for capacity building, but they are also experts in the monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding and conflict resolutions programs.
Since this was the very first summit organized by CSP, participants adopted the role of ‘solutions shapers’, and as such, they took on the significant challenge of molding what future Solutions Summits will look like.
Welcome to Uganda
The summit kicked off with a great welcoming speech from Megan Smith, the CSP team leader at IREX, who introduced the Summit’s expectations and goals. Susan Parker-Burns from the US Embassy in Kampala, which made this summit happen in terms of logistics and moral support, gave a rousing welcome to all participants and hailed the work done by IREX under US exchange program. She also praised the efforts of all solutions summit shapers.
Concluding this well-received session was a ‘welcome to Uganda’ speech by Sylvia Nankya, a renowned Ugandan radio journalist. A gifted speaker, in just 20 minutes Sylvia took us all on a virtual tour of Uganda. The comprehensive knowledge of her country and choice of words was impeccable, no one could have done it better! Sylvia’s sincere smile and warmth made us all feel very wanted at the summit and evoked an instant urge to go sightseeing. Many solutions shapers did just that after the conclusion of the summit. Indeed, Sylvia was not deceiving! Uganda is a beautiful country with a lot to see and do for fun.
Solutions Summit Kick-off
And now to start the summit off in earnest, Jessica Lane from IREX hosted a plenary session on guiding principles. From one speaker to another, solutions shapers committed to a ‘3 Cs’ guiding principle; Concern, Care and Consider. Concern ensures one thinks of the other before oneself; Care requires responsibility for the good of fellow participants; while Consider makes one respect and accommodate other participants, regardless of whether one agrees with their views and opinions. Concluding remarks stated that the solutions Summit will be a space of equals, fostering honesty, learning, and sharing.
Then followed ‘Ignite talks’ session, in which participants gave a 5-minute talk on their work. Speakers discussed their motivations, challenges, and successes. This was one of the highlights of the summit. Every ignite talk was unique and equally thought-provoking. Solutions shapers addressed myriads of issues that disrupt peace: elections violence, gender-based violence, corruption and other economic violence, gun violence and city gangs, LGBTQ related violence, boundary disputes, and cattle rustling, through to lesser-known Sorcery Accusations Related Violence. The challenges were immense, the approaches innovative and magnanimous and the results heartwarming. Heartwarming because all results proved #PeaceIsPossible! and all contributed a boost in Peace Dividend. Where countries and communities live in peace there is less spending on defense, availing funds for other use like education, agriculture, and infrastructure that have a direct impact on livelihoods.
Day-one concluded with awesome experiences and learnings from field visits. Visiting organizations that address children welfare, economic violence and gender-based violence issues in Kampala were extremely educational. We met people doing noble work amidst constant opposition from the political sphere and retrogressive cultures and beliefs. Their approaches and successes also proved that #PeaceIsPossible!
Day two was full of activities, but the crux of the entire Summit was in the capacity building workshops. Peacebuilding experts from host organizations and consultants led a series of workshops on strategic design and innovative approaches. Solutions shapers honed their skills in monitoring and evaluating peace and conflict resolution, the role of media in peacebuilding, community-based peacebuilding, the role of youth in peacebuilding and much more.
The iceberg concept
One of my personal take-ways from the summit was the ‘iceberg concept’ from a session on Restorative Justice facilitated by Jeffrey Weisberg from the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding in the United States. Just like the iceberg, our eyes only see the part of the iceberg above water, but the bigger part of the iceberg is submerged in water. Similarly, when there is an absence of peace we see wars, genocide, hate crimes, rape, people quarreling, Gender-based violence, etc. However, before the eruption of violence, there are so many indicators: there are ethnic tensions, disgruntled voices, murmuring, border disputes, fear & insecurity, poverty, tribalism, racism, disenfranchised groups, etc. All of these factors, just like an iceberg, are submerged to our naked view but are detectable with vigilance.
When a marine vessel spots an iceberg, they become more concerned about the submerged section of the iceberg than the visible section. For this reason, modern marine vessels are fitted with state-of-the-art technology that detects icebergs from miles away, with a particular focus on those that are completely submerged. When a ship hits an iceberg, it is in grave danger of capsizing or sinking, hence the pilots taking all possible precautions to detect distant icebergs and change course accordingly. Likewise, before violence erupts, all peace-builders should be vigilant in identifying any tipping points to violence. Early diagnosis would trigger actions to prevent violence…because prevention is far better than the cure!
Monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding
My second but equally important takeaway was attending the ‘monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding (M&E)’ workshop, facilitated by Jessica Baumgardner-Zuzik from the Alliance for Peacebuilding in the United States. To me, this training was invaluable, as it is an area in which my team and I are quite inexperienced. M&E is a vast and complex subject that holds great significance in peacebuilding and development work. It is what measures impact, detects which approaches work, and which don’t work. When M&E is conducted at the mid-level or early stages of a project it helps predict the results and impact.
M&E is important to the people running the project, the people funding the project and the project’s beneficiaries. But even though M&E is very important to a project’s success, most organizations do not conduct scientific M&E, frequently working with assumptions. Since assumptions are not factual they have a negative impact on the project’s lifecycle. However, most organizations do not work with assumptions from sheer ignorance; it is important to note that scientific M&E is expensive and complex. Scientific M&E can prove challenging from the collection of data, entry of data, interpretation of data and reporting. This is why being in this session meant a lot to many summit shapers!
Mentors and Advisors
Another great personal takeaway from the summit was connecting with experts in the field of peacebuilding, whom I have adopted as mentors. Special mention to IREX for bringing peacebuilding experts and practitioners like Andy Blum from the Kroc Institute for Peace at the University of San Diego, Jessica Baumgardner-Zuzik from the Alliance for Peacebuilding, Chris Stamper from IDEAS for Us, Benard Wakoli from the Yaya Education Trust in Kenya, and Jefferey Weisberg from the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding. These folks are not folks you would ordinarily meet. Some of these people, however down to earth, would be hard for me to meet in my daily life, so having these folks in my corner is a huge benefit.
I must also say that meeting and reconnecting with fellows from my 2016 fellowship year brought me much joy. It was great reconnecting with awesome leaders like Joy from Uganda and Ankit from Nepal. My joy was however made complete by seeing and chatting with my good friend Tamar from Israel and hanging out over drinks with my ‘brother from another mother’, Edgar from Zambia.
I was also very glad to make the acquaintance of other summit shapers from different fellowship years. The Solutions Summit gave me an opportunity to connect with wonderful leaders like Yvonne Akoth, a fellow Kenyan and brilliant thinker. We anticipate doing great work together toward building sustainable peace and addressing Kenyan election-related violence.
The final day at the Solutions Summit was a great mix of work and fun. This was also one of the most memorable days of the summit. Summit shapers broke out into different working groups, committing to continue working together after the summit to address different peace-building issues. Different groups were asked to collaborate on tackling issues spanning community justice and law enforcement, healing and reconciliation, community-based peace-building, media and peace-building, women and peace-building and more.
Of great importance, one of the goals of Solutions Summit was to create a space for sharing ideas and incubating collaborations: collaborations that would go beyond the summit, and this is again one of my biggest takeaways. I am part of a team of six outstanding leaders from around the globe: Kenya, Mongolia, Israel, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Papua New Guinea.
We have already begun the design phase of a project on Participatory Community Based Peace-building. The fun part is that this group is wholly committed to the completion of the project and subsequent roll-out of the fundraising plan. We have identified a team of advisers and have frequent virtual meet-ups to design a pilot project. The pilot will be executed in one country then expand to others in our stakeholder group. Despite the challenges, this group is very optimistic to realize its plans. You’d better watch this space!
Abel & Naomi’s Birthday
The gratifying part of the Community Solutions Program is the fact that it is very people-centric. The emotional intelligence of the IREX’ team is worthy of praise. Fellow summit shapers Naomi from Zambia and Abel from Liberia were surprised with a birthday cake courtesy of IREX. This also brought a welcome reprieve from the intensive group collaboration work as we gathered to celebrate and enjoy some cake and snacks. Seeing our colleagues so happy enchanted everyone.
To end the summit, summit shapers gathered in a large circle to reflect on the gains of the past events in the summit. The session also included an exercise where each summit shaper selected one colleague to appreciate or share positive feedback with. After providing the feedback, the recipient of the feedback threw a ball of string to that person and holding one end, the person holding the string would choose a different person to acknowledge. They then threw the string to another person and so on, ultimately creating one big web. The web was as intricate and fascinating as the people in the room. This exercise was very emotional; it highlighted beautifully the value of working together. It also signified how we are all important to one another and how our goals are interconnected.
Showcasing group designs
The last official activity at the summit was the one-minute presentation of the working groups’ designs. This involved showcasing the project design to distinguished guests invited from the US embassy in Uganda, the corporate world, media, and local development workers. This session also gave solution shapers the opportunity to learn about what other working groups were addressing, with the additional benefit of each group learning from the others and the ability to connect with one another.
Kampala by Night
IREX invited all participants to a night rich with formality and fun. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner and the rare opportunity to watch exhilarating cultural dances from every Ugandan community. Thanks to IREX, this night and the choice of the Serena Hotel as the host venue for the 2018 Solutions Summit made this business trip feel like both a vacation and an important break to summit shapers who predominantly work with meager resources in challenging environments.
My thanks to the IREX team that made this summit happen: thumbs up to Megan Smith, Jessica Lane, Thomas Laferriere, Nina Odura, Jackie Jena and those working behind the scenes like Julian Lopez. You guys rock!
Special thanks also to the US embassy in Kampala and the CSP organizing committee for the planning and logistical support. You are all gems!
Lastly, I’d like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to US exchange programs under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State and the generous American people who support many development efforts around the globe. May God bless America!