People Power for Peacebuilding

Annual Conference & ExpoNAFSA 2018 Registration

Each year, NAFSA's Seminar on Peace and Global Civil Society brings together educators and students from across the globe who share NAFSA's core belief that all individuals have the capacity to build peace. At the 2015 seminar in Boston, Melanie Greenberg, CEO and president of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, brought this view to life by providing six real-world examples of individuals working together to effect peaceful change in their local communities. These compelling examples remind us of the incredible power individuals possess when they come together to build peace.

Discussion of these examples might focus on:

  • How can we more effectively link local level peace activities to a larger, more strategic whole?
  • How can we talk about peace in ways that empower all citizens to act? How can media play a stronger role?
  • What kinds of educational experiences do college students need to prepare them to be peace builders in any professional realm they enter?

The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States
Begun in 2011, this initiative was as a key agreement between fragile states and their partners to change engagement policy and practices to combat the following:

  • 1.5 billion people live in conflict-affected and fragile states;
  • About 70 percent of fragile states have seen conflict since 1989;
  • Basic governance transformations may take 20-40 years;
  • 30 percent of official development assistance (ODA) is spent in fragile and conflict-affected contexts;
  • These countries are furthest away from achieving the millennium development goals.

This deal proposed key peacebuilding and statebuilding goals, focused on new ways of engaging, and identified commitments to build mutual trust and achieve better results in fragile states. A key component of this deal was to encourage citizens to work actively with their governments and with international aid donors by mapping their own fragility and by working with citizen-level indicators.

"Fambul Tok" in Sierra Leone
Fambul tok is Krio for "family talk," a form of engagement that emerged from the community reconciliation practices pioneered in Sierra Leone after the 11-year civil war. In Sierra Leone, this program helps communities organize ceremonies that include opportunities for confession, cleansing, apology, and forgiveness.

This ancient tradition:

  • Addresses issues within the safety of a family or community circle instead of having conflict be resolved by an outsider authority figure.
  • Brings together victims and perpetrators into a safe discussion space so that those involved can talk, heal, and to chart a new path forward together.
  • Understands reconciliation as a long-term process that requires involvement at the individual level by those in a community and the development of long-term support structures to ensure the rebuilding of trust.

To learn more, view Fambul Tok: A Film about the Power of Forgiveness.

5th Pillar5th Pillar
The 5th Pillar is an anti-corruption organization in India that empowers individuals experiencing corruption so that they "get services without bribery and live corruption-free lives." The organization created zero rupee notes that individuals can pay in protest to government officials who solicit bribes in return for services.

The organization conducts public awareness and educational campaigns around the country to empower citizens to resist corruption. Youth, particularly college students, are encouraged to actively participate and to become a part of the change through the organization's Youth Pillar programs.

Cure Violence
Cure Violence is an organization that believes that violence should be treated like a public health threat and handled at the individual level "by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms." This approach has been adopted in more than 25 cities in eight countries so far. A key component is the use of individual-to-individual mediation practices.

Common Space Initiative
After the civil war ended in Lebanon, public spaces became the product of political hegemony, and in turn became catalysts for greater social segregation. The Common Space Initiative for Shared Knowledge and Consensus Building was created in response to the need for informal, yet structured, dialogue between both civil and political stakeholders.

The organization provides a number of features designed to empower all stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue, including:

  • formal dialogue rooms;
  • a library with access to resources;
  • office spaces for research and human resources support for facilitating dialogue and;
  • a reception area for informal dialogues.

One unique feature is that the main conference table is designed so that no one position at the table privileges another. This initiative recognizes the power of individual citizens to become peacebuilders and mediators.

To learn more, view "Making Space for Peace in Lebanon" at

Mediation Work in Iraq and Syria
Greenberg noted that there were a number of individuals and groups working in Iraq and Syria to mediate in situations where trust has been broken. These groups have become a powerful bulwark against the encroachment of the Islamic State into the area. For example, Mercy Corps have been working to support the needs of displaced Syrians and Iraqis to strengthen the capacity of local governments to provide basic services and the foundation for a strong civil society. A community with a strong civil society will be better prepared to resist both the propaganda of the Islamic State as well as its military advancement. These groups all rely on the power of individuals to work together to build peace and mediate conflict.

To learn more, view The Power of Mediation" at

These six examples are powerful because they all link to larger regional and even global issues. As these examples become more widely known through word-of-mouth; official events, such as NAFSA's Ron Moffatt Seminar; and through the Internet, they have a snowball effect. Individuals can support these efforts from anywhere in the world. Individuals and groups can appropriate the practices into their own community peacebuilding efforts, educators can talk about them in the classroom or in the field.

NAFSA believes that international education advances learning and scholarship: fosters understanding and respect among people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives; is essential for developing globally competent individuals; and builds leadership for the global community.