Everyone has the potential to be a peacebuilder. We all have the capacity, as individuals and as members of communities, to learn about and contribute to the resolution of conflict and the development of a more peaceful global society.
For NAFSA, this guiding principle inspired the development of the NAFSA Seminar on Peace and Global Civil Society, a signature event and a community of practice where international educators and peacebuilding experts gather to explore complex, timely topics, and to discuss how international education can reach its full potential for peacebuilding.
At the 2015 seminar, Melanie Greenberg, JD, president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, challenged participants to consider how their international education programs are preparing students to engage critically and constructively with the new forms of power that are available to them to participate in peacebuilding. Greenberg noted that the space for individuals involved in peacebuilding has opened up significantly over the past few decades, providing unique opportunities for students to become involved in the process. No longer relegated to official diplomatic endeavors, peacebuilding has become the responsibility of every individual.
Greenberg shared with participants that there are currently over 1 billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected states. She also noted that there are currently 13 million refugees, many from these conflict-affected areas. As conflicts spread beyond national borders, they have implications for everyone on the planet. Refugees seek asylum in less hostile environments. Supply chains are disrupted and resources are destroyed, leading to potential shortages or surging prices in everything from energy to food to chocolate. Cross-border conflict also leads to cross-border crime and related violence, often escalating the situation. For example, those engaging in illicit arms trade often expand operations into drugs and human trafficking. As seen in Mexico, Libya, and Honduras, this escalation of illicit trade can be accompanied by an increase of violence and terrorism.
As citizens of an interconnected world, we all have the responsibility to build peace wherever we can. For some, that may involve getting involved in hashtag campaigns on Twitter (e.g. #Ferguson, #ArabSpring, #BringBackOurGirls, #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies). For others, it may involve running for local office, donating funds to peacebuilding organizations, engaging in purposeful cross-cultural dialogue (e.g. The Olive Tree Initiative), or any number of activities that promote the building of a world that is characterized by individuals who are able to work constructively together to address issues equitably and collaboratively.
However, in addition to the new ways that violence can grow, Greenberg emphasized the new ways for peacebuilding activities to grow as well. Citing Moisés Naím, from The End of Power, she pointed out that traditional power structures and relationships are being recreated by what Naím calls revolutions of more, mobility, and mentality. Technologies like Facebook and Twitter allow like-minded individuals to connect with increased frequency, often crossing national boundaries in pursuit of common causes. Although this shift has tremendous potential for positive social change (e.g the Arab Spring, increased pressure to crack down on human rights abuses around the globe), it also has the potential to facilitate great violence (e.g. ISIS recruiting from Western countries, Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof being encouraged by white supremacists in Europe).
Greenberg concludes that in order for students to engage with these new forms of power, they must be prepared with the abilities to think critically, build relationships, and engage in cooperative dialogue with people from all over the world. Throughout the Seminar, participants discussed how international education can provide students with the opportunities to practice these skills both at home and abroad. Participants engaged in dialogue about ways educational programming can help students learn about the interconnectedness of their lives with the lives of others around the world, and provide opportunities to have difficult conversations and to become actively engaged in building peace through awareness and possibly advocacy.