When at the beginning of 2001, I began looking for a way to contribute to the reduction of armed conflict, I had no background in that field. After a couple of years of educating myself on the subject, but not finding opportunities to take action that seemed likely to produce concrete results, I convened a group of 10 knowledgeable professionals to advise me as to what I might do to actually reduce warfare. After meeting five times over the course of a year, the group advised me to encourage and to assist local leaders to address local conflicts that threatened to lead to armed conflict. I have been following their advice ever since.
One of the group offered to lead a “test case” to validate the approach. We decided to address a problem in Guinea-Bissau, where national elections in 2005 were widely expected to lead to a resumption of the civil war that had occurred several years earlier. Without any formal organization, we convened a group of local leaders, who decided to launch a campaign for peaceful elections. They were completely successful – there was absolutely no violence and a peaceful transfer of government was achieved. The experience seemed to validate the advice I had been given.
In 2006, I convened an international group to consider how the successful project in Guinea-Bissau might serve as a model to be used elsewhere. That led to the formation of a new organization with a distinguished board and management. However, they were more interested in trying to build governmental institutions to achieve sustainable peace than to support locally-led peacebuilding. Its work in that direction appeared to be ineffective, so I withdrew my financial support and the organization eventually disappeared.
Fortunately, at about that time, I entered into conversations with a Purdue University dean who was working with local leaders to improve inner city communities in the United States. His approach was similar to that which had been recommended to me for promoting peace abroad. When we agreed to collaborate on a locally-led peacebuilding initiative, the Purdue Peace Project (PPP) was launched.
PPP identifies conflict situations in which violence is expected to break out or to escalate. It convenes representative groups of local citizens, encourages them to take action, and offers to help. The local group decides what actions are most likely to avert violence and then implement their plan.
PPP has addressed about a dozen potentially violent situations in several countries in West Africa and in El Salvador. The local “peace committees” convened by PPP have enthusiastically and aggressively acted to avert violence in their communities. In no case has violence erupted.
As PPP demonstrated the effectiveness of efforts led by local citizens, I, together with consultant Jessica Berns and others involved in locally-led peacebuilding, successfully promoted the formation of working groups in the Alliance for Peacebuilding and the Peace and Security Funders Group to develop and to promote that approach. The concept of relying more on local knowledge in designing and executing programs to prevent the outbreak of violence is gaining traction in the peacebuilding community. Clearly, local citizens are willing and able to lead peacebuilding activities in their countries and have an impressive record of preserving peace.