The year 2020 brought about unprecedented challenges as governments, institutions, communities, and individuals tried to grapple with the devastating effects of the global health crisis. The ability of societies to resolve challenges and conflicts peacefully has been put to the ultimate test. Preliminary reports suggest that globally we will see a recession of socio-economic development leading to a deterioration of Positive Peace. At the same time, the pandemic has showcased tremendous resilience and collaborative actions that give hopes for a more peaceful future.
It was also the year when I became an IEP Ambassador. At the time of completing of the IEP Ambassador Program I was in Mexico City, teaching Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey. Naturally, I wanted to integrate the knowledge gained from the Ambassador Program into my course.
At the same time, I was thinking of ways I could bring in discussion of ongoing pandemic into our now virtual classroom. The research findings and framework tools provided during IEP’s webinar series allowed me to design a special presentation for my students revolving on the issues of peace, negotiation, and the application of Positive Peace framework in our daily lives and negotiations.
My final project for the IEP Ambassador Program became a teaching tool at the university and I observed firsthand how the concept of Positive Peace and the tools developed by IEP can change attitudes and assume responsibility of those young people who will be vital in constructing a more peaceful society in Mexico and at large.
For peace negotiations to succeed, negotiators need to address more than the issues dividing the parties; they need to address the context of the conflict, the conflict structure and then broader system of society and governance within which the conflict is embedded. This requires a deep understanding of the concepts of negative and positive peace.
The presentation I created for my students used the main tools developed by IEP including the Global Peace Index, the Positive Peace Index and the Pillars of Positive Peace. The Global Peace Index and Positive Peace Index were used during the presentation as a way of convening the above concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. Since the presentation took place in a Mexican setting, special attention was given to the results of Mexico Peace Index 2020.
Conflicts represent complex systems, therefore conflict resolution and negotiations require a systems thinking approach. Resolving conflict requires building understanding around vital issues, problem solving and creating actions that can positively influence the achievement and maintenance of peace. Here, IEP’s eight Pillars of Positive Peace were introduced as an analytic tool that can be used in process of identifying causes of conflict and working collaboratively toward actions for peace, as seen in the examples of Sinaloa (Mexico) or Philippines.
The Pillars of Positive Peace can be used to make sense of the changes and challenges in the world we live in and our place in it. In this particular project, the goal was to put students through the practical exercise of using the eight Pillars of Positive Peace to analyse, from a personal perspective, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their lives and to identify positive actions and areas of opportunity for each of the eight pillars.
The most interesting findings related to the following Pillars of Positive Peace:
Students identified their university as a governing institution. Within the positive measures and actions taken by the university, they identified the switch to online learning as a positive measure to flatten the curve. At the same time, they identified other deterring actions, namely lack of funding opportunities or dismissal of a number of instructors. Students rightfully identified that these areas pertain not only to the pillar of well-functioning government, but also equitable distribution of resources.
Good Relationship with Neighbours
Students identified actions like creating local community Facebook pages or WhatsApp groups to facilitate services or goods exchange as a positive action. However, they noticed a deterioration in the relationships among habitants of their communities based on ethnicity or use of facemasks. They also noticed how these actions also speak to other pillars such as sound business environment and acceptance of rights of others.
Sound Business Environment
Students mostly identified deteriorating factors within this pillar as they witnessed their parent’s income or job security being threatened by the pandemic. They also noticed the struggle of people who live day to day selling food or goods on the streets and their inability to make a living during the pandemic. On the positive side, they noticed the increase use of e-commerce among older generations and the possibility for them to enter e-commerce market more easily than the traditional one.
High-Levels of Human Capital
Students recognised that the ability to take online classes allowed them to continue their education and develop their skills and competences. However, as many students were graduating this year, concerns about employment or internship opportunities were heightened.
Free Flow of Information
Students identified the use of technology among local communities to disseminate important COVID-19 related information, like the emergence of WhatsApp groups that circulated the number of cases in their community and information about preventive measures. On the other hand, they also identified how social media was oversaturated with opposing information that contributed to anxieties and uncertainties.
Acceptance of Rights of Others
Students recognised that pandemic has brought their communities closer in some respects and estranged them in others. There were numerous examples of positive community actions. For example, helping elderly with grocery shopping as well as displays of the negative attitudes toward people who wear facial masks or members of different social groups.
Education is embedded within the High Levels of Human Capital pillar, and also within the notion of Positive Peace as attitudes, institutions, and structures that enables peaceful societies. Creating those attitudes, institutions and structures and a paradigm shift in understanding and interacting with peace starts with education.
As an educator and a peacebuilder, it is my responsibility to ensure that young people develop a holistic culture of peace and recognise individual, socio-economic and political implications of their own actions and actions of other actors. It is also my duty to ensure peace is seen not just as eternal ideal but as practical one, that can create environment for all humans to flourish. Learning how to resolve conflicts in a productive and peaceful way must be an integral part of any school curriculum.
The experience of the Balkan conflict during my early teenage years prompted my interest in understanding the root causes of conflict and ways in which societies can be transformed to achieve social justice. This led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in law, with emphasis on human rights and a master’s degree in peace and justice, with an emphasis on peacebuilding.
During my master studies I was introduced to the work of IEP and the importance of quantitative research for peace. My own master project used statistics to describe the relationship between social innovation and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. A short article describing the main findings was published in IEP’s editorial Vision of Humanity. Not surprisingly, I was thrilled with the possibility to engage with IEP on a deeper level through the Ambassadors Program and become part of a global network of peacemakers.
Jelena Starcevic undertook the IEP Ambassadors Programme in 2020.
This article is part of a series showcasing the work of graduates of the IEP Ambassador Programme, an online course providing the knowledge and tools to foster peace. Are you interested in becoming an ambassador for peace in 2021? Sign up to express your interest in the program here.