Peace Education and Action for Impact: Towards a model for intergenerational, youth-led, and cross-cultural peacebuilding

By Phill Gittins

(Reposted from: Institute of Education: UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society (IOE), Peace Education Special Interest Group, 11 July 2022)

World BEYOND War (WBW) partners with the Rotary Action Group for Peace (RAGFP) to pilot a large-scale peacebuilding programme.

The need for intergenerational, youth-led, and cross-cultural peacebuilding

Sustainable peace rests on our ability to collaborate effectively across generations and cultures.

First, there is no viable approach to sustainable peace that does not include the input of all generations. Despite general agreement in the peacebuilding field that partnership work among different generations of people is important, intergenerational strategies and partnerships are not an integral part of many peacebuilding activities. This is not surprising, perhaps, given that there are many factors that mitigate against collaboration, in general, and intergenerational collaboration, in particular. Take, for example, education. Many schools and universities still prioritise individual pursuits, which favour competition and undermine possibilities for collaboration. Similarly, typical peacebuilding practices rely on a top-down approach, which prioritises the transfer of knowledge instead of collaborative knowledge production or exchange. This in turn has implications for intergenerational practices, because peacebuilding efforts are too often done ‘on’, ‘for’, or ‘about’ local people or communities rather than ‘with’ or ‘by’ them (see, Gittins, 2019).

Second, while all generations are needed to advance the prospects of peaceful sustainable development, a case can be made to direct more attention and effort toward younger generations and youth-led efforts. At a time when there are more young people on the planet than ever before, it is hard to overstate the central role youth (can and do) play in working towards a better world. The good news is that interest in the role of youth in peacebuilding is rising globally, as demonstrated by the global Youth, Peace, and Security Agenda, new international policy frameworks, and national action plans, as well as a steady increase in programming and scholarly work (see, Gittins, 2020, Berents & Prelis, 2022). The bad news is that young people remain under-represented in peacebuilding policy, practice, and research.

Third, cross-cultural collaboration is important, because we live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. Therefore, the ability to connect across cultures is more important than ever. This presents an opportunity for the peacebuilding field, given that cross-cultural work has been found to contribute to the deconstruction of negative stereotypes (Hofstede, 2001), conflict resolution (Huntingdon, 1993), and the cultivation of holistic relationships (Brantmeier & Brantmeier, 2020). Many scholars – from Lederach to Austesserre, with precursors in the work of Curle and Galtung – point to the value of cross-cultural engagement.

In summary, sustainable peace is dependent on our ability to work intergenerationally and cross-culturally, and to create opportunities for youth-led efforts. The importance of these three approaches has been recognised in both policy and academic debates. There is, however, a lack of understanding about what youth-led, intergenerational/cross-cultural peacebuilding looks like in practice – and specifically on a large scale, in the digital age, during COVID.

Peace Education and Action for Impact (PEAI)

These are some of the factors that led to the development of Peace Education and Action for Impact (PEAI) – a unique programme designed to connect and support young peacebuilders (18-30) across the globe. Its goal is to create a new model of 21st century peacebuilding — one that updates our notions and practices of what it means to do youth-led, intergenerational, and cross-cultural peacebuilding. Its purpose is to contribute to personal and social change through education and action.

Underpinning the work are the following processes and practices:

  • Education and action. PEAI is guided by a dual focus on education and action, in a field where there is a need to close the gap between the study of peace as a topic and the practice of peacebuilding as a practice (see, Gittins, 2019).
  • A focus on pro-peace and anti-war efforts. PEAI takes a broad approach to peace – one that includes, but takes on more than, the absence of war. It is based on the recognition that peace cannot co-exist with war, and therefore peace requires both negative and positive peace (see, World BEYOND War).
  • A holistic approach. PEAI provides a challenge to common formulations of peace education which rely on rational forms of learning at the expense of embodied, emotional, and experiential approaches (see, Cremin et al., 2018).
  • Youth-led action. Frequently, peace work is done ‘on’ or ‘about’ youth not ‘by’ or ‘with’ them (see, Gittins et., 2021). PEAI provides a way of changing this.
  • Intergenerational work. PEAI brings intergenerational collectives together to engage in collaborative praxis. This can help to address the persistent mistrust in peace work between youth and adults (see, Simpson, 2018, Altiok & Grizelj, 2019).
  • Cross-cultural learning. Countries with diverse social, political, economic, and environmental contexts (including diverse peace and conflict trajectories) can learn a great deal from each other. PEAI enables this learning to take place.
  • Rethinking and transforming power dynamics. PEAI pays close attention to how processes of ‘power over’, ‘power within’, ‘power to’, and ‘power with’ (see, VeneKlasen & Miller, 2007) play out in peacebuilding endeavours.
  • The use of digital technology. PEAI provides access to an interactive platform that helps to facilitate online connections and support learning, sharing, and co-creation processes within and between different generations and cultures.

The programme is organised around what Gittins (2021) expresses as the ‘knowing, being, and doing of peacebuilding’. It seeks to balance intellectual rigour with relational engagement and practice-based experience. The programme takes a two-pronged approach to change-making – peace education and peace action – and is delivered in a consolidated, high-impact, format over 14 weeks, with six-week of peace education, 8-weeks of peace action, and a developmental focus throughout.

Prong #I: Peace education

Prong #I consists of six online modules that cover a range of topics relevant to peacebuilding and sustainability, including: peacebuilding fundamentals; the role of youth in peace and security; systems thinking; war/peace systems; innovation, strategies, and processes for the abolition of war; cultivating and practising peaceful ways of being with self, others, and the world; non-violent direct action organising; and designing, monitoring, evaluating, and communicating peace projects.

As participants move through the six-weekly modules, they strengthen their peacebuilding capacities, while engaging with a global community of like-minded leaders. This is a community of practice online, where different generations and cultures come together in shared mutual spaces to learn from, dialogue with, and strategize for change with World BEYOND War experts, peer activists, and changemakers. Prong #I has an average workload of 3-6 hours per week, and a certificate of completion is issued to participants who finish all six optional assignments.

Prong #2: Peace action

After six-weeks of online learning and interaction, participants spend 8-weeks applying the knowledge, skills, and processes learned to take action on real-world challenges. The goal here is to support youth to transform abstract ideas into concrete practice. This is done by supporting young people to design, implement, monitor, evaluate, and communicate their own youth-led action projects, with the goal of making direct positive impacts on issues of peace, security and leadership.

As participants move from analysis to action, they bridge the age-old study/practice divide by engaging in the practice of peacebuilding, rather than just studying the subject of peace as a topic. At the heart of this work is the notion of intergenerational practice: young people work together with older generations, local communities, and stakeholders to learn more about an issue that they care about, and then take action to address this issue in practical ways. To widen the impact, participants devise strategies to engage ‘more people’, and ‘key people’, in their work (see, CDA, 2016).

Part II has an average workload of 3-6 hours per week, and a certificate of completion is issued to participants who demonstrate that they have worked in an intergenerational team to carry out and communicate a high-impact peace project.

Implementation of the PEAI pilot

In 2021, World BEYOND War teamed up with the Rotary Action Group for Peace to launch the inaugural PEAI programme. This is the first time that youth and communities in 12 countries across four continents (Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, South Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, USA, and Venezuela) have been brought together, in one sustained initiative, to engage in a developmental process of intergenerational and cross-cultural peacebuilding.

PEAI was guided by a co-leadership model, which resulted in a programme designed, implemented, and evaluated through a series of global collaborations.

  • First, by setting up a Global Team (GT), which included people from World BEYOND War and the Rotary Action Group for Peace. It was their role to contribute towards thought leadership, programme stewardship, and accountability. The GT met every week, over the course of a year, to put the pilot together. Weekly online meetings provided a space for critical inquiry, where the GT could explore and shape ideas together about the programme as to its purposes, process, and intended outcomes.
  • Second, by partnering with locally-embedded organisations/groups in 12 countries. Each country created their own ‘Country Project Team’ (CPT), comprised of 2 coordinators, 2 mentors, and 10 youth (18-30). CPT’s were varied (a mix of global North and global South countries) as were the individuals that made up the teams. Youth, for example, came from diverse backgrounds, with varied education experiences of peacebuilding: from experienced practitioners with a Master’s degree in a field related to peace, to those new to peace work. Each CPT met regularly from September through December 2021.
  • Third, by setting up a ‘Research Team’, which included people from the University of Cambridge Columbia University, Young Peacebuilders, and World BEYOND War. This team led the research pilot. This included carrying out monitoring and evaluation processes to identify, reflect on, and communicate the significance of the work for practitioner, academic, and general audiences.

Activities and impacts generated from the PEAI pilot

While a detailed presentation of the peacebuilding activities and impacts from the pilot cannot be included here for reasons of space, the following gives a glimpse of the significance of this work, for different stakeholders. These include the following:

1) Impact for young people and adults in 12 countries

PEAI directly benefited approximately 120 young people and 40 adults working with them, in 12 different countries. Participants reported a range of benefits including:

  • Increased knowledge and skills related to peacebuilding and sustainability.
  • The development of leadership competencies helpful for enhancing personal and professional engagement with self, others, and the world.
  • Increased understanding of the role of young people in peacebuilding.
  • A greater appreciation of war and the institution of war as a barrier to achieving sustainable peace and development.
  • Experience with intergenerational and cross-cultural learning spaces and practices, both in-person and online.
  • Increased organising and activism skills particularly in relation to carrying out and communicating youth-led, adult-supported, and community-engaged projects.
  • The development and maintenance of networks and relationships.

Research found that:

  • 74% of participants in the programme believe that the PEAI experience contributed to their development as a peacebuilder.
  • 91% said that they now have the capability to influence positive change.
  • 91% feel confident about engaging in intergenerational peacebuilding work.
  • 89% consider themselves experienced in cross-cultural peacebuilding efforts.

2) Impact for organisations and communities in 12 countries

PEAI equipped, connected, mentored, and supported participants to carry out more than 15 peace projects in 12 different countries. These projects are at the heart of what ‘good peace work’ is all about, “thinking our ways into new forms of action and acting our way into new forms of thinking” (Bing, 1989: 49).

3) Impact for the peace education and peacebuilding community

The conception of the PEAI programme was to bring intergenerational collectives together from across the globe, and to engage them in collaborative learning and action toward peace and sustainability. The development of the PEAI programme and model, along with findings from the pilot project, have been shared in dialogue with members from the peace education and peacebuilding community via various online and in-person presentations. This included an end-of-project event/celebration, where young people shared, in their words, their PEAI experience and the impact of their peace projects. This work will also be communicated through two journal articles, currently in process, to show how the PEAI programme, and its model, have potential for influencing new thinking and practices.

What next?

The 2021 pilot offers a real-world example of what is possible in terms of youth-led, intergenerational/cross-cultural peacebuilding on a large scale. This pilot is not seen as an end-point per se, but rather as a new beginning – a strong, evidence-based, foundation to build on and an opportunity to (re)imagine possible future directions.

Since the beginning of the year, World BEYOND War has been working diligently with the Rotary Action Group for Peace, and others, to explore potential future developments – including a multi-year strategy which seeks to take up the difficult challenge of going to scale without losing touch with the needs on the ground. Regardless of the strategy adopted – intergenerational, youth-led, and cross-cultural collaboration will be the heart of this work.

Author Biography

Phill Gittins, PhD, is the Education Director for World BEYOND War. He is also a Rotary Peace Fellow, KAICIID Fellow, and Positive Peace Activator for the Institute for Economics and Peace. He has over 20 year’s leadership, programming, and analysis experience in the areas of peace & conflict, education & training, youth & community development, and counselling & psychotherapy. Phill can be reached at: phill@worldbeyondwar.org. Find out more about the Peace Education and Action for Impact programme here: at https://worldbeyondwar.org/action-for-impact/

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