6 young leaders explain how they're building a culture of peace through inclusion and participation

A white dove in mid flight: Inclusive peacebuilding strategies prioritize local actors and community perspectives.
Inclusive peacebuilding strategies prioritize local actors and community perspectives.
Image: Unsplash/Sunguk Kim
  • The past decade has witnessed a significant increase in violent conflicts, mainly driven by economic inequality, environmental degradation and geopolitical tensions.
  • For successful and sustainable peace agreements, it is crucial to adopt inclusive peacebuilding strategies that address equity and economic opportunities, involves local actors and prioritize the perspectives and needs of communities facing conflict.
  • Leaders from diverse sectors, such as the Young Global Leaders, can play a vital role in promoting participation, diversity and inclusion in peacebuilding efforts by leveraging their networks, expertise and backgrounds.

The past decade has seen a surge in violent conflicts worldwide, propelled by interconnected risks such as economic inequality, environmental degradation and geopolitical tensions. In 2022, a quarter of the world’s population lived in war zones, the highest number since World War II. Recent major tensions include the ongoing civil conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the violent clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, the invasion of Ukraine and the potential for renewed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The latest Global Risks Report warned that such conflicts will continue to threaten global security, with economic and information warfare expected to become more prominent in the next decade and new technologies redefining the nature of “warfare” as we know it.

In this context, the International Day of Living Together in Peace is an opportunity to reflect on the essential role that leaders across sectors can play in fostering peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. Beyond slogans and rhetoric, leaders must take concrete actions to address the root causes of conflicts to build lasting peace, which can be complex but possible at various levels of society.

This work may include promoting education and social programmes that support marginalized groups, creating greater economic opportunities and empowering individuals and communities to participate in decision-making processes.

In honour of this day and hope of informing the development of more effective peacebuilding strategies, we have asked six Young Global Leaders to share their learned lessons from addressing conflicts and peacebuilding in their respective sectors and beyond.

''Peacemaking needs to address structural grievances and be locally driven''

Ilwad Elman, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Elman Peace Center
Ilwad Elman, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Elman Peace Center

Ilwad Elman, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Elman Peace Center

Political leaders need to rethink the way they approach peacemaking. Traditional exclusionary political peace processes have failed to address the underlying structural and social factors (e.g. inequality, marginalization and religious tensions) that lead to conflict. Instead, they incentivize violence from excluded groups who wish to have their voices heard.

This situation has been observed in Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. In Somalia, we can see a clear gap between citizens’ peace aspirations and the political peace processes that have been tried and tested with little success over the last three decades.

Involving local and credible actors to address these structural grievances is crucial to prevent future conflicts. Trust, local buy-in and legitimacy are essential for successful and sustainable peace agreements, which require addressing the social and economic foundations of peace. Long-term and sustainable peace can be achieved by cultivating peaceful societies through inclusive peacebuilding that addresses equity and economic opportunities.

Roberto Patiño, Founder, Convive
Roberto Patiño, Founder, Convive

“There is no sustainable peace without inclusion”

Roberto Patiño, Founder, Convive

In my experience working in vulnerable communities in Venezuela for over a decade, I have learned that sustainable peace can only be achieved through inclusion. I have observed that the most affected groups by violence, usually women and young men of colour, have the necessary knowledge, incentives and desire to reach agreements that decision-makers may lack, especially those who benefit from conflict and polarization.

Therefore, leaders should facilitate participation by creating space for diverse voices, mobilizing communities to embrace cultural differences through new integrative narratives and providing access to technological tools such as the metaverse that lower barriers, such as costs, to broad inclusion in peace processes. By adopting a bottom-up approach to conflict resolution and promoting inclusion, we can create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

“Building bridges between development and foreign assistance is crucial for sustainable peace”

Alix Zwane, Chief Executive Officer, Global Innovation Fund

Inclusive and sustainable growth is a leading predictor for falling poverty, which has been linked to conflicts. However, in my experience, there’s often a gap between a country’s foreign assistance and development strategies. This disconnect can be a major obstacle to economic growth and can worsen poverty. We should therefore focus on supporting scalable, innovative and inclusive solutions that can bridge this gap.

For instance, as climate shocks become more likely, it is critical that we come up with innovative and cost-effective ways to support the resettlement and local integration of refugees and displaced persons, as well as contribute to peacebuilding efforts.

“New technologies should be leveraged for fair and community-centered peacebuilding”

Samuel Gregory, Executive Director, Witness

Samuel Gregory, Executive Director, Witness
Samuel Gregory, Executive Director, Witness

As a global human rights leader in technology, I strongly believe in centring communities facing conflict and their lived experiences in discussions about emerging technologies. To this end, initiatives like the “Prepare, Don’t Panic” campaign, which focuses on generative artificial intelligence, have been developed to prioritize the needs of individuals and communities facing harms such as misinformation, government surveillance and gender-based violence.

By ensuring these communities have a voice in shaping the actions and responses of technology companies and government regulators, we can create a more equitable and just future. It is crucial to prioritize the perspectives and needs of those most impacted by emerging technologies.

Muna AbuSulayman, Partner, Transform VC
Muna AbuSulayman, Partner, Transform VC

“Empowering trained women leaders in conflict zones is key to reducing violence”

Muna AbuSulayman, Partner, Transform VC

Although conflicts cannot be eliminated, supporting women leaders in conflict zones is an effective way to create an ecosystem where conflict is reduced and does not escalate into violent power struggles. Empowering these leaders with skills and resources allows them to participate in peacebuilding processes and advocate for non-violent approaches to conflict resolution in their communities.

Studies show that involving women in peace processes improves humanitarian assistance, prevents radicalization and accelerates the economic recovery of conflict-affected areas. Conflict can be managed and overcome; supporting trained women leaders with peacebuilding skills is crucial to achieving this.

Courageous leadership is needed to foster peace and stand against extreme identity politics”

Shahril Hamdan, Co-Founder, The Centre

Shahril Hamdan, Co-Founder, The Centre
Shahril Hamdan, Co-Founder, The Centre

In my experience working in politics and government, I have observed the attraction that extreme identity politics has for many individuals. This appeal may stem from deeper issues that create societal resentment. Nonetheless, a political strategy that intentionally divides and promotes suspicion can quickly gain momentum. That is not a new phenomenon, as history has shown countless instances of oppression and division.

What is evident is that selling bigotry is an easy feat. Therefore, it is crucial for public figures to take a stance against such extreme ideologies and to promote a counter-narrative, despite potential political costs. Leaders must have the courage to speak against ethnoreligious populism and present alternative visions for their local context.

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