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Scaling the Field means increased cooperation

Some conceptual remarks for ALLMEP's annual regional conference, "Unite the Field", Jerusalem May 31 2022

The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) is calling for its annual regional conference, bringing together all relevant regional peacebuilders. Under the title „Unite the Field“ ALLMEP attempts to bridge old gaps and reinvigorate a peacebuilding scene that has once flourished under the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 – and is now in a „crisis of organisation“.

It‘s easy to sit at home and announce a crisis. Peacebuilders in the Middle East are risking their lives daily, protesting the utterly unfair conditions that the Israeli occupation has created, providing safe spaces for peacebuilders to gather and connect, and to work patiently „below the radar“ to shift minds and hearts. It is so easy to dismiss these efforts and label them as ineffective. Who knows where we would be without all this heroism of peace?

The following considerations should therefore be understood not so much as a criticism of the work of peacebuilders. It is rather meant to serve as a reflection space: how do we need to organise ourselves if we want to have real impact? My answer to this question – and I’d be happy to discuss: we need to identify our collective crisis and perceive it as an opportunity for growth.

ALLMEP has rightfully announced a rallying cry: UNITE THE FIELD. By doing so, this large umbrella organisation is not only following its mission statement. It is also putting a finger in the wound of the field: peacebuilding in the Middle East is still by and large working along organisational boundaries. There are notable exceptions: the annual Israeli Alternative Memorial Day event is organised by the Bereaved Families Forum together with the Combatants for Peace movement, to name the most important annual event for Israeli society. Yet the impact that is needed to meaningfully shift public opinion towards taking bold steps towards peace can only be reached if we work more closely together than ever before. Too diverse and big is the task at hand to leave it to specific organisations, or to even compete for funds – though this is inherent in the current setup of the system of funding modalities. These considerations are therefore directed both at the peacebuilding organisations and at the funding bodies that are investing for peace in this region. This is a daunting task that requires investing all our energies on so many ends:

  • maintaining the momentum on the global advocacy level to influence the debate that is constantly in danger of tilting towards more violence, more military security instead of human security, of supporting either the security of the State of Israel OR support the Palestinian quest for an independent state rather than combining both;

  • gather and retain financial support for peacebuilding activities;

  • defend civic spaces that are constantly shrinking, through efforts from either right-wing activists or governmental activities, often in conjunction – a phenomenon that is visible both on the Israeli and on the Palestinian side;

  • organise public activities that show to the world and to the majority of the population that there is another way, that violence is rampant but that there are partners on the other side;

  • provide legal support to those who have come under attack by state organs or right-wing activists;

  • seek new members through public activities;

  • advocate for steps towards peace in the political realm;

  • organise small, patient, long-term dialogue groups that work under the radar, slowly but surely building the trust that is needed to move towards relationships on which peace efforts can grow; providing a space for an exchange of grief and frustration as a means to transform this energy into something productive;

  • build up leadership skills for community leaders that are ready to build relationships with the Other;

  • and so much more.

There are many organisations that tackle one or even several of these tasks currently. And there have been several organisations or movements that attempt to actually unite the field, either on the Palestinian side or binationally. Yet so far they were not successful and they probably won’t be. Why?

The field is currently divided. Competition is the norm, sometimes we even hear about corruption. Any entity that would attempt to meaningfully unite the field would most likely be met with suspicion: are you trying to catch more funds than us? Who are you to tell us what to do? Or: amazing that you do this, but we’re simply too busy with our stuff to engage. And so the field stays divided. Unity needs trust. And though peacebuilders have done amazing work in the field with their communities to build trust, the field of peacebuilders itself has ‚professionalised‘ itself to an extent that organisations are closely watching each other regarding their fundraising strategies. And this is all too natural. This is a function of the field rather than the fault of any individual organisation. If you want to secure funds for your organisation, you have to show your uniqueness. You have to show that you are independently able to administer the funds. Invididual actors or very small organisations – actors that might bring in alternative views or other valuable assets – are almost by definition excluded from the funding lines. David Allyn has coined the beautiful term „mission mirroring“ for this phenomenon: nonprofits tend to be amazing at whatever their mission is on the outside, yet internally, they fall for that very same problem they are addressing in their activities. For the peacebuilding field in the Middle East, this means: peacebuilders are not so good at dealing with conflict and building trust among themselves.

How can we address this?

If we are right in our assumptions that we need to scale the field, and that the appropriate strategy for doing so is enhanced collaboration between local peacebuilders and between local peacebuilders and funders, then we need to understand how best to do this. I would like to suggest three possible routes to pursue this: using existing models to better understand cooperation from the field of Organisational Development (OD); and radically shifting the mode of operation towards a more locally-led approach. As a third avenue, I would like to briefly introduce the Transformative Scenario Process (TSP) as an interesting way to bring together actors that might not agree with each other on a strategy.

1. Some insights from Organisational Development (OD)[1]

Organising peacebuilding is not effective. Nor is it efficient. Since the term was coined by Johan Galtung in 1975, a plethora of nonprofit organisations have been set up: the United Nations have created a „peacebuilding architecture“[2], and a myriad of volunteer movements and local nonprofit organisations are doing amazing work „on the ground“. Also, the field of peacebuilding has created so-called INGOs: International non-governmental organisations, with head offices in the Global North and country representations in conflict areas. These INGOs have access to funding lines in their home country and use these funds to administer their own structure as well as supporting the local peacebuilders. It has been criticized widely that the ratio between the self-administration costs of these INGOs and the sums that actually land in the budgets of local peacebuilders is disproportionate.

But which organisational models have actually „delivered“ on peacebuilding? And has the organisational structure that was involved in these cases had a fostering impact, or has it worked despite the organisational structure? How do funding lines need to be organised, how do we get the funds from its source to where the work is, how do the local implementers need to organise and who else is needed to ensure effectiveness and efficiency? Which alternative organisational models do we see in other parts of the world, in peacebuilding efforts at the local level – and can these be scaled? Maybe we need to stop funding organisations, and focus on movements or networks instead? These are only some of the hard questions we need to ask ourselves.

But beyond these questions – we know by now what it takes to forge successful cooperations between organisations, even when we do not start a revolution tomorrow. In order to better understand the specifics of cooperations, I am describing three success factors that the management model „capacity WORKS“ that has been developed for GIZ is currently using: steering structure, strategy, and managing cooperation.

success factor steering structure: In organisations, it is the leadership that is taking the big decisions, for example whether to cooperate or not. In cooperation systems between organisations, we need a constant negotiation process: is this still good for my own organisation? Or should we go our own way? This decisionmaking process goes back to one key question: can we better fulfill the demands of the field on our own, or does collaboration make us better in achieving our goal or pursuing our purpose? If leaders of individual organisations answer this question positively, then cooperation can be successful. In other words: cooperation needs intrinsic organisational motivation. This in turn can only be achieved when all cooperation partners have agreed on a steering structure that works for all of them. In cooperation systems, decisionmaking cannot be done through hierarchical leadership.

Success factor strategy: cooperation does not mean that the individual organisation becomes irrelevant. On the contrary: the cooperation should enhance the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole. This in turn means that the cooperation needs to focus on something very specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound – in other words, it needs to be S.M.A.R.T. The strategy should define clearly what is part of the cooperation and what not. Should for example local peacebuilding organisations come together to „jointly implement dialogue projects“, then this would probably turn out to be problematic, as this is the mission of each organisation individually. Should the strategy however define more clearly what each organisation’s role is, then the chances of success are higher.

Success factor cooperation. The cooperation between individuals from different organisations needs to be organised, managed and constantly nurtured – because this is on top of all the other work, and therefore is prone to be the first item to be deleted from the to-do-list. It therefore requires a very conscious choice of the leaders of the cooperating organisations to allocate appropriate ressources for managing and fostering that cooperation.

2. Shift the Power to locally-led peacebuilding!

The present system of competition in the Middle East peacebuilding field is largely a product of a larger system of international aid that is based on colonial structures with a clear divide between the funders in the so-called Global North and the local peacebuilders as the „recipients“ in the so-called Global South. This system is broken. It has produced dependencies that are not only unethical. They are also counterproductive to the very goal of peacebuilding: a longterm multitrack transformative contribution to social change, helping to create a just and sustainable peace beyond the narrow definition of a post-conflict period (this definition stems from Jean Paul Lederach). This social change cannot be defined, planned, implemented or measured by yardsticks that have been created thousands of kilometers away, in a completely different culture and surrounding. This social change has to come from within the societies, defined and measured by the societies. While the funding from the Global North is a neccessary contribution, and can in many instances be seen as a belated acknowledgement of wrongdoings from colonialist times, it needs to be channeled in a way to local peacebuilders that they themselves are able to decide how to spend it. After all, they are suffering from the conflict. Not the funders in the Global North.

Putting local peacebuilders in the driver’s seat is not the one-fits-all solution, however. In many circumstances, the dependencies described above have led to a system of corruption, to a „peace industry“ with new dependencies that suck energy and resources away from the original goal of peacebuilding. It is now a fascinating quest for peacebuilders from the Global North to find their unique way to contribute to local peacebuilding efforts. It can be described by using a spectrum between two extreme poles: „total control over outcomes / project management“ by Global North organisation / INGO and „no control over outcomes / accompaniment“ by the Global North organisation / INGO. Connecting to this discourse on the international level, for example through the impactful and inspiring work of the nonprofit organisation Peace Direct, would be a powerful way to improve cooperation on the local level. In the end, all local peacebuilders are connected in their need to end the dependency from the Global North.

4. Transformative Scenario Process[3]

Last but not least I would like to briefly present a method that might have the potential to overcome divides in this peacebuilding field. Transformative Scenario Process (TSP) has been developed and applied by Adam Kahane and is based on Scenario Planning, a method that is being used by large corporations to anticipate major disruptive changes or influential trends and thus outsmart competitors.

This method is in its essence quite simply a method of inviting people into a room who feel uncomfortable with each other, but who are nevertheless bound together by a shared history of conflict. The interesting twist here is that no one is forced to agree with anyone. This process is simply attempting to map out different possible scenarios of how the future could unfold – it does not attempt to level out different opinions. As Mille Bojer puts it: „Rather than external players assessing the situation as problematic from the outside, these problem owners are leading stakeholders who in their daily work are involved in and affected by the situation, and whose interests depend on shifting it“. The scenarios that are being developed can potentially be anything – based on four criteria: they must be relevant, challenging (e.g. illuminating blind spots), plausible, i.e. stakeholders must believe the scenario could happen, and clear, that is, distinct from one another. A fifth, „hidden“ criterion asks „What are the stories that need to be told?“, implying that in addition to the criteria above, the scenarios need to aim at „fundamentally shifting the rules, power structures, and mindesets towards a better future“. Conducting a Transformative Scenarios Process requires a significant amount of convening power, bringing together a diverse group. However, this does not mean that the convenor should be an outsider. While the process facilitators must at all times remain impartial, convenors who are themselves part of the conflict system add a level of trustworthiness that is invaluable.

Conducting such a TSP might serve as an eye opener for many actors – and can help foster cooperation.

By way of conclusion

Local peacebuilders in Palestine and Israel are challenged by the current lack of cooperation, rendering their efforts less impactful than they could be. Enhancing the level of cooperation could be achieved a) by more closely examining the specific organisational challenges of cooperation, b) by connecting the field to the Shift the Power discourse globally, or/and c) by conducting a Transformative Scenarios Process.

Together with the whole world, the Middle East peacebuilding field is at a crossroads: do we manage to overcome old patterns of division and short-sighted thinking and significantly enhance the level and intensity of cooperation? Or are we continuing to passively watch our range of options shrink by global crises unfolding? I am certain that we can use this current „crisis of organisation“ to grow, patiently and steadily, towards the best version of ourselves.

[1] The following is inspired by the management approach of GIZ, „capacity WORKS“. [2] consisting of Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) [3] The following thoughts have been inspired by the insightful article by Mille Bojer, Transformative Scenarios Process: how stories of the future help to trasnform conflict in the present (2018). Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation, online edition. Berlin: Berghof Foundation.

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