During this year’s Geneva Peace Week, the Conducive Space for Peace (CSP) Initiative chose to host an “accelerator”, inspired by the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) Accelerator. We brought together five multi-stakeholder teams, each composed of a mix of international and national actors working on innovative practices to support peacebuilding in conflict-affected areas.
The idea of an “accelerator” originally comes from the world of startups and social innovation. These are processes designed to fuel and advance high-potential business initiatives in a short and concentrated amount of time. They offer design support, connections, and mentoring in a high energy, focused, and collaborative environment. Generally focused on teams of people called “cohorts” rather than individual entrepreneurs, they are often linked to an investment fund.
When we first had the idea of using the “accelerator” label for a peace-oriented process, I was not convinced it would be well received. I thought “accelerate” may be a great verb for technology and energy transitions, but it won’t be deemed appropriate for the peace space, where more common words include “facilitate”, “enable”, “empower” and so on. But as we tested the idea, the feedback was positive. The freshness and energy of the concept was welcomed, and so we went ahead.
Teams in the Peace Week accelerator addressed complex issues:
- Enabling locally owned sustainable youth-led dialogue platforms in targeted/conflict-sensitive locations in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Linking local digital innovation in peacebuilding with elite mediation efforts to enable broad and deep participation in high-level peace negotiations on Syria;
- Placing the local population at the centre of the peace-building system in Mali through systemic action research;
- Supporting and accompanying young female peace leaders in playing effective roles in peace building (in South Sudan, Liberia, Nepal).
- Facilitating change in the international system of support to local peacebuilding efforts (advancing the CSP initiative itself).
We designed our accelerator process specifically to the peace-building space, so that it moved iteratively between cohort time, cross-cohort time, plenary time, and individual reflection. We worked successfully on both the “outer dimensions” of strategies, tactics and intervention design, as well as the “inner dimensions” related to leadership, values, assumptions, and mindsets.
Accelerating by Taking Time
We did end up struggling with the word “accelerator”. Not just because it was unfamiliar and unpalatable, but because it became increasingly clear that much of the transformation that is sorely needed in the domain of international peacebuilding support requires us to, if not slow down, then to take time. This was a recurring theme among many of the questions we asked ourselves during the accelerator: How can we accelerate “localization” and “ownership” if we don’t take time for people to speak in their own language? How can we understand the context and roots of a conflict if we don’t take time to listen to people’s stories? How can we develop strong partnerships if we don’t take time to build genuine, trusting relationships? How can we create long-term systemic impact if we can’t stay involved beyond short-term projects? How can we sustain a national dialogue process if we don’t take time to understand the incentives for people to stay engaged? How will our meetings and conferences make a difference if we don’t take time to convene the right people?
Despite these questions we didn’t throw the word “accelerator” out the window. This is because the larger transformation that the CSP initiative stands for does need to be accelerated. There is an urgent need for an international framework for peacebuilding support that is better at sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict than what we see today. There are international commitments and rhetoric in place, but the process of bringing these to life is too slow. The idea of acceleration paradoxically felt uncomfortable and extremely accurate at the same time.
What became clear to us is that accelerating this kind of systemic transformation is not about rushing, running, pushing, hyping, and delivering more of the same in a shorter amount of time. It requires presence in the here and now to notice when we are reinforcing problematic procedures and reenacting problematic habits. As one of the participants in the CSP accelerator noted, leverage for change is like a doorway that opens up in front of us and closes again if we don’t take the opportunity it presents. We have to be present to notice it.
Noticing – and Taking – Opportunities for Change
The CSP accelerator was designed as a “purposeful detour” – a way for us to take time as a team to gain clarity, find leverage, access creativity, build relationships, and design strategic actions. Such a detour enables us to come at our challenge from a different place, not a place of habitual reaction and ticking boxes, but a place of awareness, courage, and deliberate choosing.
This reality – that accelerating systems-level change requires taking time in the here and now – applies beyond the peace domain, to other areas where we are essentially addressing 21st century problems with 20th or 19th century approaches. Transitions towards more sustainable business, to decarbonized economies, to new approaches in health and education all involve shifting habits and breaking cycles of reaction. The experiment of doing a peace “accelerator” simply turned up the volume on this phenomenon. I would do it again.
Conducive Space for Peace (CSP) is a collaborative partnership that explores how to effectively promote sustainable peace and bring about institutional change in the international system of peacebuilding support. It works through supporting new and innovative ways of collaboration among international stakeholders in international peacebuilding and development financing and organizations at national and local levels. It gathers evidence and catalyzes new ways of working to support peacebuilding and to shift from rhetoric to new practice.