Taking a positive peace approach in Colombia

Taking a Positive Peace Approach in Colombia

Michelle Breslauer, Director of the Americas Program at the Institute for Economics and Peace @MichBreslauer

When I first travelled to Mexico City with the Institute for Economics and Peace, I came seeking ways to contribute to a more peaceful Mexico. For the last four years, I have strategized to create a network of local organizations, experts and influencers. The primary goal of the network is to transform statistical analysis into a roadmap that will lead to a more peaceful future. Using my organization’s definitions, metrics and frameworks, the network has succeeded in doing this, and today we are actively contributing to Mexico’s conversation about peace. This same approach can be taken in Colombia, adding a great deal of value to that country’s current space of opportunity.

Taking advantage of the cessation of conflict in Colombia can open a crucial space for innovative and participatory strides towards peace. As Colombia’s President Santos declared last week, the “end of war is a unique opportunity to strengthen institutions and to reach more remote regions of the country that were affected by violence.”[1]

How do we understand what actually moves a society towards higher levels of peacefulness? Peace is often considered an idealistic extreme or a function solely of government and military actors. The Institute for Economics and Peace, well-known for bringing a quantitative approach to the study of peace through the annual Global Peace Index, is advancing a radical framework to structure and understand the factors that drive peace.

The Institute has pioneered the empirical analysis of the attitudes, institutions and structures of more peaceful societies, or what is known as “Positive Peace.” Positive Peace identifies related, but distinct factors from Negative Peace (defined as the absence of violence or fear of violence). Through an empirical analysis of over 4,700 different indices, datasets and attitudinal surveys, eight factors have been identified as associated with peaceful environments:

  • Well-functioning government
  • Sound business environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources
  • Acceptance of the rights of others
  • Good relations with neighbors
  • Free flow of information
  • High levels of human capital
  • Low levels of corruption

Our research shows that countries with higher levels of Positive Peace are less likely to slip into major conflicts, are more likely to experience less violence, and are better equipped to bounce back from internal or external shocks caused by economic conditions, societal disagreements and natural disasters. Well-developed Positive Peace represents the capacity for a society to meet the needs of citizens, reduce the number of grievances that arise, and resolve remaining disagreements without the use of violence.

Importantly, what this framework does is points to actionable areas for discussion and investment across various stakeholder groups, including government, private sector, and NGOs. It helps organize a discussion around prevention and peacebuilding.

How has Positive Peace started to move from theory to practice? Let’s go back to the Institute’s work in Mexico. We’ve worked to bring our approach of measuring Negative and Positive Peace to Mexico through the Mexico Peace Index. The Index takes our peace metrics to a deeper level, analyzing Negative Peace across the 32 states of Mexico over the past decade. We used our data expertise, established methodological frameworks and built a committed network of advisors within Mexico to ensure that this Index takes into account specific country dynamics. This includes applying the eight factors of Positive Peace at the state level to statistically identify stronger and weaker pillars and leverage Mexico’s potential to reduce violence. Across the three editions of the Index, common findings are that Mexico must lower corruption and improve the justice system, and that the states that have stronger civil society actors have been better able to increase peace. Working with our local network, these findings begin to come to life as the conversation moves from hard security approaches to preventive investments.

By presenting and defining issues of violence and conflict in terms of Positive Peace, we’ve been able to see the transformational power across a number of countries, for instance:

  • Positive Peace places the focus on the attributes and capacities of a system so that we can better understand what works. A key element of this research is to provide access to the best and most impactful policies and programs for positive impact. In the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, the Positive Peace analysis is being used to guide workshops with IEP, Consejo Cívico (civic council), and the governor’s office to reduce violence.
  • Positive Peace has significant convening power. Particularly in contexts where discussion of violence and corrupt governance institutions may be polarizing, speaking in terms of Positive Peace has allowed for a neutral space to varied actors to come together. We saw this recently in Zimbabwe where the National Peace Trust organized a Positive Peace workshop that brought together representatives of the ruling party, opposition parties, and civil society aligned with both sides of the political spectrum.
  • Positive Peace reflects a system, bringing expansive thinking. This framework takes us beyond a narrow-minded security approach to violence reduction in order to help understand how co-operation can be mutually beneficial. Positive Peace can break stakeholders out of their silos of practice; because of the inter-relationship of the eight factors, impacting one can serve as a pathway to developing another. Further, the factors have more than just policy implications, allowing for various groups – from media to youth to government – to see their role in building peace. In Uganda, Rotary International is working with IEP and the International Peace and Security Institute to convene youth leaders for a two-day workshop and commitment around Positive Peace.

What does this mean for Colombia? In terms of Positive Peace analysis, the Institute for Economics and Peace is working with the Colombian organization Fundación Ideas Para la Paz in hopes of producing a Colombia Peace Index, at the department and territory level. Working with a local partner to build a network is key. More importantly, bringing a Positive Peace approach to policy-makers, civil society, social innovators, and researchers can be a powerful tool to help shift the conversation around Colombia’s peacebuilding trajectory. Igniting discussions about how the eight inter-related factors of Positive Peace are reflected in the particular national and cultural context of Colombia can lead to new collaboration and innovation, leveraging the existing peacebuilding momentum.

[1] http://es.presidencia.gov.co/noticia/160707-Fin-de-la-guerra-es-oportuni…

About SIX Series on post-conflict societies

In the run to the Summer School in Colombia 2016, we developed a blog series on social innovation and peace building. How has conflicts shaped social innovation cultures across different places? What is the post-conflict legacy?

Introduction to SIX Series on post-conflict societies #1: To read Eddy Adam’s introduction to the series, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #2: For the first blog in the series, written by Eddy Adams and Gorka Espiau on the Basque peace process, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #3: For the second post, click here to read Al Etmanski’s piece on innovation and the indigenous population of Canada. 

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #4: For the third post, by Michelle Breslauer on positive peace approach links between Mexico and Colombia, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #5: Click here to read Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana’s blog on little actions that bring people together. 

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #6: To read an extract from Adam Kahane’s book entitled Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #7: To read Michelle Herman’s blog on how small communities can address traumatic past events, click here.