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Building Transformative Partnerships for Sustainable Peace

Following several decades of dominance by a liberal peacebuilding framework, which saw peacebuilding efforts around the world guided by international norms and led by external and primarily Western actors, there is a growing recognition for meaningful local ownership in peacebuilding.

Development and policy actors increasingly emphasize the inclusion in project design of local ownership, local capacity building, and inclusivity as prerequisites for funding. Local ownership is the outcome of sustained local leadership throughout all stages of peacebuilding processes, from inception to implementation.

Although the importance of local ownership is increasingly acknowledged, there remains a significant gap between the conception of local ownership and how it is operationalized by international actors.

Local ownership is essential for the credibility of peace initiatives with local communities and the long term sustainability of peace. Local actors bring in-depth knowledge of the context, the key conflict parties, and the local resources for peace; the reputation required to gain access to decision-makers, to negotiate, and to mobilize constituencies; and ability to provide follow up and long-term monitoring. On the other hand, international actors can bring significant financial and structural resources; the credibility needed to pressure governments and political actors; and the neutrality needed to convene safe spaces.

Experience shows that, given their complementary advantages, well-designed and well-managed partnerships between local and international actors can be more effective than unilaterally-led peace initiatives alone. However, inherent power asymmetries and the constraints of the donor-driven development system often undermine the effectiveness and mutuality of such partnerships. Equitable and inclusive partnerships with local actors requires an acknowledgment of power asymmetry as well as an intentional approach to Do No Harm. Transformative Peace relies on the following best practices and lessons learned when engaging with local partners:

Eight Ways International Actors Can Successfully Support Local Ownership

  1. Deploy participatory approaches and research that can identify a representative perspective of local peace and conflict dynamics, including of local actors and their capacities. International actors must ensure that partnership approaches do not unintentionally privilege one voice or ideology within a conflict setting, including moderate and elite voices that tend to be most accessible.

  2. Consult and listen to local actors on what their actual needs and challenges are. Research the local norms, practices and beliefs during the research and design phase. At times, a project has already been designed and local actors are consulted only during implementation phase, resulting in failure or disillusionment among the community the project was meant to benefit. A collaborative approach is needed that places engagement, empowerment and community engagement at the forefront. Local actors should strategically lead programs, with international actors offering support where needed.

  3. Ensure mechanisms for mutual accountability. Typically, local organizations are primarily accountable to international organizations through narrative and financial reporting. It is still uncommon for local organizations to have the ability to hold international actors accountable for their partnership contributions; however, some partnerships are moving in this direction.

  4. Design partnerships to take place over the long term. Partnerships should not be constrained by a fixed mandate and should provide adequate time and resources for capacity building. International actors should develop partnership plans that account for continued support to partners regardless of designated projects or grants.

  5. Encourage adaptation in programming in order to promote the autonomy of local actors. Conventional donor-led development structures tend to be inflexible and require high levels of bureaucracy, which do not allow for local actors to maintain autonomy nor respond to evolving conflict dynamics. Programs should be designed in a way that facilitates adaptability to risks and contextual changes.

  6. Commit to diversity and inclusion at all levels. Respect and meaningful communication needs to be built between headquarters and field offices that support local staff and their professional development. Amplify voices of those most marginalized.

  7. Develop standard measurements that track local leadership of peace outcomes, such as population surveys or outcome mapping. Such evaluation tools would allow international organizations to measure to what degree local partnerships are moving in the direction of full local ownership.

  8. Increase access to core and unrestricted funding and non-financial resources. Funding mechanisms tend to be short term and project-specific. However, local partners cannot operate sustainably without support to their core missions and staffing. When it is not possible to provide funding outside of a project framework, non-financial space, such as office or training spaces, can still make a valuable contribution to the long term sustainability of the organization.

5 Common Mistakes that Undermine Inclusive and Equitable Partnerships

  1. Selection bias. While international actors may be aware of the need to facilitate inclusive local ownership within their programs, the processes by which they do so are often biased toward groups with language skills or international experience or groups with a specific ideology. Such selection processes are often not inclusive themselves, and inadvertently enforce the cultural norms and interests of the international actor. Moreover, reliance on easily accessible local actors risks uprooting the initiative from its local context and disrupting--rather than facilitating--local ownership.

  2. Neglecting trust building. Sustainable, long term partnerships require trust, and international actors are often met with skepticism from local communities and organizations as being representative of foreign interests. Bureaucratic constraints from donor agencies and international development organizations further degrade trust. There is a need to build trust outside of the donor cycle.

  3. Instrumentalization. In fragile conflict contexts, there may be only a few local actors with the capacity to implement peacebuilding processes. When there is an excess of international funding and few local actors to absorb it, several of them may emerge as the sole recipients of international funds, even when the program goals are unrelated to the core strengths of the organization. International actors must avoid instrumentalizing local organizations and ensure that their collaboration is reflective of both organizations’ goals and capacities.

  4. Exacerbating Imbalances. When international actors have an incomplete understanding of the local landscape or prioritize high-capacity organizations out of a perceived necessity, they risk exacerbating exclusionary practices among local actors themselves and exacerbating the imbalances driving the conflict in the first place. Partnerships and local engagement must be conflict sensitive in order to avoid doing harm.

  5. Facilitating dependency. A common critique of international partnerships is that they are inherently asymmetrical because they facilitate the dependency of local organizations on external funding. Reliance on current or future funding might result in local actors making strategic calculations or following an externally-suggested agenda to ensure that they will still have access to funds. International actors must ensure that their engagement with local partners does not make funding conditional on specific project approaches and seeks to build autonomy outside of the grant cycle.


Transformative Peace Past Events

On June 22,Transformative Peace conducted a mainstreaming, training and capacity building workshop for practitioners in the field on how to integrate gender within development programs. During the month of July, Transformative Peace led a one week capacity-building workshop on gender mainstreaming with our long term partner, the International Organization on Migration (IOM). The workshop engaged local civil society organizations in Tangier and Tetouan, Morocco, and focused on deconstructing the social determinants of gender in relation to the socio-political context of northern Morocco.

Transformative Peace Executive Director, Dr. Houda Abadi, was the keynote speaker for the 2021 AIDL Diplomacy and Leadership Workshop. She spoke about promoting peace by creating inclusive communities built on the foundations of justice, equality and freedom.


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