“I had plans to leave Iraq, but now I realized I need to stay; I have to be an active member in my society; escape is not a solution”.
-- 20-year old university student targeted in Mobile Youth Team Project
On January 22nd 2012 NCCI held its final “Youth Build Peace” Conference to encourage a stronger policy debate on the advantages of integrating a community-based peace building approach throughout the country. Held in the Iraqi Parliament in partnership with UNOPS and the Parliamentary Committee on Civil Society, it represented the more formal, tried-and-true, elements of the program, at the intersection of policy makers, international donors and Civil Society leaders from a cross-section of Iraqi NGOs. Among the NGOs were representatives from each of the 44 organizations that came together to create, with NCCI, the “Peace-Builders Network” to design and implement the peace-building initiative which came to be known as the “Youth Build Peace Project”. However as important as its formal close, was the creative approach the Peace-Building Network took towards the project before it arrived at the Parliament’s door.
Among the essential principles agreed upon by the members of the Peace-Building Network was the desire, to bring youth into the role of partners in implementation of peace-building projects, rather than simply targets thereof. The second was the emphasis placed on non-traditional activities in peace-building. Use of non-traditional activities resulted in reaching a higher number of beneficiaries than originally forecasted-- 6,252 in total. It also facilitated the first principle of fostering youth leadership in peace-building, since youth participants designed many of the activities that took peace-building beyond the limits of conferences and workshops alone. The balance between formal training and non-traditional approaches was reflected in the distribution of the Campaign’s 85 diverse activities: 27 artistic activities, 9 athletic activities, 5 capacity building programs followed by 30 workshops, 2 major conferences and 11 miscellaneous activities including televised and radio-broadcast events.
Participation with the Authorities
The importance of maintaining channels of discussion with relevant authorities is a reflection of the urgent need for a better legal environment to support peace-building efforts, especially the ones related to women's rights, minority rights, etc. These changes can be facilitated by a strong partnership between active civil society organizations, community leaders, and motivated authorities. The discussion in Parliament aimed at bringing together these actors, who included policy makers (7 Parliamentarians, a Minister and 7 other Ministry Representatives, and 2 members of local government) and 55 representatives of Civil Society, as well as 2 Donor agencies, 2 Embassies, 4 INGOs representatives, 1 UN agency, and 2 journalists.
Background on the Peace Builders Network
Since 2004, NCCI coordinated numerous peace building activities. In 2004 and 2005 NCCI organized conflict resolution trainings. In 2008 and 2011 NCCI implemented two civic education campaigns on peace-building and reconciliation. In 2006, 2009 and 2012 NCCI organized 3 sizeable conferences on peace-building and reconciliation.
The present NCCI activities aimed to promote the principles of peace-building at the national level via a coordinated and coherent campaign of civic education and peace-building activities carried out by local civil society organizations. NCCI invited a number of its and UNOPS’ partners from across Iraq to participate in this project among whom 44 NGOs were selected based on certain criteria such as the NGO’s mandate, notably broad existent expertise in the peace-building field.
The 44 NGOs agreed upon the necessity of coordinating future peace-building efforts and therefore established a network for the purpose called the “Peace Builders Network” (PBN) to jointly implement a peace building campaign in partnership with NCCI. The project team agreed to form a joint committee with the network to discuss the proposals for the campaign strategy put forward by Network members to be approved for funding. Particular attention was paid to areas heavily affected by violence and the Disputed Territories.
Through the work of the Peace Builders Network, coordination, information sharing and teamwork between key stakeholders at all levels of the peacebuilding process occurred. Horizontally, CSOs and youth activists created a written database of reports on existent peacebuilding work and challenges at an individual province level. They also established shared experiences, a formal enduring forum, and unified vision for the coordination of peacebuilding work across communal and provincial lines used during the program but maintained beyond it for future use. This is evident in structures as elaborate as the 18-province wide, 44 NGO member enduring PB Network structure and as simple as collaborative Facebook groups between activists in different provinces working under unified slogans, established during but also continued after the campaign.
Vertically, the output of community-oriented Civil Society participants moved beyond the local as well to reach key decision makers. A simple example among many was the development of a documentary film by a youth demonstrating a youth group’s perspective on peace building in their area. This was then screened at the parliament linking the youth’s perspective and the parliamentarians. At the completion of the conference present MPs expressed their support not only for the continuation of the peacebuilding efforts, but also their desire for greater personal coordination with CSOs on the subject, indicating the official’s own buy-in to the CSOs work as a result of acquiring clearer presentation of the role of civil society in, and its contribution to, peace-building and national reconciliation.
However this is an effort that must be ever renewed through the perpetuation of innovation in approaches to inclusive peace-building, and an emphasis in coordination of work between CSOs, community and authority leaders through networks like NCCI’s Peace Builders as well as other local and national forums. Without out, the momentum of work like that of the PBN will be lost.