To summarise Arundhati Roy, if you want to domesticate a movement, fund it.
Based on our experiences working with local peacebuilders, here are some suggestions of practical action to ensure funding and partnerships can lead to increased effectiveness and real change.
Do not overlook existing systems:
Effective community-led processes for conflict prevention, crisis response and reconciliation already exist in communities around the world. We need to find what is already working and sensitively and appropriately find ways to strengthen and support it.
Ensure initiatives are locally owned and led:
Gaining access (or potential access) to funds can mean local groups propose things or do things with funding and projects in mind, rather than doing them based on the opportunities and needs of the context. We need to change this. When initiatives are driven locally and adapted for the context in which they will operate, peacebuilding is more effective and sustainable.
Take smart risks:
Risk aversion among donors has led to most grants going to a handful of INGOs. Working with local groups does entail a higher level of risk, but these potential risks should be measured against the large impact that small, low cost interventions can have in communities.
To share power means to let go, to hand over control and resources in such a way as to let local groups fully own and lead their work. The current set up favours international organisations and emphasises compliance and risk, which makes doing this properly very difficult. Sharing power and acknowledging the existing imbalances in the status quo are essential to break out of the hierarchical and neo-colonial aid system we have developed and to enable real change to take root. Funders, intermediaries and civil society groups must be aware of and responsible with their power.
Support transformative leadership of women and youth:
To ensure that ownership and leadership is genuinely going to benefit communities locally and that power will not remain concentrated in the hands of a few community or civil society leaders, transformative leadership by women and young people based on authenticity and representation is essential.
Facilitate participatory approaches:
In order to support genuine community-led peacebuilding, it is essential to facilitate flexible, open and inclusive decision-making processes which include diverse actors. Participatory approaches help to ensure that people’s agency and capacities are respected and that the power and resources channelled to local groups not only reach communities, but truly benefit them.
Build long-term partnerships based on trust and honesty:
Trust-based long-term partnerships are essential to local peacebuilders. Trusting partners is key, and important for power to be shared. Honesty is equally important so that issues can be raised and if there are concerns about the use of power and resources or alignment of values, then they can be surfaced, discussed and dealt with.
Local accountability ensures effectiveness and credibility:
Local accountability mechanisms can be much more effective than externally focused accountability because they ensure that initiatives benefit communities and that funds are used in ways which will have a positive impact locally. High levels of good practice, accountability and compliance can be achieved be engaging local systems and values.
Focus on holistic responses:
Local responses to community needs can be more holistic and attentive to diverse needs and tend not to be siloed between sectors in ways that outside efforts can be (e.g. humanitarian response versus development). Local responses are often more attentive to psycho-social needs, and provide ways to support communities both longer and more comprehensively.
Support informal groups too:
Informal community groups can have a different reach to that of formal organisations in responding to the priorities of local groups or in a crisis. In addition, community-based organisations do not have the costs of more formal organisations, enabling resources to be distributed closer to the ground. Providing different levels of funding enables holistic and effective atrocity prevention and peacebuilding.
Make co-design integral to programming:
Working with partners to design programmes is an invaluable approach. It is important in order to jointly own the process, and so that power can be analysed, understood and unequal power dynamics mitigated against.
Invest in trust-based long-term partnerships:
Long-term partnerships based on trust are fundamental for enabling peacebuilding processes, which are themselves inherently long-term. Working in partnership is not about funding arrangements, but about accompaniment, solidarity and playing the role of critical friend.
Base partnerships on joint principles – and hold one another to account on them:
As part of our partnerships we propose a set of principles to guide our relationships and joint work, and we encourage partners to also suggest principles from their side. This allows us to have a values-based framework for what we do together and how we do it.
Consider sustainability every step of the way:
Because we know that external financial support can render local organisations less rather than more financially sustainable, it is crucial to consider the question of sustainability throughout all programmes. Whether paying volunteers or giving participants daily allowances, we support partners to think through what makes most sense for long-term efforts for change in their context.
Be open to learning and unlearning:
The most important lesson of all is the importance of our openness to learning from the contexts where we want to support efforts to transform and resolve conflict. A big part of this is unlearning so much of what the aid system has taught us is the “right” approach.