Karuna Center for Peacebuilding

USA
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Karuna Center facilitates in-depth dialogue with deeply polarized groups, leads peacebuilding trainings, designs and implements multi-year programs, and consults on conflict analysis.

Karuna Center has worked in more than 30 conflict-affected countries since 1994, including the United States. We facilitate in-depth dialogue with deeply polarized groups, lead peacebuilding trainings, design and implement multi-year programs, and consult on conflict analysis. We work closely with local partner organizations and focus on building local capacity and peace leadership. Bridging diverse sectors of society, our programs foster successful collaborations among government, civil society, religious constituencies, and conflict-affected communities. Through these collaborations, our purpose is to reduce violent conflict, strengthen community resilience, and allow people to uncover their shared needs across deep divides. In some cases, Karuna Center program participants have founded new community-based peacebuilding NGOs and networks that remain strong forces for peace work today.

Our work within the U.S. includes organizing discussions and dialogues in Massachusetts, which gather community residents and local authorities together around themes to increase understanding and reduce obstacles to building more inclusive communities. In our second stream of US work, we facilitate confidential Washington DC-based dialogues--convening people from many sectors and ideologies--to advance climate change policy solutions.

Our current series of community discussions in Western Massachusetts is co-organized with Critical Connections (a Massachusetts-based organization). In 2018-2019, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding and Critical Connections are co-organizing the "Rehumanizing and Restoring Relationships" series to better understand what leads us to value certain communities over others, explore the social and political implications of discrimination, and discuss ways in which we can address historical injustices to repair and build community relations. We also continue to convene the "Building Inclusive Communities" series with Critical Connections, for which we hold sector-specific, half-day symposia during the December 2017-December 2018 period. Through these symposia, we will engage with various public sector officials and civil society groups to explore the role each sector can play to promote diversity, inclusion and pluralism.  

Our day-long symposium in Holyoke, MA in May 2018 (organized jointly with Critical Connections, with the League of Women Voters-Springfield) focused on improving understanding of the structural and societal factors that adversely affect relations between law-enforcement and communities of color. The symposium examined local initiatives that increase police accountability, highlighted community perspectives on gaps and challenges, and identified some opportunities to address them collaboratively. 

Prior to this, from 2014 through 2017, our local events mostly focused on engaging community members in dialogue and discussion -- with a focus on bridging divides among Muslims and non-Muslims, protecting civil rights, and promoting civic engagement, and bridging political divides. Dialogues and community discussion topics have included the rise of hate groups, the status of civil liberties, whether Muslim women need "saving," and more. These events were free and open to the public with opportunities for discussion and dialogue among participants.

The format has allowed participants to explore challenging ideas while engaging in the practice of dialogue across divides in our own community. For example, at a 2016 event, a few anti-Islam protesters attended our event. When invited to participate in the dialogue, one protester who was active in online criticism of Muslims stayed and participated fully in small group and larger discussions. In the end, another participant invited him to eat at his mosque during Ramadan, and in the time following the event, the two men became friends; the man who had been a strong voice against Muslim influence became an advocate of moderation.

In 2015, Karuna Center was invited to help Amherst College plan and implement a Day of Dialogue on Race, requested by student leadership in respect to the Black Lives Matter movement and the events of Ferguson. Working closely with the campus's Multicultural Resource Center, we trained 55 facilitators in advance -- students, faculty, and staff. On the dialogue day, about 1,300 people were brought together as active participants.

Our work on climate change, in contrast, uses a closed-door format in order to allow participants of diverse political perspectives -- including grassroots activists, political leaders, and business executives -- to speak frankly with one another on politically sensitive issues. The effort is organized by the Pricing Carbon Initiative and Karuna Center provides support for planning and facilitation. Participants have repeatedly told us that these confidential dialogues have been the one space where progressive and conservatives are really speaking with each other openly on the subject of climate change. We have been engaging in that effort since 2011.


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