This post was originally published on the Ashoka Peace Blog

In many ways, this is a story about what didn’t happen. As a respected Shī‘ah anniversary date approached, representing a divergence in religious thinking with the Sunni, tensions in Basrah, Iraq were high. A date reserved for reverence historically triggered violent clashes. Anticipating the conflicts the Basrah Anti-Violence Campaign (BAVC), a replication of the CeaseFire violence prevention health model, went into action. Using social marketing and public health communication strategies, BAVC launched targeted messaging around the anniversary to interrupt the potential for violence. BAVC conflict mediators visited mosques, clerics and tribal leaders to defuse simmering tensions before they erupted.

The campaign was successful. Tribal warfare did not ignite. Feuds did not spill out into the street. Family homes were not torn apart by gunfire or bombs. So in many ways, this is a story about what didn’t happen, and since January 2009, CeaseFire’s Iraq-based implementation has prevented 105 violent incidents. CeaseFire is a violence prevention health system. It re-envisions violence as a public health issue rather than a moral one. In the parlance of epidemiology it detects and interrupts all potential transmission of violence, determines those who might transmit next and reverses the transmission potential, and changes community norms. On-the-ground this translates to recognizing the significance of events like the Shī‘ah anniversary date and their inherent potential for violence. It means sending highly-trained conflict mediation specialists into the community to visit mosques, clerics, tribal leaders and community influencers and recruiting them to the cause. It means coordinating a culturally-specific social marketing campaign with focused messages. For the model itself Iraq is a proof-point. While it has earned favorable results since first being launched in 2000, this has primarily been applied to urban violence in the United States (an independent evaluation demonstrates its tremendous Chicago impact), but it had previously been untested overseas. Proof of its effectiveness in a different cultural context lends enormous credibility to CeaseFire’s underlying theories. In short, that violence is an epidemic and can be treated with disease control methods.

This success has received some attention. A case statement on the Iraq-based implementation will appear in a Center for Disease Control & Prevention book slated for publication mid-summer. Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder and executive director of CeaseFire and an Ashoka fellow, presented the Iraq-based program at the World Bank for a workshop on “Evidence-Based Approaches to Violence Prevention.” This discussion focused on strategies that are effective for reducing and preventing violence worldwide with Dr. Slutkin sharing how the CeaseFire intervention can be addressed to international conflict areas. This recent interview with Dr. Slutkin from Next further elaborates on the intersection between economic development and conflict internationally.