World: Building bridges for sustainable peace – Annual Report 2016

Who do you trust when you cannot trust anyone?

Scott M. Weber

When a natural disaster strikes, such as a flood or an earthquake, it is heartening to see how ordinary people come to each other’s aid and collectively rebuild what they have lost. Those social bonds represent the best of humanity and the most essential values – solidarity, respect, dignity and selflessness – that we want to see underpin our societies.

Conflict, by contrast, brings out the worst of humanity. Far more pernicious than a natural disaster, conflict attacks the very “immune system” of trust that makes society resilient. And conflict sets in motion a vicious cycle of exclusion, stereotypes, tribalism and hatred that are so easily transmitted from one generation to another, preventing progress towards our shared goals.

But tribalism is not the exclusive domain of countries such as Yemen, South Sudan or Libya. A different form of political and social tribalism is also at the root of the populist waves in Europe and North America today. Bred by the profound crisis of trust we are currently experiencing in the world, this rise in populism finds a perverted symbiosis in keeping the crisis alive.
The positive message however is that people are not waiting for delivery from this crisis. They are channeling their trust away from their leaders and towards other sources of hope. Our collective challenge is to understand this new ‘trust economy’ and source of energy, drawing on them to build more legitimate and sustainable solutions to the ills of our societies.

Nowhere is this new trust economy evolving more quickly than in the business sector. Airbnb is only one of the more recent examples of a social platform that has sought, through matching supply and demand for informal accommodation, to build on the need and desire of people to connect through a system based on verifiable relationships of trust. Such sites have found impressive ways to incentivize and perpetuate those relations over time to the benefit of all concerned.

Lower-tech, community-rooted systems of cooperation rely on the same principles of mutual support and a balance between the interests of the individual and of the collective.

Where we continue to fail is in the relationship between high-level policy-making and the meaningful participation a country’s citizens.

Whatever the political culture in which we live or institution in which we work, engaging the targets of change in the process of considering options for the change itself will not only infuse the effort with a richer pool of ideas, but it will also build the ownership (or at least acceptance) of the change that will come. Thus, connecting the bottom-up desire to be involved on the one hand, with the top-down reality of governance on the other, can ensure that our political systems begin to earn the trust they have lost.

In this Annual Report, covering Interpeace’s efforts in 2016, we have sought to bring into focus how these principles manifest themselves in peacebuilding. Interpeace coined the term “Track 6” (see next sections for more) as a way of encapsulating the principle that connecting senior decision-makers with those potentially affected by such actions, facilitated by the natural “connective tissue” of civil society, is the best approach to the development of effective peacebuilding strategies. “Track 6” thinking and action is needed at a national level to relegitimize policies of the State, just as it is needed in large institutions such as the United Nations.

In conflict resolution and peacebuilding, adopting a “Track 6” approach is ever more important as the nature of conflict is changing. In war-ravaged Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the State is in various stages of collapse or absence from major parts of the territory. Power is widely distributed and in the hands of armed groups or communities at the local level. Such situations defy the ability of grand political conferences or negotiations to put the pieces back together again from above. A “building block approach”, much like what was eventually successful in forming a Federal State in Somalia, will be needed in the process of connecting the local to the national, and the center to the periphery, in a new relationship.

Creating and maintaining trust is at the heart of our work as peacebuilders. But I would argue that it must also be central to our vision for successful governance and inclusive economics in this increasingly fragmented world.

So, who do you trust when you cannot trust anyone? The answer is, each other. If we re-imagine our political and social systems with a view to protecting and enhance trust, we will go a long way to building a more inclusive and peaceful world.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our courageous staff and partners for never failing to impress us with their creative spirit and the determination they bring to their work every day. I would also like to thank our dedicated Governing Council for their wisdom and guidance as well as the Advisory Council of Interpeace for their steadfast support and engagement to increase our impact. And lastly, I would like to thank our government and private partners for making all of this possible through their generous contributions. We are immensely grateful for your trust.

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