Posted by Ian Lancaster, Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention Committee Chair

February is Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention month in the Rotary calendar.  To take those first steps toward peace, where people are able to resolve their conflicts without violence and work together to improve the quality of their lives, means we need to look at the foundational pieces of peacebuilding.

Just what is peacebuilding?

Peacebuilding is about dealing with the reasons why people fight in the first place and about supporting societies to manage their differences and conflicts without resorting to violence.......


The term itself was brought to international attention in 1992, when former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali announced his An Agenda for Peace.  It aims to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of violence, so can take place before, during and after conflicts.  It is a long-term and collaborative process, as it involves changes in attitudes, behaviours and norms.

Peacebuilding is the development of constructive personal, group, and political relationships across ethnic, religious, class, national, and racial boundaries.  It aims to resolve injustice in nonviolent ways and to transform the structural conditions that generate deadly conflict. Peacebuilding can include conflict prevention; conflict management; conflict resolution and transformation, and post-conflict reconciliation. 

Strategic peacebuilders address issues of human rights, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability as well as violence. 
The next step is taking peacebuilding to a strategic level.  Peacebuilding becomes strategic when it works over the long run and at all levels of society to establish and sustain relationships among people locally and globally.  Strategic peacebuilding connects people and groups “on the ground” (community and religious groups, grassroots organizations, etc.) with policymakers and powerbrokers (governments, the United Nations, corporations, banks, etc.).  It aims not only to resolve conflicts, but to build societies, institutions, policies, and relationships that are better able to sustain peace and justice. 

Strategic peacebuilding stretches across generations.  While it engages immediate crises, strategic peacebuilding recognizes that peacemaking is a long-term vocation that requires the building of cross-group networks and alliances that will survive intermittent conflicts and create a platform for sustainable human development and security.

But what contributes to peace?

To understand peacebuilding, we need to appreciate the factors that contribute to peace, the absence of which can potentially lead to conflict. Peace is when:

  • everyone lives in safety, without fear or threat of violence, and no form of violence is tolerated in law or in practice

  • everyone is equal before the law, the systems for justice are trusted, and fair and effective laws protect people’s rights

  • everyone is able to participate in shaping political decisions and the government is accountable to the people

  • everyone has fair and equal access to the basic needs for their wellbeing – such as food, clean water, shelter, education, healthcare and a decent living environment

  • everyone has an equal opportunity to work and make a living, regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other aspect of identity

Peacebuilding approaches often refer to ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ peace.  This is used to denote a transition from violence to peace, which can be seen in two phases: improved stability and ‘positive peace’.

Stability means the absence of violence, when people can get on with their lives after the fighting stops.  This return to normality is welcome, but stability frequently masks the reality that grievances or other causes of conflict have not been addressed and may erupt again.  This period has been dubbed ‘negative peace’, which helps explain why a third or more of peace agreements break down.

The challenge is to use periods of stability to build longer-term ‘positive’ peace.  This means achieving improvements in governance, and in fair access to economic opportunities, justice, safety and other aspects of wellbeing, such as health, education and a decent environment in which to live.

These are the factors that, taken together, provide people with the resilience that allows them to deal with their differences and conflicts without violence.

What does peacebuilding involve?

Peacebuilding approaches and methods are varied and diverse, but they all ultimately work to ensure that people are safe from harm, have access to law and justice, are included in the political decisions that affect them, have access to better economic opportunities, and enjoy better livelihoods.

Some of the ways in which this can be achieved are through:

  • engaging in various forms of diplomacy

  • strengthening democracy and inclusive politics (e.g., electoral frameworks, active citizenship initiatives, etc.)

  • improving justice systems (e.g., anti-corruption initiatives, constitutional reforms, access to justice initiatives, truth commissions, etc.)

  • working to improve general security

  • working together with business and trade to create sustainable jobs or improve their employment practices

  • improving infrastructure and urban and rural planning

  • including peace education in curricula

  • creating free and inclusive media

  • improving healthcare

  • making development programs in conflict areas more sensitive to conflict dynamics

Importantly, peacebuilding is done collaboratively, at local, national, regional and international levels. Individuals, communities, civil society organizations, governments, regional bodies and the private sector all play a role in building peace.

You can become part of Rotary’s peace leadership by joining the Rotary Action Group for Peace or joining Rotary’s Service Partner Mediators Beyond Borders International or learn more about peace through Rotary’s Peace Academy or another of Rotary’s Service Partners, the Institute for Economics and Peace.

I leave you with a quote from our founder in his book My Road to Rotary:  “Rotary is an integrating force in the world where forces of disintegration are all too prevalent; Rotary is a microcosm of a world at peace, a model which nations will do well to follow.”

Peace Through Service,

Ian Lancaster, Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention Committee Chair