Reconnecting advocates for peace: South and Southeast Asia

Together with Uppsala University, the Foundation recently hosted the third alumni network gathering in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for participants of international trainings in peace research.

From hand to hand a coconut was passed around the circle. ‘The coconut is a symbol of determination,’ explained a participant from India at the closing of the alumni gathering for South and Southeast Asia, making the connection to the importance of determination in sustaining peace. As the fruit was passed, the collected researchers and practitioners shared key takeaways from the event. One alumnus was struck by the similarities in the challenges to peace that they face despite coming from very different contexts and another spoke of the new ideas and knowledge that could be taken back home.

The seminar provided an opportunity for alumni to share how they have applied the knowledge gained from their participation in the international training programmes, which in recent years have focused on dialogue and mediation. Together participants reflected on experiences in their home countries of India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste, as well as other places where they work.

The courses in Uppsala allowed for interaction with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This enabled me to deal with different groups in my own society,’ explained one participant. ‘It broadened my knowledge on peace and security and how to apply theories to my own work.

Sharing ideas, considering regional approaches

The present alumni from civil society and academia are working hard to tackle challenges of social cohesion and rebuilding after violence in their countries and the region. The event allowed them to connect and be inspired by each other’s recent work while also being introduced to new and ongoing research of the Department, as well as international policy processes for sustaining peace. The group also visited the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) based in Colombo to learn more about current challenges to peacebuilding in Sri Lanka.

In today’s increasingly polarised world, dialogue is a critical tool to deepen understanding, to ease tensions and to promote inclusivity, and we can learn from the many inspiring examples of how peacebuilding practitioners engage with dialogue in different contexts,’ said Sigrid Gruener as she presented the Foundation’s recently produced volume Dialogue in peacebuilding: Understanding different perspectives. In small group discussions, participants shared their experiences with dialogue and the challenges they face, including identifying the right people, building trust within a group as well as with the facilitator, avoiding re-traumatisation and ensuring participants’ security. Creative methods of engaging marginalised communities in dialogue were also discussed, such as applying arts, using local languages and employing storytelling.

During an interactive day using the ‘Open Space’ methodology, alumni themselves identified, prioritised, and led discussions. They chose to discuss topics such as how to engage with authoritarian regimes on peace and human rights; traditional and indigenous approaches to peace; strengthening political institutions; ASEAN engagement in peace processes; and the connection between economic development and peace. The sessions also focused on important work on gender and the inclusion of women, youth and other marginalised groups in peacebuilding. Participants noted that youth are often perceived as dividers, while in fact they are often the connectors who channel their energy in positive ways.

Potential for future collaboration

By connecting peacebuilders within and between countries, regionally and globally the network is a platform for further exchange and learning among members. It is also a unique mechanism to maintain connections with the organising institutions in Uppsala, helping advocates for peace around the world share and generate inspiration, collaborations, and innovative approaches to sustaining peace.

During the closing circle a participant shared their optimism for continued partnership: ‘The opportunities to learn and share with each other are important. We must take advantage of this expertise: we should build on this meeting and continue to collaborate at the regional level.