Building world peace, locally

After all, we as people directly experience the degrees of peace in society, and we affect its presence by our individual and group behavior.

A Hamas regional operations map recovered by the IDF in Gaza (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
A Hamas regional operations map recovered by the IDF in Gaza
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
The combination of mutually enforcing, bottom-up social development movements and top-down laws, policies and treaties is assisting increasing numbers of people and groups to come together to achieve change.
It should be clear that if peace is to exist it will be reflected in local circumstances and local conditions. After all, we as people directly experience the degrees of peace in society, and we affect its presence by our individual and group behavior.
For peace to thrive at the communal level, the interests of individuals and groups must not be perceived as antagonistic, where one is achieved at the expense of the other, but instead must be understood to be interwoven, and satisfied through participatory planning methods and project implementation.
Such development methods require third-party facilitation, firstly to draw out the perceptions and priorities of the local participants, including young and old, women and men, those who have and those who have less, and secondly to build partnerships with local government, civil and business agencies.
The development projects that emerge from this democratic process assist local people in two ways – by helping to work through their differences (incorporating conflict management approaches) and advancing their socioeconomic and environmental goals.
These projects counter feelings of alienation because participants no longer devote their time to activities from which they gain no discernible benefit and which are therefore inconsistent with their fundamental interests. Such projects promote peace through meeting people’s self-determined needs while satisfying community development objectives. Social and personal needs having been met in this way, through popular participation in community development, peace is given a framework most favorable to its growth.
In the context of national and international conflicts, what is interesting is that the same methodology still applies, but can occur among representatives and leaders of the groups in conflict. The process, however, does not begin with, but rather merges into joint development planning. At the outset, there needs to be an expression of past experiences and difficulties followed by an acknowledgment of those occurrences and, where appropriate, an apology. This kind of confidence-building dialogue must, moreover, be carried out in a spirit of reconciliation.
Thus conditions favorable to peace are created whereby the parties can coexist and reap tangible benefits from their mutual contact. Crucially, in order to promote actual peace, all of this must result in sustainable development for all.
Are there Sunnis and Shi’ites whose communities are side by side or integrated, where these processes could build unity and avoid spiraling distrust? Can Israelis and Palestinians meet and express what they must, acknowledge what they must and advance human development that enables not only Palestinian political but also economic independence? Can neighbors who are not in conflict but nevertheless are not in communication meet in a meaningful way to forge an action plan and thereby advance their local development? The net result of such localized occurrences is the spreading of the umbrella of peace over ever-larger geographical areas – federating upwards. At the same time, national and global leaders who establish charters that actively encourage and necessitate community meetings and sub-national development based on the popular common will, prepare the way for peaceful conditions on the ground from their top-level positions of responsibility.
Conducive macro policies promote civil society, experiential learning and participatory development training. Governments, responsible corporations and donors should have funding programs so designed that support the range of educational, health, economic and environmental initiatives that are locally prioritized – with the main criteria being that they are community identified and driven.
True peace – the kind that steers our present and future and that responds to our hearts’ calling – therefore lies in the hands of all of us since its fruition requires actions at every societal level, but which support local community control of projects intended to benefit them. Moreover – and encouragingly – the goal of world peace can be operationalized, can have a budget, can have training workshops and has commenced. It now only requires a global rallying to support popular participation in the development that will change the lives of individuals and communities.
The author is president of the nonprofit High Atlas Foundation which does development work in Morocco.