Team Efforts Required

September 9, 2012 @ 6:31 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Occasional browsers of this site will see that I haven’t posted anything for some time. There are a couple of reasons. I’ve had a 6-month contract at the Institute of International Education and the reality is that paid work must take priority over hobbies. However, a site like Models of Unity also needs a team effort. I think MOU is important and fills a gap in a world (and a field) that perpetually focuses on what’s not working. But, I also need subscribers, moral supporters, people to help refer me to good models, and savvy social media experts to help promote the site. To date, such support for this site has been slim. I believe in MOU and hope to keep it alive in some form by posting an occasional case study or blog. In the interim, if you are aware of other individuals or groups that might want to collaborate on expanding the potential of this site, please get in touch via the “contacts” link.  Thank you for all you do!


Education Imperatives

March 11, 2012 @ 9:14 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

The U.S. Institute of Peace came out with a report in late 2011 on the state of the field in Peace Education. The report cited a lot of growth in this field, including the development of instructional content. But, it also suggested that many of the theories in the field were based on “underlying assumptions about social change processes” and that the approaches being used were often “untested and unproven.” There’s more work to do, in other words, to measure how educational programs are contributing to sustainable peace.

Student in Nicaragua. Photo by: Esteban Felix; Academy for Educational Development.

Despite the need for better evaluation, I believe it is urgent to support educational initiatives that can move society out of divisive paradigms. Framing discussions about national identities, for example, in the context of what it means to have a broader human identity and a sense of responsibility to those beyond one’s borders is an important place to start. In most social studies classes, teaching about conflict and the history of war also takes precedence over teaching about leadership for peace and/or the skills for peacebuilding. While understanding the history of conflict and the causes of conflict is a valuable exercise, little change for a better world seems possible if educators remain stuck in the conflict-focused frame that has defined teaching to date.


Democracy Reconsidered

February 11, 2012 @ 5:53 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Residents of Tuinuane Village in Kenya gather for commemoration of new nursery school.

As those of us in the United States approach the 2012 presidential elections in November, I find myself quite nauseated by the partisan, divisive political news and advertising. It makes me wonder how many people really care about this kind of reporting, or our seemingly dysfunctional democracy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of democracy, but not of the party system that we have in the U.S. On the subject of democracy, I was intrigued by the seemingly effective local consultative and decision-making process featured in this month’s case study on Tuinuane Village in Kenya. Sure, politics at the national level in Kenya is a mess and has led to violence, but I see hope in the way local places like Tuinuane are taking development into their own hands. I am particularly proud of this case study because it is based on interviews with six people living in that community, which is the kind of grassroots input I always envisioned for this site. These interviews were conducted by Gwen Meyer with FKSW. Sometimes, I get discouraged by the lack of response I get to the many, many emails I send out in my hunt for the models to post on this site, but I’ve also met some amazing people like Gwen through this process.  There’s definitely been at least one such individual behind every case study I’ve posted to this site and I appreciate all of them!


Peace, Justice, and Systems Thinking

December 30, 2011 @ 7:54 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

I’ve been writing an article this fall on religion and peacebuilding that will, hopefully, be published in 2012. I’m fascinated by systems theories as it relates to conflict resolution and address this in my text as follows: 

In an interesting, new book called “The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts,” Dr. Peter Coleman at Columbia University and a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, mathematicians, anthropologists, conflict managers, and others explain that intractable conflicts are intractable because they have self-organized into a complex, interrelated, and mutually-reinforcing system. These systems are understood in a simplified “us vs. them” narrative. To get out of these conflicts, Coleman suggest, means to empower the “latent attractors” in the system and to break the institutionalization of conflict narratives.[i] Coleman looks at conflict from a systems point of view, which requires examining the underlying patterns of the system and the role that “attractors” can play in moving the system into a state of greater equilibrium.

What that means in more practical terms is working with individuals or groups who are using their social capital to stay connected to the “other side” and to support what is working. Along these same lines, I often wonder whether policymakers and practitioners are paying too much attention—and giving too many resources—to the dividers in society vs. the connectors?  For example, conflict entrepreneurs are often the main actors at peace negotiations for the sake of getting a peace deal in the short term (witness the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia). But, are such strategies really sustainable over the long term? Keeping such individuals in power often leads to more corruption and criminal violence. More importantly perhaps, many innocent victims who have suffered untold misery at the hands of these oppressors see these approaches as grossly unjust. In short, it sets terrible precedents where justice is concerned. Peacebuilders seem to increasingly believe that “spoilers” must be brought into the peace process, but I’m not all that convinced by this argument. It seems a short-term gain for a long-term loss. As Winston Churchill once said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”


Functional Collaboration Required

October 15, 2011 @ 3:12 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Andrian Gonsalves,

I had an email exchange with one my clients this week about educational programs for peace. He noted that there has been criticism in the past few years of people-to-people programs because they rarely have a lasting impact. Hence, he said, there has been an increased focus on programs that promote functional collaboration. This theme also relates to a blog I came across recently, which talked about the Robbers Cave Experiment. This experiment was done in the 1950s with a group of boys at a summer camp in the U.S.  The boys were divided into two groups and became increasingly competitive and mean. Just being in contact wasn’t the answer. Their relationships did change in a positive direction, however, when the boys had to work together in a cooperative way on “superordinate” goals.

If you take a look at the criteria on the MoU site, I’m looking for case studies where this functional collaboration is happening across divides, i.e. in the form of development projects. Having these criteria makes the models harder to find, but I think they are important because it’s the difference between just bringing people together vs. working together for a common goal and, thus, forming tighter social bonds. This month, I feature a story from Harar, Ethiopia where civil society groups are working across ethnic and religious divides to advance these “superordinate” goals in their community.


Building Neighborhood Bonds

August 30, 2011 @ 11:53 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Housing Studios, FORUM, Netherlands

I’ve just added a new case study to the site on a “housing studios” project in the Netherlands. Materials from this project point out that it is a policy of many Westerns European countries to create social mix in housing policy. Living in such mixed communities is seen a way to strengthen bridging capital across diverse groups, to lessen discrimination, to increase understanding, and to create opportunities for higher social mobility for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The municipalities featured in the Netherlands case study aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was interesting to see the priority that project organizers put on building social bonds among diverse residents.

Of course, people need to interact across social groups and this doesn’t always happen. Bureaucracy too has an uncanny way of creating hurdles to progress. Still, creating social glue seems to be a cornerstone of revitalizing broken communities … and governments seem to be recognizing this more and more. In fact, I developed this case study from a lead on the site of the Shared Societies Project—“a global initiative that provides leaders with greater understanding of the benefits of social cohesion, and the incentives and means to act to advance it.”



Social Media and Coexistence

July 22, 2011 @ 7:39 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Armenian Church, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2009

I came across the work of Onnik Krikorian awhile back. He is an Armenia-based British journalist who has done some inspiring work on coexistence in the South Caucusus. He is especially interested in how social media tools (like Facebook) can be used to bridge divides in this region, especially between Azeri’s and Armenians. Krikorian is optimistic, but the debate still rages on whether these tools create understanding or more polarization. As an article last year from The Economist points out, people tend to stay with their own identity groups across the Internet.  I’ve done a fair bit of research myself on this topic. My conclusion is that there is a lot more bonding among like-minded groups happening online vs. bridging across divides. Needless to say, I am hoping for more innovations on the  latter!


New Concepts for the World Bank?!

June 8, 2011 @ 11:37 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

World Bank Development Report 2011

Being that there are way too many economists at the World Bank, their recent World Development Report 2011 on “Conflict, Security, and Development” focused a lot on the role of jobs, economic development, and institutional reform in rebuilding so-called “failed states.” But, I was still pleasantly surprised at the amount of text that did cover the critical role of trust and collaborative processes in rebuilding societies. Recommendations included having more South-North exchanges to share solutions to problems that both regions faced—like how to foster “tolerance and social bonds among communities that are ethnically and religiously divided.”  Sound familiar?  A small section of the report also focused on giving power (and funding) to representative community councils to make their own decisions on programs. The National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan—where block grants go directly to elected councils—is one example. My only question is why has it taken so long to get to this development paradigm?


The Objectives of  Knowledge Management

May 8, 2011 @ 11:07 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

I had the opportunity to attend a USAID conference this past week on Knowledge Management (KM). There was a lot of discussion on what tools are being used to measure outcomes and better ways to share learning. But, at a broader level, what are the objectives of KM? In a break-out session on this topic, someone surmised that it was about building trust for cooperative action. “Absolutely,” I thought.

The emphasis on building “social capital” was also mentioned in this discussion. I spend a lot of time thinking about this concept, and the related one of “social cohesion.” These concepts seem so critical, but I rarely hear them in development discourses. Can projects be sustainable without this foundation? If you have anything to add, or good resources on this topic, please share them. And, check out the latest case study posted on “Visions of Integration” in Columbia, Maryland!


Rethinking Political Protests

April 22, 2011 @ 3:57 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

In Spring 2011, the wave of political resistance across the Middle East has gotten the world’s attention. Clearly, there are leaders that have been in office way too long and it’s time for them to go, but I’m concerned that the media has been so enthralled by all the “hype” (including using cell phones to organize protests) that they aren’t asking very critical questions about what it all means. Namely, is real social change and conflict transformation going to happen via protest? In my view,  that’s a last step, not the first.  Susan Glisson at the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation perhaps says it best: “The need for such locally focused, community-based conversations is tied to a basic principle of social change: effective social change occurs by focusing on local issues, using grassroots, nonviolent strategies.These first steps are followed by careful analysis of the problems and negotiation with stakeholders who can make a difference. Massive protests are actually a final step when all previous work has failed, not a first-strike response. In the absence of such work on the ground, massive protests fail.” A house won’t stand without a foundation.

Don’t get me wrong, social protests can be a tool for political change in the short term, but I think one has to look down the road for the success rate. The Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004 brought democratic elections, but did it stem corruption, bridge ethnic-linguistic divisions, or lead to significant social and economic development? I’m not an expert on Ukraine, but I don’t think so. Protests may be one tool in the toolbox, but just one. We need to think so much bigger. It’s the longer-term building of relationships and trust that are going to create the social cohesion necessary to move societies beyond “us vs. them” dynamics which, one way or the other, ultimately fail. Creating community-based conversations about what matters is much harder work, which is why I suppose it doesn’t get that much attention. It’s not “sexy,” but it’s critical.



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