Defining peacebuilding… part 1

One of the questions that appears in our weekly reports is, “How is your definition of peacebuilding changing?” It’s hard to answer, because I didn’t have a definition of peacebuilding to start — how would I know if it was changing or not? I began asking people during the course of my research in South Africa and have had various responses from practitioners in the field of peacebuilding and development; I’d be interested to know what my colleagues and other practitioners have found similar or different.

Peacebuilding v. Conflict Resolution

When I explain to people the research that we are conducting this summer, I find myself using the term “conflict resolution” when I get quizzical looks about sport and “peacebuilding”. But conflict resolution and peacebuilding aren’t the same, and though I’m not sure I could define peacebuilding in definitive terms, I have a few suspicions:

1.    Peacebuilding is long-term.
2.    Peacebuilding is broad-based, holistic.
3.    Peacebuilding is sustainable.
4.    Peacebuilding is grassroots.
5.    Peacebuilding is collaborative.
6.    Violence, instability and insecurity are the enemies of peace.

In a context

There are different impediments to peace in different contexts, but I imagine peaceful communities have many things in common. In other words, successful peacebuilding might look similar in different places. In the South African context, as I have mentioned briefly before, there are many factors that lead to violence and instability. However, even these differ from community to community. Drug abuse, socioeconomic disparity, poverty, segregation – these lead to crime, violence and psychologically destructive outcomes. I recently met with a life-long practitioner of peacebuilding at the University of Cape Town Centre for Conflict Resolution, and she confirmed what I already suspected – the real drivers of conflict in much of South Africa are material, socio-economic, and psychological. To paraphrase her thought – when people are hungry, have no access to water, or proper sanitation, when kids grow up on streets where fighting is the norm and gunshots and gang fights break the silence of the night, what hope is there to break the cycle of violence?

What unites the organizations that I have visited in South Africa is a common vision of what a more peaceful society would look like. Kids would finish school because they felt invested and saw more opportunity with an education than without. Men and women would interact on terms of mutual respect and equality. Having knowledge of safe-sex practices would actually have an influence on people’s behavior. The psychological damage of growing up in unsafe conditions would not push kids to do or sell drugs. And economic opportunities after primary school would exist such that kids could escape the poverty and insecurity that defined their childhoods. As my friend at the Centre for Conflict Resolution bluntly said, we are not there yet. But South Africa is a society in transformation, and “its time will come”.

At what level?

Peacebuilding can occur at different levels of society: between individuals, within families, communities or neighborhoods, cities, provinces, nations and even between nations. Practitioners of peacebuilding of course cannot be expected to tackle all of these levels at all times, but certainly we must be aware that peace at one level cannot be sustained without peace at another. Karl Voysey at Soccer4Hope reminded me of this fact when he explained that you must target the micro, meso or macro levels of society. Mediation between individuals and negotiations between heads of state are manifestations along the spectrum of peacebuilding. Should one take primacy over another? Is there a level that is most important as a target of peacebuilding initiatives?

Is integration necessary?

After reading this article in the New York Times over the weekend, I was reminded of how important integration is for the psychological health of a community. This harkens back to Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll test, which was recently revisited by a young woman in the US. South Africa remains highly segregated, and not only along racial lines – religion, language and of course economics play important roles in determining the patchwork pattern of South African society. This is largely the byproduct of the apartheid pass laws, but even now communities remain insular. There are very integrated and cosmopolitan communities, but they are few and far between. (District 6 was a famous example of one of these communities in Cape Town, but it was destroyed and its residents removed forcibly in the 1970s as part of apartheid restructuring.)

Yet despite a relatively cosmopolitan history and new-found equality under the law, when I ask South Africans about integration I get mixed reactions. Some say community peace should come first – in the metaphor of the family, communities must get their own affairs in order before they can be expected to deal with outsiders. Some say that race in and of itself is not a bad thing, and that “colorblindness” will not lead to lasting peace. Racism – and the process of defining people by stereotypes and excluding them on basis of color – is what drives wedges between social groups.

Some organizations see the inherent value in integration. One young man I met with has started a rugby outreach program to a few schools in the townships outside of Cape Town. He envisions exchanges between talented white suburban kids and talented black township kids who speak the common language of sport. Another organization, Hoops4Hope in Gugulethu, also sees integration as an invaluable part of their work. In fact it was in their original mandate to bring white, black, coloured, Muslim, Christian, and foreign kids together once a year for a huge tournament.

Peace is multidimensional

In conclusion – poverty by itself will not inevitably lead to violence. Segregation, unemployment, lack of opportunities and poor service delivery –these things are factors, but not determinants. Taken together, however, they make lasting peace difficult to achieve. Breaking the cycle of insecurity is vital to building sustainable, peaceful communities and peaceful nations. I am continually inspired by those working towards this challenging but worthy goal!

As always, comments are much appreciated. Many thanks to Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution program and Generations For Peace for their continued support.


Lessons from the field of sport and peace

I started to write this blog about advice for practitioners, the importance of learning from failure and of conducting monitoring and evaluation for that purpose. It remains a good topic, but after spending the last few days with Generations For Peace “pioneers” and “delegates,”after hearing their stories and their wisdom, what i had written seemed less important, even silly.

The representative of Generations For Peace I spoke with were from Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Though their geographic proximity is very close, their experiences and approaches to sports and peacebuilding were nothing short of unique. In each unique story, however, threads of similarity in the smallest details began to weave a tapestry of the wider sports and peacebuilding world, demonstrating not just the universality of sport, but perhaps more importantly, a common humanity. 

Their stories filled my notebook, my recorder, my mind, and my heart. From the academic side, we discuss these programs in terms of theory and extensive categorization of each interaction. I found, though, more resounding wisdom not in the notions of contact theory or physio-therapy, but rather, in the simplest and often off-handed advice of the youth leaders. For both the Lebanese and Palestinian representatives, politics and constrained and defined their lives, even “peace” is highly politicized. They recognized the politics, they demonstrated resentment or despise or hope for the political situation, and they returned to the point over and over that when they play sports, they have the opportunity to escape these politics for a moment. They can be free of the constraints that political divisions impose. They can play. And, when even peacebuilding is political, the simplicity of playing a game with others is accessible and alluring.

Pushing aside all my notions of theory and categorization, the most important observation/advice/pearl of wisdom came from each group of representatives, from every site I’ve visited, and from the people existing in the darkest of places. Smile. That is it. That peace starts with a smile. A smile expresses inner peace, it is infectious and, even if just for a moment, it is a light in a dark place. I am grateful to the GFP representatives that reminded me of the power of the smile, and to reiterate the GFP motto, I hope to “pass it on.”

For more information on Generations For Peace visit

For Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program visit

“So What’s Your Hypothesis?”: A Word on Research Methods

About a week and half ago, during one of my site visits in Berlin, a practitioner (with a B.A. in political science) said to me, “Your project sounds fascinating. What’s the hypothesis behind your work?”

I was taken off guard. Surprisingly, no one had asked me that question yet. I felt a little silly, coming from Georgetown and all, notebook in hand, doing site observations and suddenly thinking to myself, “I don’t know. Do I have a hypothesis?” I was whisked back to every science class of my primary schooling – in 2nd grade, in 5th grade, in 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grade – in my quad class in Environmental Science as a senior in college for goodness sakes – what is the first step in the scientific method? Formulating a hypothesis! I could imagine every one of my science teachers casting a reproving glance at me over their gold-rimmed glasses (they all had gold-rimmed glasses) saying: “Now Amanda, you were always one of our brightest…really, no hypothesis?”

But I’ve done a little reflecting this week, and I’d like to say it loud and clear:


The reason? Michel Foucault.

Lest you be mistaken, Michel Foucault is not the name of some 5th grade sweetheart that distracted me from elementary instruction in the scientific method, causing me to miss the whole section on constructing hypotheses. In fact, he is someone I’ve never met: a cigarette-rolling, espresso-drinking French philosopher, who, in the wake of the Second World War and on the shoulders of philosophical greats like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, dismantled the European Enlightenment and introduced a new way of thinking called Post-Modernism, which did a little thing called questioning the notion of truth.

And it is thanks to this big jump in philosophical history, rejecting objectivity for subjectivity that a number of changes have been made in the academy, from the way people write to – you got it – the way we research.

This past week, I’ve had the incredible fortune to attend an intensive summer school in “Qualitative Research Methods in Social Justice Education”, a combined effort of the University of Trento and the Paulo Freire Institute at UCLA. Just in time to answer my question about a hypothesis, I spent the week with social justice educators from Italy, England, Denmark, Spain, Mexico and the USA talking about research methodology in social justice. It’s helped me to theoretically support the research we’re undertaking this summer, and I’d like to share a bit with you. Before I begin, let me make clear that this basis is my (Amanda’s) research approach. I do not speak for Sarah, Sarah, or Meeghan, at least in this entry:

On Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research: While quantitative research relies on numbers and statistical measures, qualitative research relies more on narrative, interviews or focus groups or field observation and records. It can lend itself more readily to research in the social sciences, because it helps investigate processes rather than necessarily proving or disproving outcomes. It’s an especially helpful tool for researching and evaluating ideas like “justice” and “peace”, which are difficult to numerically quantify.

A Post-Modern Approach to Qualitative Research: A “constructivist” research philosophy (also called post-structuralist or post-modern) is one that understands people, cultures, and the world not as fixed subjects within a determined reality but rather as co-creators of reality that is flexible and changing. Like Foucault, it doesn’t trust the notion of objectivity, arguing that all aspects of life are socially and philosophically situated. Every action and interaction we have is a negation of power, gender, and politics. Easier said, every person sees the world through a certain lens or pair of glasses.

The participants in our course were acknowledging the “glasses” we wear. As researchers in social justice education, we see the world with a certain bias – there is an injustice we sense (as those posing the question) that our research in some way hopes to reveal, or a solution to an injustice that our research hopes to empirically prove or publicize.

Instead of straining for objectivity, considered a false pretense, as everyone is politically situated (even when they try not to be!) qualitative researchers with a constructivist theoretical grounding are openly transparent about their political positions and personal interests in their approach to research.

And about that “Hypothesis”?: Out of a number of relevant methods I now understand thanks to this course, I have chosen a methodology called “Grounded Theory”, which is the most frequently used qualitative method in social science research.

Grounded Theory is a theory, grounded. That is to say, it’s the inverse of a hypothesis – instead of setting out with an idea I am trying to prove or disprove, the researcher sets out to construct a brand new theory. Grounded in interaction with research participants (as opposed to “subjects”), interviewees are treated not as objects of observation, but sources of knowledge informing the creation of a new idea.

So concretely, what does this philosophical talk have to do with Sport & Peace?

As a researcher, I am attempting to create something new by recording what is already going on and looking for the links that they have with one another. This happens practically through a mix of site observations and interviews with academics, program designers, and program practitioners.

By asking questions in conversational interviews, observing pedagogical practices, reflecting on my conclusions, discussing with others and being conversant in already-existent literature, I’m analyzing my data through multiple readings and under multiple lenses.  Building on our team’s endeavor to “map” organizations in the world doing sport and peacebuilding work, I am focusing on program design. I do this by being transparent about my intentions, pulling together actors, visiting them where they are, “coding” and “categorizing” ideas and synthesizing them to theorize common aspects of pedagogy and design.

Reflexivity and Autoethnography: While quantitative research tries to leave the researcher out of the process as much as possible, qualitative research seeks to acknowledge the researcher’s role. Moreover, it asks the researcher to reflect on the research process frequently, and in communication with the research participants, since what is being constructed might – in fact should – change during the process in light of new ideas.

Our team is doing this through autoethnography, which is a research method that asks the researcher to record her or his own reflections on the research process, recognizing their objective and subjective biases, and also asking “what is this research doing to/in/with me?”  At the end of this summer, we hope to have something to share with the world – a useful tool that explains our methods, challenges, findings, and hopes.

On You: Finally, we practice reflexivity through discussion – and this is where you the reader come into play. Because you’re not just a reader – you’re a participant in the discussion! Our team “checks in” once a week, and once every few weeks we Skype-chat about what is emerging from our challenges, our findings, our interviews. But we also blog! About those very same things! And sometimes, we even get to talk on the radio
about them. So please, share your ideas with us, join in the discussion, and help us to create a grounded theory: new ideas about sport and peace.

Bridging the Gap between Sport for Development and Sport Development in South Africa

There is a significant gap between youth-centered programming in sport for development and sport development in South Africa. This gap can be seen in various sectors – in the corporate world of sponsorship, in government departments of sport and recreation, and at universities. Matt Streng* put it best when he described the difference as being “sport +” – meaning sport first, social change second – or “+sport” – where the primary outcome is development-related. There are benefits and challenges to both approaches, but more importantly there is significant opportunity to make positive social change in the gap in between.

“+ Sport”: Sport FOR Development
In this model, sport is used as a tool for broader development goals, including education, health, empowerment, awareness, professional development, and conflict resolution. This is the model followed by many NGOs that want to harness the power of sport for greater social change: Grassroot Soccer, PeacePlayers International, Girls and Football SA, to name a few that I have seen in the course of my research. In these organizations, “coaches” may not be coaches at all – in the words of one facilitator, a coach can be any caring adult who plays a positive role in a child’s life.

There are many benefits to this model:
1. Children do not need to be good at sport to benefit from its power as a mechanism for social change.
2. Coaches and facilitators do not need to be super stars – they just have to be positive role models. They train as facilitators, not athletes, so there is a bigger pool to choose from.
3. These organizations receive funding from both development-oriented sponsors and potentially sport sponsors. An example would be the partnership Grassroot Soccer has cultivated with USAID and Nike. In a sense, this broadens the funding pool.
4. Curricula are not sport-dependent. What works for an organization that uses basketball to teach kids about HIV might work just as well for a group that uses soccer to do the same thing. This increases the benefits of sharing.

There are also potential fallbacks to this model.
1. Outcomes are measured not in terms of sporting success but through indicators that reflect changes in perceptions, behaviors, and abilities. In other words, these organizations have the challenge of demonstrating qualitative gains through quantitative methods.
2. Local-buy in might be harder to achieve, making programs less sustainable.
3. Government buy-in, either at the provincial or municipal level, is often necessary to build or sustain infrastructure that would benefit the communities if NGOs leave.

“Sport +”: Sport Development
1. Monitoring and evaluation is comparatively easy – success is measured in wins and losses, not participation,
2. Universities (as feeder programs) and governmental departments have better infrastructure for dealing with sport development.
3. There is arguably more consistent money in sport development than in sport for development. Emirates will continue to sponsor Arsenal so long as Arsenal win. Arsenal will win so long as they have the money from their sponsors and fans to buy talent.
4. Kids are rewarded for being good at sport; they trained in physiology and nutritional, and will hopefully continue to live healthy lifestyles for longer than their peers might.
5. Competitive sport provides an outlet for kids who might otherwise channel their aggression or anger in destructive ways. This is particularly relevant in post-conflict or endemic conflict zones. Songo Fipaza of (pictured) is a great example of this benefit.

1. A very small part of the youth population would likely benefit directly from these programs, and this segment is much more likely to be MEN than WOMEN. There would likely be positive externalities (such as the provision of sports facilities) that might benefit the community at large.
2. Breadth is sacrificed for depth; the kids who participate in sport development programs are treated as individuals, but it is inherently exclusive of the majority of children with less athletic potential.
3. When it comes to conflict resolution in particular, competitive sport often heightens inter-group tensions and can lead to violence, even in non-conflict regions. (See pictures of Vancouver after the Stanley Cup if you don’t believe me!)

Bridging the gap
There seem to be several key actors and partnerships that must be engaged in order to bridge the gap between sport for development and sport for sport’s sake. There are models that see it work – FC Barcelona, for example, partners with Nike and UNICEF to sponsor a fabulous program called “Mes Que Futbol” which operates throughout South America and Africa to encourage kids to play. This success requires:
1. Public-private-NGO partnerships: government departments of sport and recreation must partner with corporate sponsors and implementing NGOs in ways that maximize sport development AND community development. This might mean providing 1-1 facilities for competitive sports leagues in addition to community centers and public sports grounds. Even as a brand-new organization, Girls and Football SA have done this well.
2. The role of universities: Universities serve both as centers of research and feeders to sports programs. They are a key connector between the social beneficiaries of sport – NGOs, researchers, funders – and the competitive beneficiaries.
3. Municipal-provincial-national-international: There are great disconnects between grassroots sport programs and national initiatives. These must be connected to ensure sustainability and maximize impact.

As always, this is a work in progress. We welcome your comments, questions and criticisms.

*Many thanks to Matt Streng for his unwitting contribution to this blog:

The When of Sport and Peace

Sport is used at many levels – individual, communal, and internationally. It is used in places all around the world from soccer fields in South Africa to basketball courts in Jerusalem. Where and who a program works with are usually fairly evident. What is less often discussed is the “when” of sports programs. What temporal space do these programs fill? Where along a transition from conflict to peace are the being used? When are they most effective?

For must of our research this summer, we are dealing with “post-conflict” settings. I, like most in the field, tend to avoid the term post-conflict knowing how insufficient it is in describing reality. However, I use it here to suggest that these areas are in a state past full-out combat or are in a period following the peak in violence. 

That being said, “peace” is also a misnomer. The “peace” walls in Belfast are the most stark example I have seen of Galtung’s “negative peace.” To “keep the peace”, these physical divisions are topped with spikes and barbed wire, they are decorated with sectarian murals, messages of peace, and graffiti. They are besieged by litter. The walls create a backdrop to small suburbs around the city, they cut through school yards and stand ominously between the narratives of both sides. They bar cross-community violence and reconciliation at the same time. 

Sports are currently being used in this “when”, a timeframe of negative peace, to change the nature of community relations. To move through and beyond the walls, both literally and figuratively, to bring young people together and then send ripples of change through the community, from the children to their coaches and teachers, to their parents and families, to their friends and their families. All the while, this “when” remains very important as it is a lull of violence and illusion of peace that enables programs to bring groups together but it is the proximity to renewed violence that calls for peacebuilding. When I visited PeacePlayers International in Belfast, they showed sites where they had crossed the street between two schools or through a Peace Wall to hold “twinnings” – joint basketball practices with Catholic and Protestant youth. These short distances represented huge leaps for the community. To an outsider, it almost seemed to easier, but I soon realized that in order to have an hour long basketball practice they had to overcome invisible barriers, held up by longstanding narratives of the “other”, to work towards reconciliation and friendship. 

As I continue to explore sports and peacebuilding in various contexts, I will keep in mind that it is not just the “where” and “who” that we need to consider, but also, to explore the “when”. 

– Meeghan (notes from Belfast, N. Ireland)

Egyptian turmoil carries onto the pitch

Broadcast locally in Xhosa, Sotho and English, Sunday’s 0-0 match between Bafana Bafana and Egypt demonstrated exactly how much times have changed for both countries. Egypt were playing for keeps, with a spot in the Africa Cup of Nations riding on the result. They are currently last in the group that has South Africa’s relatively inexperience team at the top of the log, and it is highly unlikely they will advance. South Africa must lose their next two matches against Niger and Sierra Leone in order for the Egyptian side to stand a chance of advancing.

The match itself was unremarkable, save for some aggressive tackling, shocking missed opportunities and a roaming Egyptian goalkeeper that appeared unhinged by his team’s performance. But the social context of last night’s game cannot go unnoticed. The match was relocated from Cairo International stadium to the Cairo Military Academy stadium after security concerns were voiced in the wake of March’s pitch invasion during a match between Tunisia and Egypt. It seems political upheaval did not end at the stadium gates. Cairo Military holds nearly 50,000 fewer supporters than its larger cousin, but perhaps the decision was for the best… the image of the head referee leaving the match surrounded by military security reinforces the sense that Egypt remains in turmoil.

The match also demonstrated exactly how far Bafana has come in recent years as a national side, and exactly how far they have still to go if they hope to compete with the greatest on the continent and the world. Their inspiring but ultimately disappointing performance in last year’s World Cup brought hope to many South Africans who saw in Siphiwe Tshabalala’s first goal of the tournament signs of a bright football future to come. Unfortunately the team still demonstrates an overwhelming immaturity on the pitch, a lack of structure and a flair for the dramatic. It will be interesting to see how they perform in the Africa Cup of Nations next year.

Internationally known and locally respected

Poverty….disease… gender inequity.. illiteracy… drug and alcohol abuse… unemployment… resource differentials…race conflict… religion… historical inequalities and legacies of oppression. When one thinks about the potential drivers of conflict in a country like South Africa, these are often the first issues that come to mind. But when I asked Dr. Marion Keim in a recent interview what she would say were the primary drivers of conflict, the idea of generalizing about the South African context seemed irrelevant. In fact, these issues are the primary drivers of conflict everywhere. At the community, provincial, national, and continental levels, conflict is generalizable only insofar as it is multidimensional. As Dr. Keim wisely suggested, perhaps it is more instructive to ask what brings people together than it is to determine what pulls them apart.

That is why Dr. Keim and other educators, coaches, entrepreneurs and NGOs have looked to sport as a tool for community development and peacebuilding. Whether its rugby, basketball, hiking, running, or the most ubiquitous sport in South Africa – soccer – community leaders have found great success in harnessing the inclusive power of sport for good. While the social context may very from city to city or province to province, sport works similarly as a adhesive across localities. This can be seen quite clearly in the case of South Africa, where sports programs in the Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal (KZN) operate similarly despite very different circumstances. KZN has the highest rate of HIV incidence and prevalence in the country, widespread poverty and illiteracy and a very different demographic profile than the Western Cape, by far the wealthiest but perhaps the most unequal of South Africa’s provinces. The Western Cape is the only province with a different government, run by the Democratic Alliance, where the rest of SA’s provinces are headed by the ANC (which also has a majority in national parliament). And yet, despite these differences, NGOs like PeacePlayers International , Girls and Football SA and Hoops4Hope have successfully employed sport as an entry point to build trust, develop communities and empower youth.

A final lesson from Dr. Marion is that locally-led and locally-developed organizations are the ones that have the best chance of creating sustainable change over long periods of time. People on the ground are the best source of information for what social ills exist that should be corrected. The social legacy of the World Cup included the proliferation of projects that used sport for social transformation and economic development. Unfortunately, some of those initiatives wore out as quickly as they were begun. Many organizations that work in South Africa do so as part of larger international networks: perhaps they were started by foreigners, or maybe their funding comes from overseas sources. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. But what seems to be a crucial ingredient for programmatic success is local ownership and local buy-in. Dr. Keim says it best… “to become a partner you have to be local, you have to be here working with us every day, or you can say you want to assist in a certain way but then ask first. What is it that is needed and how can we contribute?”