Blog home

Reflections on philanthropy and peacebuilding

By Cath Thompson & Alexandra Toma
July 14, 2020

Cover of Philanthropy for a safe, healthy, and just world

Today marks the publication of Philanthropy for a safe, healthy, and just world, a first-of-its-kind study that identifies clear opportunities and challenges in supporting peacebuilding activities. Drawn from a survey of 823 organizations worldwide, the study sheds light on what motivates civil society organizations to support—and not support—peace-related work, addresses common misconceptions about peacebuilding, and suggests concrete recommendations to enable greater involvement and investment. (Candid and CENTRIS conducted the survey, which was funded by PeaceNexus.)

The results of this survey reveal what those of us in the peace and security field have long known: peacebuilding is messy and difficult to measure, but it is a critical foundation to all other work. Imagine, for example, how much more effective the response to the Ebola epidemic could be if health workers in central Africa could do their jobs without facing armed conflict. Imagine how much more effective the response to climate change could be if reforestation and water conservation programs in contested regions would also incorporate cross-community peacebuilding elements.

It is encouraging to read that survey respondents’ most commonly cited reason for engaging in peacebuilding work is the “commitment to dealing with the root causes of social issues.” When done well, focusing on peace and security is a way to address systems and structures—the root causes—that lead to violence and inequity.

Conversely, the most commonly cited reasons for not engaging in peacebuilding are because the work is too political and because there is not enough evidence for what works. If ever there was a moment to engage in “political” work, that time is now. With the rising tide of authoritarianism, growing inequality, and Earth on the brink of a climate catastrophe, one could argue that political work is exactly the work we need to create the transformation we hope for. We can do political work without being partisan, and without crossing legal and ethical lines. In addition, you don’t have to live and work in a “conflict zone” to be a peacebuilder. There are many strong examples of work that bridges divides and repairs harm in places not in active conflict, such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation initiative in the United States.

As far as evidence goes, there are many organizations working to help our field understand what works and best practices for evaluation. Check out the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Learning and Evaluation program and the organization Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation for Peace. It is true that peacebuilding evaluation may be more nuanced and longer-term than other fields, but the impact is invaluable toward saving lives, rebuilding communities, and protecting resources.

Although this survey demonstrates the importance of peacebuilding for creating a safe, healthy, and just world, funding for this work is shockingly low. In 2017, funders gave $435.4 million toward peace and security, or just 1.2 percent of the nearly $33 billion given by foundations in Candid’s research set of grantmaking by 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations.

This report makes a strong case for why we should all strive to take a conflict-sensitive lens to our work, no matter if we work for nonprofits, foundations, or the private sector. For funders who are wondering how they might better address the challenges laid out in this report, we encourage you to connect with your peer funders, perhaps through affinity groups like the Peace and Security Funders Group or Foundations for Peace. It’s almost guaranteed that if you have questions, then another funder has faced those questions as well, and knowledge networks are invaluable.

This survey is an asset to the field of philanthropy, illuminating the perceived challenges to and reasons for supporting peacebuilding. Imagine the transformation that’s possible if we see peace and security not as a “nice to have,” but as critical to our missions of building a safe, healthy, and just world.

Tags: Human rights and peacebuilding; Peace and security; Candid