Rethinking Peacebuilding (Youth Peace Initiative)

By Layla Gegout, Programme Coordinator External Activities at Youth Peace Initiative

As a youth peace organisation, YPI’s mission is to enable youth to become empowered leaders in peacebuilding processes. Our flagship initiative is the Young Leadership Experience (YLE) in which we organise a year-long programme with trainings, workshops, and dialogue sessions for young Israelis and Palestinians to develop their skills and build their capacity as young leaders.

A year of challenges

With the cancelling of our yearly Middle East Peace Process conference and the subsequent digitalisation of activities that took place in 2020, YPI’s biggest challenge was that of creating safe spaces online for the YLE participants – which is incidentally the most important foundation for constructive dialogue and peacebuilding. While our programme coordinators worked very hard to adapt the programmed activities to an online format, we were all caught off-guard by this sudden change of plans, and with a heavy heart eventually took the difficult decision to cancel the rest of the programme and give a free pass for participants to join the 2021 adapted version of the YLE.

In parallel to this, we were planning the second edition of the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize along with UNOY and the Carnegie Foundation. This project was an exciting opportunity for youth from around the world to submit their peace projects and run for the position of Youth Peace Ambassador of the Peace Palace. Unfortunately, due to reduced capacity at the Peace Palace, this project was postponed until further notice.

Challenges lead to growth, right?

In this vacuum created by the cancelling of our biggest projects, we were forced to adopt a fresh perspective on what it means to do peace work. What we knew was that while we could not yet focus on in-person reconciliation processes, we could nevertheless enable youth all over the world through the magic of social media.

In high spirits, we launched a new segment we “creatively” called ‘Peacebuilding From Home’. For this campaign, we shared biweekly articles on our website with resources, tips, and tools for anyone to pursue peacebuilding from the comfort of their own home. Throughout this process, we realised how easy it is to connect with anyone around the world. We started to become aware of the possibilities of online peacebuilding – the ease of meeting and connecting with new people is almost too good to be true! Little did we know that this would lead us to the creation of our own podcast. With ‘Youth Peace Talks’ we want to  provide a platform to young peacebuilders all around the world to highlight their work and inspire our audience. From Colombia to Kosovo, and to Kashmir, we have made new connections that would have never happened without being forced to transfer our activities online.  Next to this, we launched our Alumni Network and also managed to grow our partnership with a Bosnian-based organisation without having met them in-person once!

Of course, we are extremely lucky and privileged to have had such opportunities open up throughout this global pandemic. As our new connection Ufra reminded us, in Kashmir a good quality internet connection is not a given, and peace education – let alone peacebuilding – has been extremely challenging.

We are still learning every day, still encountering many challenges as we once again work hard to adapt our Young Leadership Experience to an online format (hoping to make it in-person as soon as it is safe to do so!), and are very happily relaunching the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize 2021. With new tools, new expectations, and more patience, we are now more resilient and more adaptive than we were pre-covid times. We are not yet fully confident with successfully navigating reconciliation and sensitive dialogue sessions online, but at least we can focus on sharing knowledge and building communities.

Please get in touch if you have any suggestions or would like to connect on the topic of building safe space online!