Meet the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Thought Leader Chic Dambach

Chic Dambach, President & CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, based in Washington. 

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it.

And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
Eleanor Roosevelt


I sat down recently in Manhattan with Charles F. (Chic) Dambach, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, based in Washington.  I was quickly brought up to speed on the width and breadth of today’s peacemakers.

The Alliance is a coalition of diverse organizations working together to build sustainable peace and security worldwide, made up of all the great organizations I have heard about all my life.

It includes the American Friends Service Committee, the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program, Catholic Relief Services, the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Mercy Corps’ Conflict Management Group.

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“The U.S. the peace community is solid, but not as well-known globally.”

Peacebuilding, Chic described, is the specific application of integrated initiatives to prevent and mitigate violent conflicts.  As a science, it is gaining traction worldwide.  Colleges have majors in this field that did not exist when I studied back in the ‘80s.

The United Nations, several governments, and hundreds of NGOs are developing skills and procedures to impact the frequency and severity of violent conflicts. Just this month, an international consortium of government and NGO leaders announced the Tswalu Protocol for peacebuilding, a remarkable set of guidelines for an integrated approach to effective peacebuilding.

Unfortunately, however, the peacebuilding concept has not yet penetrated the political discourse in the U.S.  Agencies have been established within the Department of State and USAID with functions related to peacebuilding, but their roles tend to be vague and funding is limited.

Candidates for office never mention the term peacebuilding, and debate moderators never ask about it. Winning wars and conquering enemies attract enormous attention, but building peace, as a policy priority, still isn’t on the agenda.

The Obama Administration presents a special opportunity to introduce the peacebuilding concept and its value to the public and to the people who will shape foreign policy for at least the next four years.

In a long-ranging interview, Chic told me:

We can and should present the peacebuilding story to the new administration and to the media pundits who ask high profile questions of the president and write and speak about the issues.

The issues are too important, and the opportunity is too clear and present for us to be silent.  The world faces unprecedented risks, but there is also a unique opportunity to build peace.  The risks are accentuated by the proliferation of weapons capable of inflicting massive damage and the growing pressure on diverse societies to compete for diminishing resources.

On the other hand, the tools and skills for violence prevention and conflict resolution have been developed as never before. If leaders in the United States and the rest of the world are willing to embrace and apply peacebuilding concepts and principles, the risks can be reduced, and conflicts can be resolved.

This is the time to speak.

Members of the Alliance for Peacebuilding are directly engaged in applied conflict prevention and resolution.

These members provide negotiation and mediation services, train negotiators, facilitate communication to break down barriers, and help find solutions to the issues and pressures that otherwise drive groups and nations to achieve their objectives through violent force.

In his interview, Chic explained the many on-going project of the Alliance:

Advocacy. Congress is now re-working the U.S. Foreign Aid program that would affect hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, and it should include a robust peacebuilding component.

Peace Through Moderation.  There is a large fall 2010 event being planned now for New York City to support peacebuilding as an alternative to force to reduce violent extremism.

Global Symposium of Peace Nations. This symposium, held in November, honored the world’s most peaceful nations and studied them as models for the rest of the world.  The strategy is to model good behavior, not simply avoid bad behavior.  Costa Rica has been modeling peacebuilding since the 1980’s and has even built a University of Peace.

Prevention. One donor has made a major contribution to prevention, as of course it is always better to prevent than resolve.  The conflict in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa is an example of this.

The field of peacebuilding seeks to prevent and reduce the frequency and severity of war and other violent conflicts.  Peacebuilding professionals and organizations help transform systems, policies, and environments that are conducive to violence, and help people build sustainable communities.

In the U.S. Chic told me, the peace community is solid, but not as well-known locally or globally.  One of his goals is to increase public awareness here and abroad of the role of U.S. peace builders.

Chic said, “Too many people believe peace is simply not possible.  War makes news.  Peace is not news.  It is not even covered in most studies of history.  Yet, it is entirely possible for countries to live in peace.  It’s just not considered exciting.”

“Think about this: for centuries, Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations were fine.  They can still be, in spite of extremist agitators.   War is not fundamental to human nature.  Peace is.

“There are systems, mechanisms, and procedures to actively prevent confrontation.  We used to believe in conquest, but military victory has become rare.  Ninety percent of conflicts are now settled through negotiation.

“Now, we can embrace a reasonable, rational, mediated, negotiated settlement.  We no longer have to fight and die to win,” he said.

Chic then walked me around the world to look at examples of peacebuilding in the context of conflict:

Ethiopia and Eritrea. With more than 100,000 dead, the fight was essentially over a tiny border town.  Why should borders be set by who can kill the most people?  In this case finally mediators were assigned.  Both sides agreed to let them decide, and this new Commission determined where the line would be drawn.  Of course, neither side was happy, but they did stop killing each other.  Thousands of deaths per month stopped.

Congo. A horrific civil war, ten times worse than Darfur.  Here, private peacebuilders arranged for the leaders of the major rebel groups to meet with representatives of the president.  “If you care about this country, you need to agree to come to terms,” they were told.  “If you keep this up, one of you will succeed and two of you will not.  You will be dead or in exile.  They agreed to come to terms.  They accepted an alternative: to recognize that the good of the country was in their own hands.  They finally formed a coalition government which succeeded in 2003.  There are still a few warlords in the eastern provinces wreaking unspeakable havoc, but large scale civil war has stopped.

One of the successes of the peacebuilding movement has been the Global Peace Index.  Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea built a system that identifies successes and failures in the peacefulness of nations.  It ranks 144 countries based on their internal and external peace.

The Global Peace Index has been endorsed by individuals such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Jeffrey Sachs, Mary Robinson, and Jimmy Carter.

There is high correlation between development and peace, Chic explained.  There is a desperate need for systems, mechanism, and attitudes to be in place for sustained development to be effective.

I met Chic Dambach through my friend Paul Stevers, founder of CharityHelp International.  As founder of Orphans International Worldwide, I have the opportunity to meet many leaders in the global non-profit arena.

The number of thought leaders and global citizens actively involved in bettering humanity is staggering.  The good so much outweighs the bad, despite news reports to the contrary.

As Chic said, peace is not news.  Conflict is sexy, stability boring.  It is up to us rank-and-file to celebrate the enormous success of the peacebuilding community, and to recognize its dedicated leadership.

I have a better feeling about the world my own son will someday inherit from us knowing people like Chic Dambach and the Alliance are moving mountains to build peace.

See Chic Dambach’s exciting video.

Originally published in The Huffington post, December 9, 2009.

The Luce Index™

100 – Desmond Tutu
99 – Mary Robinson
99 – Muhammad Yunus
98 – Bill Clinton
98 – Dalai Lama
98 – Eleanor Roosevelt
98 – Joan B. Kroc
96 – Jeffrey Sachs
96 – Jimmy Carter
92 – Chic Dambach

83 – Stanford Luce



The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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