“Now we see that as religious leaders we have similar values. We are all human beings. The fact that we practice separate faiths and wear different types of religious garments need not separate us.”
I am writing from Trincomalee, on the Eastern Shore of Sri Lanka, watching gentle waves roll in from the Bay of Bengal and enjoying the warm breezes. It is hard to imagine how devastated this coast was by the 2004 tsunami, not to mention the relentless lashing of 27 years of civil war. While the country is now at peace, the 80 Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian religious leaders we have worked with for the last 20 months remind me that it will take many more years to heal the psychological and emotional scars of the war and to create a truly just and democratic society.
Nevertheless, at our closing symposium they expressed surprise and pride at the remarkable progress they have made since we began working together in September 2011. They recalled how nervous they were to meet each other in the beginning, afraid of each other’s accusations, of blame for the horrors of the war. They felt stymied by the Tamil/Sinhala language barrier, uncertain of each other’s religious customs, of what would offend. “Now we are friends, almost like family,” reported one Buddhist monk. “It is time to heal the divisions that have caused so much suffering in this country.“ “And we have learned to not allow our religion to box us in,” shared a Hindu priest. “Now we see that as religious leaders we have similar values. We are all human beings. The fact that we practice separate faiths and wear different types of religious garments need not separate us.” Given that the war ended with a military victory and that ethnic and religious tensions remain high, the trusting relationships these religious leaders have forged is no small accomplishment.
Future planning of district councils
The religious leaders also spoke proudly of the over 50 community projects they have implemented in inter-faith teams in their three districts, projects ranging from women’s vocational training, to Tamil, Sinhala, and English language classes to break through the language barrier, to inter-ethnic youth camps, to community work days to jointly repair their places of worship. And during several days of impact interviews with the beneficiaries of these projects, I heard first hand what a difference these projects have made. Villagers from different ethnic and religious communities tell me that after years of mutual suspicion, they are now attending each other’s religious and cultural festivals and even weddings. If they witness trouble brewing, especially among youths, they speak with each other or with the religious leaders to diffuse the problem.
The program has been further strengthened by peacebuilding trainings for 80 young religious leaders who have joined their elders to form district inter-faith councils. These councils are in the process of registering as independent organizations to carry this work into the future.
Not only have the religious leaders reached down into the grassroots, but they have also raised their voices on the national stage. On March 2 our Sri Lankan partner for this project, Sarvodaya
organized a national conference on inter-faith peacebuilding at the main convention center in the capital city of Colombo. Over 700 religious leaders from around the country were in attendance. Our group from the Eastern Province shared their joint resolutions for equal rights and for interfaith and interethnic tolerance. The event was headline news on one of Sri Lanka’s major TV news programs. While this program is coming to a close, we will collaborate with Sarvodaya, to find ways to continue to support the district interfaith councils as they carry their work into the future.
-Olivia Dreier, Karuna Director
Pictures from Sarvodaya's March 2nd's national conference on inter-faith peacebuilding:
Although Côte d’Ivoire’s post-electoral violence of 2011 has limited the role that Ivoirians of different political leanings can play in the country’s development, civil society actors have retained the freedom to operate in a way that creates greater space for political expression and positive action. Two such actors are Côte d’Ivoire’s Evangelical and Catholic churches. Karuna associates Joseph Sebarenzi and Joachim Diene have begun working with members of these congregations to capitalize on their breadth of reach and make optimal use of their power as change agents.
Joseph and Joachim, in partnership with the US-based development firm AECOM, facilitated a three-day training workshop in Abidjan for 50 Evangelical and Catholic Christian leaders to analyze the positive role they can play in the post-conflict recovery process. Participants were encouraged to discuss steps they can take to enable more proactive contributions in the recovery experience and develop greater inclusivity in the profile of Ivoirians involved. Joseph and Joachim are now developing a training of trainers manual to prepare the participants to return to their own communities ready to help their fellow members support the recovery process in their respective areas.
-Kelly Donovan, Intern
In late February, I returned to Sri Lanka for our third set of inter-faith workshops with our group of 80 Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders. As previously described, this work is taking place in the Northeast of the country, an area deeply affected by 30 years of civil war. Working with religious leaders provides a politically acceptable way of addressing deep residues of inter-ethnic tension left in the wake of the of the 2009 military victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). While the government proclaims that economic development will solve all problems, the citizens of this area know that much more will be needed to rebuild trust after a war that killed and displaced thousands and left communal relations in tatters.
Our focus this time was on the use of dialogue as a tool for reconciliation. Given the language barriers, it is no wonder there has been so much social distance and the space for all kinds of prejudices and tensions. Like other inhabitants of the region, only a handful of our religious leaders speak both Tamil and Sinhalese or are able to use English as a lingua franca. Thanks to the presence of translators, the leaders had the opportunity to fully listen, as each group shared deeply about their suffering during war and their concerns for the future. In this region all groups suffered, including the Buddhists (who are all Sinhalese and the dominant group in the country) as they were victims of frequent LTTE attacks. The participants said it was the first time they had openly shared painful experiences with members of other groups. It is not the cultural norm and the political climate discourages it. The subsequent relief and warmth between participants was palpable. At tea break, monks, priests, imams, and pastors strolled arm and arm, even if they had little language in common. After each group had the opportunity to openly share their own experiences and concerns for the future as the larger group listened, the relief was palpable. It has taken five months of careful work to build the necessary trust for this to happen.
The leaders are now fully engaged in implementing over 40 inter-faith community projects. Projects range from enlisting youth in the joint repair of cemeteries for each faith group, to a mushroom growing project for women, to computer classes for mixed youth, to Tamil and Sinhalese language classes. Together with our Sri Lankan partner, Sarvodaya, the leaders have also produced and distributed 4,000 inter-faith calendars with holidays and traditions from all four faith groups. They are planning radio and television discussions on reconciliation, a children’s book of peace stories from their respective traditions, exchanges with religious leaders from other parts of the country, and a national conference on inter-faith peacebuilding.
I recently returned from two weeks in the Sri Lankan city of Trincomalee, where we had earlier launched our year-long reconciliation program with a series of workshops within Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious communities. This time, for our second workshop series, I facilitated groups of religious leaders from the four different faiths combined.
Religion is important in Sri Lanka as an identity marker, a community, a spiritual focus, and a cultural way of life. In the rural areas, religious groups tend to live, work, educate their children, and enjoy their public spaces in distinct villages with very little connection to those of other traditions. In urban areas these barriers are looser, but still fraternization is largely along religious/ethnic lines. The long civil war has only reified these divisions and added an element of distrust to the already complex issue of identity.
In our religiously mixed workshops, some participants commented that they had never spoken to, for example, a Muslim person or a Christian person. I observed a certain joy in their discovery of common ground on both mundane and theological issues. We spoke together about the root teachings of each religion and explored the similarities of all traditions in fostering peace, harmony, respect, and equality. Group members acknowledged that these abstract concepts were not necessarily practiced but that at least the aims were shared.
To deepen our understanding of the role of identity in the context of violent conflict, we looked at the reality of our multiple identities, finding those that overlap and provide a cross-cutting shared identity, such as Sri Lankan, educator, religious leader, woman, soccer player, etc. We also explored the psychology of wounded identity, which again they share because many have been targeted and harmed in Sri Lanka because of their ethnic/religious identity. How we are socialized to develop prejudices, indulge in stereotyping, and grow up to hate other groups also figured in our workshop, and participants shared somewhat honestly what they had been taught about each other and how much they had to re-learn.
This exploration led us to discussions about their special status as religious leaders and role models. Each of them made commitments to return to their communities with a mandate to develop inter-religious activities and to be visible themselves with members of other religious groups. We hope they will begin to speak out against discrimination, to become more self-aware about their own expressions of prejudice, and to develop opportunities for teaching tolerance to others.
The accompanying photos, each an illustration of inter-religious communication, represent one small step in recovery from decades of war and enmity. I wish I could post them on billboards throughout Sri Lanka, which is so much in need of inspiration, connection, and hope.
The beautiful island of Sri Lanka, lying just off the coast of southern India, has endured one of the more brutal wars of the last century, lasting 26 years and claiming 80-100,000 lives. The Sri Lankan government’s military victory in May 2009 brought an end to the violence but left many challenges in its wake, as reports of civilians deaths and human rights abuses abound and the grievances of Tamil and Muslim minorities remain unmet.
In October I travelled to the eastern coastal city of Trincomalee to launch a year-long reconciliation program with 80 Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders from surrounding areas. It was deeply affected by the war as well as the 2004 tsunami. Repeated flooding has further damaged homes and infrastructure, compounding endemic poverty.
In Sri Lanka, ethnic groups tend to be regionally divided, but in the Eastern District all three groups (Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim) live in close proximity, although the Tamil-speaking minorities are in the majority. Everyone is relieved that the war is over. However, grievances, mistrust, and enmity run deep, as do the social and psychological wounds of war. Addressing ethnic tensions head-on would be too fraught in a political climate where the Sinhalese-dominated government insists that the country’s only problem is one of economic development. Religious leaders offer a more indirect route. The Buddhist are all Sinhalese and the Hindus, Tamil; while Tamil speaking Muslims identify as their own ethnic group and during the war clashed with Hindu Tamils. Christian congregations form something of a bridge, containing both Tamil and Sinhalese speakers. The program will engage all four groups of religious leaders in community-based projects to rebuild relationships. However, sustainable peace will not come without a greater degree of social justice. As the participants come to understand each other’s challenges, it is hoped that together they can also advocate for non-discriminatory government policies.
Karuna Center is delighted to be working in partnership with the U.S. based development firm ARD and Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement
, one of Sri Lanka’s oldest and largest NGOs that has been engaged with peace rural development and community empowerment for over 50 years. The religious leaders will be able to build on Sarvodaya’s extensive village councils to develop their projects.
During this first visit, we held separate workshops for each faith group. Each group analyzed the layers of problems their communities face in the aftermath of war as well as sources of resilience and the ways in which their faith traditions can contribute to a more peaceful and tolerant future.
Paula Green re-visited Bosnia for a week in July, the first time back since our projects ended there a decade ago. Here are her reflections:
A decade later, Bosnia is both the same and different. Most of the homes destroyed in the 1992-95 Bosnian War have been rebuilt, either by their former owners or by displaced people seeking shelter because their own homes had been demolished and they no longer felt safe returning. Some housing, however, remains in its bombed-out state, serving as a stark reminder that war was recent and human beings can be destructive in the extreme.
Photo: Paula Green with Vahidin Omanovic in front of the Center for Peacebuilding in Sanski Most, Bosnia (above left)
The fields are blooming again, the pastures have been restocked with animals, the infrastructure repaired, and the shops busy. What locals report is that the primary difference between pre-war and post-war Bosnia is a sharp ethnic separation, with Bosniaks (formerly called Bosnian Muslims), Serbs, and Croats living in different regions and no longer in neighborly relation to each other. Not only is the dream of an ethnically mixed Yugoslavia long gone, but the dream of Bosnia as the most diverse state in the region was also shattered by war and further harmed by the postwar legal arrangements.
Photo: Words on a memorial in the town of Kozarac, listing the names of 1,266 civilians who were killed in 1992 (right)
I visited the two cities of Sanski Most and Prijedor in northern Bosnia, where Karuna Center worked on peacebuilding programs with women and with educators from 1997-2002. My visits with the individuals I knew all those years ago were richly rewarding, emotional, and affirmative of Karuna Center’s contributions and impact on their lives. My host was Vahidin Omanovic, a Bosniak educator who now runs an NGO in Sanski Most called the Center for Peacebuilding, or CIM in the Bosnian language. Vahidin has just been awarded the Bremen Peace Award from Germany in honor of his courageous and creative inter-ethnic work in Bosnia. During our years in Bosnia, Vahidin, who is an imam, was a teacher and the only person in our project who spoke English, which he had learned from watching television as an adolescent refugee in a Slovenian displaced persons camp. Because he spoke English and took so enthusiastically to our work, we sent Vahidin to the US for our CONTACT Program at the School for International Training and then helped him complete an MA in peace and conflict.
1992: a destroyed building in the Bosnian village of Kozarac (above left)
2011: The same building, restored: now a peace center (above right)
Vahidin and I went first to visit Emsuda Mujagic (pictured below), the woman who originally invited Karuna Center to Bosnia and who now runs her own successful peace center (see photos, to the right) where she offers income generation projects, legal aid, women’s groups, NGO development advice, and groups for Bosniak veterans. Emsuda had gathered 5 members of our original 1997-2000 women’s group, all of whom spoke about the importance of our women’s circles in their individual and community healing. They especially remembered the depth, honesty, and integrity of our dialogue work, and reflected on the level of transformation that emerged from their experiences of dialogue with other Bosniaks and especially with Serb women. Emsuda continues to be a pioneer, the first to rebuild her home in the completely destroyed village of Kozarac, setting a precedent for others to follow and now a leader in this revived and thriving Bosniak community. Relations with Serbs in the area, however, remain tense.
In conversations with the educators from Sanski Most and Prijedor we met with, we again heard how helpful the training program for educators had been for them, and how they have tried to carry on the ideals and values they internalized from our years together. They admit, however, that they are not hopeful at present that Bosnia might be re-integrated, and they do what they can as Bosniak teachers in Sanski Most or Serb teachers in Prijedor.
My sense is that a national program of healing, called for from the government, would be the best way to jump-start the kind of conversations necessary for exploring the past in order to build a safe future. This divided government, however, has no interest in such endeavors and in fact, many wish to keep Bosnians apart from each other according to their ethnicity. There are no national NGOs with the status to initiate such a program, and no government units such as the department of education would have such a mandate. This lack of acknowledgment of the crimes of war worries me, as I do believe we need to learn from our past in order not to repeat it, and there is no such learning emerging throughout Bosnian society. Maybe it will come in time, and maybe the Bosnians can keep their country together and slowly repair their broken hearts and shattered communities. But so much more could happen if a concerted national effort toward healing and reconciliation was encouraged and modeled by those with visibility, especially if the roster of cheerleaders for healing was led by members of Bosnia’s rich ethnic diversity.
Paula Green and I just held a videoconference with Nepalese political leaders, together with our colleagues at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. This follows up on a trip I took to Nepal in February to facilitate a training and an intensive retreat. Our role is to support Nepal’s new Constituent Assembly with negotiation and collaborative leadership skills, in the hopes that Nepal can have a constitution by the current deadline of May 2011.
Until recently, we were not able to engage a key element: the Maoists, who hold 38% of seats in the multi-party parliament. This is far and away the largest proportion of any party, but complicated political reasons prevented any of them from participating in Karuna Center initiatives last summer and fall.
Nepal’s Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008 as the new republic’s first parliament, following a 10-year civil war between Maoist revolutionaries and the monarchy. Advocates for democracy allied with the Maoists to bring about the fall of the kingdom in 2006. Now that the war is over, Maoists party members represent the interests of many previously marginalized members of Nepali society, including ethnic minorities, excluded castes, and rural women. But the legacies of armed conflict, and a political culture steeped in authoritarianism, have made it difficult for political parties to cooperate enough to form a stable government and write a new constitution.
After months of trying and failing to incorporate Maoist participation in our workshops, we began to pursue a “Backchannel Group” that would meet parallel to our peacebuilding trainings and engage various party members more informally around their differences. In February, twelve people from the top rung of Maoist leadership joined 10 other high-level parliamentarians from other parties who were also new to our workshops.
It was difficult to get everyone to actually stop and listen to each other, but eventually they did, reaching past their usual stance of positional bargaining to a deeper understanding of each other’s real concerns and fears.
Four of the Maoists then joined the Backchannel Group for an intensive day and a half retreat, which also went surprisingly well. Somehow the moment seemed ripe, with the Maoists and others all recognizing that they need to move towards compromise if they don’t want to totally alienate the public who elected them with a high hopes for a new, democratic Nepal—a public now increasingly disillusioned with their politicians and impatient with a stalled process.
Through our three sets of trainings, funded by the U.S. State Department, we have now trained 75 leaders within the Constituent Assembly in interest- based (or “principled”) negotiations and collaborative (or “adaptive”) leadership.
The Backchannel Group delved into some deep, substantive issues, notably forms of federalism and the integration of Maoists cadres into the Nepalese army. They did an exercise in which they met in party groups and listed out what they thought the interests, concerns, and fears were behind the positions of each of the other parties. They then had to check with each party to see if they understood accurately and revise accordingly. It was a real exercise in listening. The subsequent understanding of each other’s fears was particularly revealing. A “systems analysis” of the kinds of self-reinforcing binds of mutual suspicion between parties led to a deep and honest dialogue.
There was a palpable, collective sense of a new dynamic occurring in real time, that the Backchannel Group, now comprised of all parties, was born as a body that could actually achieve something. Participants see the Backchannel as a space for reaching a deeper understanding of what lies behind each other’s positions, where they can generate a variety of new options on the tough, divisive issues to bring back to their respective parties and the “front channel,” or formal negotiations.
We hope that a follow up trip to Nepal in early April will bring new progress. The process has confirmed for us the immense value of creating safe space for relationship building between conflicting parties, whether in the halls of parliament or in local communities fractured by legacies of violence.
This January, I traveled with 12 students to Rwanda for a weeklong field seminar, as part of the Graduate Certificate program that I direct as part of Karuna Center’s relationship with the CONTACT Program at SIT Graduate Institute
. My co-teacher, Adin Thayer, is also a Karuna Center Associate. The trip connected students with a variety of NGOs and government institutions, many of which Karuna Center has worked with in the past, and allowed us a glimpse of courageous processes of healing and reconciliation among a population that was traumatized by the 1994 genocide no matter their ethnicity.
CONTACT students visit a TIG (Travaux Interet Generale, or “Work in the General Interest”) camp, where those who have confessed to genocide crimes may perform community service instead of serving prison sentences.
One of the more remarkable testimonies we heard was from a young man who joined the Hutu militias in the Congo in the late ’90’s and participated in attacks that included rape and plunder on Rwandan villages. On one of these raids he was severely wounded by Rwandan government soldiers. To his great surprise, rather than being killed, he was treated in a Rwandan hospital and then sent to a demobilization camp. After returning to his village, he decided to participate in a local reconciliation training led by Karuna Center’s long-term partner ProFemme
, a national network of women’s organizations. The experience dramatically changed his outlook, and he in turn now co-leads reconciliation trainings together with survivors.
We witnessed post-genocide work on many levels. We heard from a panel of survivors working with the Quaker-led Friends Peace House
on a trauma healing program (which Adin helped to develop) that engages survivors and perpetrators together, recognizing that all were emotionally wounded by the violence. We also held a dialogue with staff at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre
who teach the history of the genocide to high school students of mixed ethnicity.
We met with the Women’s parliamentary caucus on the gains and remaining challenges for Rwandan women (at 57%, Rwanda now leads the world for the highest number of women parliamentarians)—and the Rwandan Men’s Resource Center
, which leads trainings on positive images of Rwandan manhood. We also talked with staff of Radio La Benevolencija
, an NGO that leads radio soap operas with a theme of reconciliation and has a listenership of over 90% of Rwandans (and with which Adin consults). Yet more of our community visits are detailed in SIT’s blog about the trip
We were surprised with a rare opportunity to witness a Gacaca
trial relating to the 1994 genocide. Though Gacaca trials have been drawing to a close, we were invited to attend an appeal. The Gacaca trials are a system of community justice, inspired by traditional methods, in which perpetrators of the genocide are tried within the communities where the crimes were committed. Those who confess receive reduced sentencing. One of the CONTACT Graduate Certificate students in our group, Derek Miodownik, wrote up his impressions of the Gacaca process he witnessed:
Upon arrival, we could see a man approximately in his 50’s clad in a pink shirt and long shorts that, as we came to find out, is the standard issue prisoner attire in Rwanda. The man in pink who I will call Bertrand was appealing his original Gacaca Court conviction of rape and violent attack at a roadblock for which he was currently serving a life sentence.
The judges took their seats behind a table at the front of the room and put on sashes that said Inyangamugayo, meaning “Person of Integrity.” The process seemed to follow a loose structure whereby the judges first took testimony and asked clarifying questions of witnesses from which they derived questions for Bertrand, and his responses would often be refuted by either the witness or anyone else who claimed to have pertinent and contradictory information. Once all the listed witnesses had been deposed, the floor was open for anyone else who wanted to come forward with information, and this same clarifying and questioning process ensued. This discovery phase often turned up names of other people who were not present at the hearing, but who could provide critical testimony if summonsed.
The site of the hearing on the second day was under a large tree at the base of a slope where it flattened out to meet the road. By the time we arrived many villagers had already assembled, and it was then that I truly understood why it was called Gacaca (Grass) Court.
The second day of the hearing brought new witnesses, and the questions from the judges got increasingly detailed and investigatory. They would hone in on questions such as, “What did you buy at the store?”, “What time were you there?”, “What were you carrying?”, and the responses would spark many doubtful snickers for community members in attendance. Once again, the judges’ highly investigatory approach led to new names and details being surfaced, and, accordingly, new summonses issued for another session.
The third day of the hearing brought additional witnesses who contended that they did not see Bertrand at the roadblock or participating in any of the violent attacks that occurred there as Tutsis tried to flee and take shelter outside the village. The day was marked by more sounds of disbelief or contempt among those present, with several community members becoming visibly shaken and upset. Bertrand was given a final chance to make a statement and delivered an impassioned insistence of his innocence.
The entire process was truly fascinating to witness: The thoroughness of the judges; The open forum approach to participation; The spontaneously unfolding content and responsive line of questioning; The myriad pieces of a jigsaw puzzle picture held by community members and assembled by the judges, themselves volunteers.
I heard it remarked several times that the genocide happened in broad daylight, so people must have seen what happened. This notion that the truth is discoverable through the pooled knowledge that inherently exists in communities seems to drive the Gacaca Court process. While so many people perished, there are still survivors who bore witness, or know someone who did, or carry pieces of critical information. And in much the same way that the Gacaca Court judges piece together their cases question by question, the Gacaca Court process itself has seemingly pieced together the fractured image of Rwanda, relationship by relationship.
This is the reason I lead this trip to Rwanda. Out of the most horrific violence, Rwandan people have developed new methodologies for transforming conflict and promoting healing and reconciliation. While many justifiably criticize the lacks in open political space and freedom of the press and there is undeniably a long way to go, we have much to learn from what is happening in Rwandan communities.
In September, I engaged in a marathon three weeks of peacebuilding in Nepal, where we are providing intensive training to members of the country’s Constitutional Assembly, (which is also the interim parliament) as well as to civil society organizations.
Our task—or opportunity—is to mentor and support members of this new parliament as they build the first democratic national government in the history of Nepal. When we began our work in Nepal in 1995, the country was a 240 year-old Hindu monarchy headed by King Gyanendra. Following a 10-year civil war between Maoist rebels and the government, the Nepalese people convened a Constitutional Assembly (CA) in 2008 tasked with the formidable challenges of drafting a new constitution, their first as a fledgling democracy.
This new CA is a broadly representative mosaic of ethnic, religious, and regional diversity represented through 25 different political parties and perhaps 50 ethnic groups. Our trainings have high-level Nepali leaders with graduate degrees mixed in with marginalized populations who are barely literate but were appointed to this Constitutional Assembly. The opportunities for true peacebuilding are unique, but the CA is haunted by a historically authoritarian political culture. Members of parliament often feel powerless, defer to their party bosses, and are reluctant to take risks.
Our training focused intensively on a small group of 35 CA members from most of the major parties. We worked in collaboration with the Institute for Conflict, Peace and Development (ICPD) in Nepal. We taught in a congenial team of 5 faculty members from our June 2010 Boston training: Poorna Adhikary and Bishnu Bushal from ICPD, Ted Morse from 40+ years at USAID, Tom Schaub from CMPartners and previously Harvard Program on Negotiation, and Hugh O’Doherty, a North Irish colleague from Kennedy School of Government. They brought significant expertise in leadership, negotiation, and DDR (demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of the Maoist armies). My tasks, in addition to managing the faculty team, the staff, and the overall program, included leading the peacebuilding and communication practices of the teaching.
Until now, for complicated political reasons, we have not had a Maoist CA presence in our training, but we hope to include members of the Maoist party in future CA programs—perhaps as soon as December. The Maoists are one of the leading parties in Nepal, along with the Congress Party, the Marxists-Leninists, and the Madhesi Party. Where else in the world are two major parties any longer Maoist or Marxist-Leninist?
We focused intently on leadership development, and the difference between leadership and authority. During Day 7 of our training together, Hugh O’Doherty shared this reflection with the group:
“Leadership is meaningless without a connection to purpose. The only reason to take risks with your career is because you care about something deeply. People will partner with you if they are connecting to a purpose. People will put themselves through discomfort to attain something meaningful.”
We challenged authoritarian models of leadership and following the leader, introducing new exercises in listening, communication, collaboration, and negotiation. By the end of the seminar, many participants were deeply engaged in these new ideas. Feedback from the evaluations included insights like:
- Leadership is not a post or status, but measured by action, rather than the person.
- Listening is the best way to start negotiation.
- Without trust, peacebuilding is not possible.
Another positive development was the engagement of new participants, some coming from Dalit or other marginalized backgrounds and many of them women. Holding back at first, and likely feeling inadequate in the face of highly educated CA group members, they began to participate in the large group and finally became very strong, and sometimes provocative, group participants. In the next few months, our work in Nepal will continue with the CA, including the development of a smaller CA backchannel group. We will also have a particular focus on strengthening women’s leadership in the new republic, both in civil society and the parliament.
As one participant wrote at the end of the training, Keep the ball rolling. This is just the beginning.
In June, Karuna Center brought a group of 20 political leaders from all major parties and party factions to Boston for ten days of intensive negotiations training to address contentious issues that are blocking the constitution-writing process and inter-party cooperation. The program was run in partnership with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the Institute for Conflict, Peace and Development of Nepal with funding from the U.S. State Department. The program was very well received and plans are in the making for follow up work in Nepal in September.