How data can provide the world with a roadmap for peace

The “Positive Peace Report 2018” by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Photo by: IEP Twitter

PALO ALTO, United States — How would the global development community operate differently if donors and NGOs shifted their thinking from asking what makes countries violent to what makes them peaceful and resilient?

“Understanding what creates sustainable peace cannot be found in the study of violence alone,” reads the “Positive Peace Report 2018,” which is published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace and was presented at the Positive Peace Conference at Stanford University this month.

The report uses statistical analysis to identify what makes countries peaceful, then draws on that data to present a roadmap of how societies can improve, with an empirical framework to measure resilience.

IEP defines the eight pillars of “positive peace” as well-functioning government, sound business environment, low levels of corruption, equitable distribution of resources, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbors, the free flow of information, and high levels of human capital — and the positive peace index tracks progress on those targets country by country. Donors and NGOs working on peacebuilding have drawn on this data to convince their partners in the global development community that peace needs to be a priority.

“This report has been really helpful in convincing international donors that they need to treat violence like a development challenge,” said Madeline Rose, senior global advocacy adviser at Mercy Corps.

She explained how Mercy Corps is using this framework to advocate for legislation, such as the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, which would require the United States government, in collaboration with civil society group, to develop a strategy addressing the root causes of violence and fragility.

“This allows us to go back to our donors and say, here’s the evidence,” said Provash Budden, Americas regional director at Mercy Corps.

“We already know what the poverty indicators are. This report adds a new layer of analysis around peace that helps the donors understand how their development or humanitarian resources can have a longer-term impact on peacebuilding. It verifies and validates the information that we have, and what we’re trying to achieve on the ground, and it just adds more context,” he said.

The most successful violence prevention programs in Latin America are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, he said.

“It is not poverty but a lack of family structure and belonging that drives kids toward violence,” said Marcelo Viscarra, country director for Mercy Corps in Guatemala, who leads a program called Convivimos, which works with individuals and families to make urban areas more secure.

Convivimos is a partnership between Mercy Corps and USAID, and one of many examples of USAID programming for peace in Latin America, which is the most violent region in the world, due to its high rates of homicide.

“Deaths from interpersonal violence in Latin America are greater than the combined death toll of the worst humanitarian disasters and civil wars going on in the world,” said Alberto Díaz-Cayeros, director at the Stanford University Center for Latin American Studies. “The humanitarian response to this violence, in contrast to the well-developed frame of mind and international institutions in place to address civil war or natural disasters, is simply dismal.”

In 2017, containing or dealing with the consequences of violence cost $14 trillion, or 12.4 percent of global gross domestic product, according to the “Positive Peace Report 2018.” Figures such as these might convince donors to invest more heavily in the prevention of violence, Budden said. He explained that peacebuilding advocates within donor agencies are drawing on this data to ask for more of their budgets to go toward violence prevention.

“The humanitarian response to this violence [in Latin America], in contrast ... to address civil war or natural disasters, is simply dismal.”

— Alberto Díaz-Cayeros, director, Stanford University Center for Latin American Studies

IEP is not the only organization bringing more evidence to peacebuilding. Pathways for Peace, a joint study by the World Bank and the United Nations, aims to refocus the attention of the international community toward prevention.

But Rose said the “Positive Peace Report 2018” is unique in the way it is helping the peacebuilding sector become more evidence-based. “We haven’t had this type of accountability structure for prevention,” she said. Still, Rose noted a need for better incentives and reward mechanisms for violence prevention in addition to violence reduction.

In July 2019, U.N. member states will come together for the first High-level Political Forum focused on SDG 16, which focuses on peace, justice, and strong institutions. Rose said the positive peace index can be a guide for countries preparing their voluntary national reviews for progress on these targets.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.