Listen In: Discussing Peace on Wisconsin Public Radio


Update: I had a great time talking with Rob about peacefulness and peace economics. You can listen to the interview here.

One listener/reader has sent me a question, so, Q&A post forthcoming. Send me your thoughts and questions, too.

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Visit the Center for Theory of Change, Tuesday 3/18 in NYC


A few weeks ago, Theory of Change was discovered by the Center for Theory of Change, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting quality standards and best practice for the development and implementation of the Theory of Change model, especially in international development, sustainability, education, human rights and social change. I’m really glad to be in touch with the folks there, as developing and sharing knowledge about how we can most effectively change the world is a particular passion of mine.

So, I’m pleased to share an opportunity for those of you in New York City to meet the team at CTOC and join them on the evening of Tuesday, March 18th for the launch of a new Corelab report, “9 Ways to Change the World?: Theories of change for engaging people on global issues.” If you’re in the city, check out the event details below. (If you’re not, you can still access the report and the great learning from both orgs online.)

I won’t be able to make it – I’ll be over at the Yes Lab that evening – but if you get out to the event, let me know how it went, who you met, and what you learned!

Corelab and the Center for Theory of Change  are delighted to invite you to the:

Launch of 9 Ways to Change the World

A Corelab Briefing on Theories of Change for Engaging People on Global Issues

When: Tuesday 18th March
Time: 6:30-8:30 EST
Where: CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave,  6th floor, Room 6304.01
New York  10016

May Miller-Dawkins, Head of Research at Corelab and Author of 9 Ways to Change the World
Peggy Hicks, Director of Global Advocacy, Human Rights Watch
Jose Luis Diaz, Head of Amnesty International’s New York Office
Hannah Weitzer, Program Manager, Global Nomads Group

Join us for the launch and an evening of discussion and debate about theories of change to engage people on global issues.

RSVP now (to reserve your spot) to:  Zabi Rahat of Center for Theory of Change
Hosted by Actknowledge

Download and Review the Briefing Here

The Butcher, the Baker, the Brewer, and the Peacebuilder


“The Butcher, the Baker, the Brewer, and the Peacebuilder: Opportunities, Strategies, and Metrics for the Role of Business in Building Peace,” in the journal of Business, Peace, and Sustainable Development

My first journal publication is out!

This past spring I attended and presented at the conference Peace Economics, Peace Metrics, and the Role of Business, co-hosted by the Institute for Economics and Peace and the American University Kogod School of Business. A short report-back that I wrote was featured on the U.S. Institute of Peace’s International Network for Economics and Conflict blog, and now a full analysis of the conference proceedings and the trends and opportunities for peace economics is appearing in the first issue of the new journal Business, Peace and Sustainable Development.

You can purchase the first issue, including my article and the work of my colleague, Daniel Hyslop from IEP, on violence containment – another project I collaborated with IEP on a few years ago – at the link above.

An Ecosystem for Peace


A few weeks ago, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released a new report on the Pillars of Peace – the first quantitative framework for understanding positive peace. Positive peace – the presence of attitudes, institutions, and structures to support peacefulness – is the counterpart to negative peace – the absence of violence or the fear of violence. IEP has pioneered the frameworks for quantitatively measuring both negative and positive peace. By testing 4,700 variables for correlation with the Global Peace Index (GPI), the measurement of negative peace, IEP identified the key social conditions that coincide with the absence of violence. The statistically significant variables fall into eight categories, or Pillars:

  • Well functioning government
  • Sound business environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources
  • Acceptance of the rights of others
  • Good relations with neighbours
  • Free flow of information
  • High levels of education
  • Low levels of corruption

The new report was released just in time for the opening of 68th session of the UN General Assembly, and the accompanying High Level meetings of world leaders in New York City. This year’s hot topic: the Millennium Development Goals, which will remain un-met at their 2015 deadline, and what to do next. A global process is underway to design an improved post-2015 framework, and the peacebuilding community has been calling for the inclusion of a peace and security goal.

IEP participated in a number of discussions around operationalizing the Pillars of Peace post 2015, and I was invited to join one of these conversations at the Quaker House here in New York. Representatives of the UN and civil society communities gathered to hear a presentation from IEP founder Steve Killelea and to discuss how the Pillars of Peace framework could be put into practice. The main takeaway?

Success lies in building a sustainable ecosystem for peace.

A few criticisms of the framework were raised, but in my mind, each of them underscores the need for a holistic approach more than they reveal unsolvable problems:

  • Gender: IEP consistently finds that the available data on global gender inequity and gender-based violence (GBV) is either inadequate (too few countries, unreliable, etc.) or not statistically significant, resulting in the absence of gender indicators in the GPI and the Pillars of Peace. The data issue is a real constraint – see the next point. But that doesn’t mean gender inequity is unimportant to peace. On one hand, as a discussant in the session noted, we have to be creative about exploring every indicator. The global data on domestic violence is problematic, but what about indicators for the number of women in parliament? The number of female cabinet members? The implementation of 1325? On the other hand, well, see the point on correlation.
  • Data: Gender isn’t the only category in which it’s difficult to gather accurate data. It was noted in conversation that sometimes a country is so poor it lacks the infrastructure to measure how poor it is. And violence only complicates this – on top of destroying infrastructure, violent activity is often illegal (and therefore clandestine), always chaotic, and usually both. So while quantitative measurements of something as illusive as peace are appealing, we have to remain aware of their limitations. Statistics are only as good as the underlying data.
  • Correlation: The Pillars of Peace represent the social indicators that correlate with the GPI. That means that anything left out of the GPI will similarly be left of the Pillars. It’s logical that something like Well Functioning Government, which includes rule of law, will correlate significantly with an index that includes indicators like perceived criminality and levels of violent crime. However, it also makes sense that measures of gender equity wouldn’t correlate with an index that doesn’t include an indicator for GBV. This isn’t a problem of IEP trying to leave it out, of course – there are a lot of reasons why the data on GBV is problematic. But we can’t forget that what isn’t present in our statistics isn’t unimportant – especially to the victims of the violence we aren’t counting.
  • Linearity: This was one of the most prominent points of the conversation. Practitioners working with very real resource constraints raised the dual issue of the need to prioritize areas of work and the problematic nature of working in a linear fashion – the eight Pillars, as interdependent factors, can’t be checked off a list in priority order. In the room, this felt like the greatest challenge for operationalizing the framework. But upon reflection, perhaps it’s the greatest opportunity.

The more we discussed linearity, the more the word “ecosystem” came out as the preferred alternative. Indeed, IEP promotes the Pillars of Peace framework as a systems approach, noting on page 3 of the report that the pillars are interdependent, comparable to the various species in a forest, and that “the wider interactions in a system also determine the ways components themselves operate.” But the challenge arises in translating systems thinking into systems working.

Some discussion participants felt that the best way to correct for issues in the quantitative frameworks, and to account for local context and needs, was to connect the quantitative tools to existing qualitative tools, particularly conflict analysis. However, it seems to me that the Pillars of Peace framework is ripe for a peacebuilding analysis. The eight Pillars are likely to correspond closely with both the post-2015 goals and the civil society and social enterprise work happening in settings all over the world. It could be said that ending extreme poverty is the major difference, but Killelea pointed out that, in an extreme poverty setting, “everyone is trying to make a buck” and that’s as relevant a business environment as any. After all, IEP finds that a Sound Business Environment includes quality infrastructure, access to the Internet, and clean water for the majority of a population – three fairly standard development goals.

Would it be possible to map our peacebuilding and development work in a given context according to the eight Pillars? It would be beyond the scope of any one organization to work on every aspect of all eight, but in order to know if, and how, we’re building an ecosystem for peace in Sierra Leone, or Syria, or Detroit, for example, it might be possible for one team to map the existing work, across organizations, against the Pillars of Peace framework. Where are we succeeding? Where are we falling short? And who should be working together?

When we find that development and the absence of violence are correlated, it means that these things move together. And so we can likely amplify our success in all arenas by working on them together. A peacebuilding analysis based on the Pillars of Peace would be informed by the quantitative work, but could build in the necessary qualitative work for context factors, actor mapping, and identifying what discussion participants called “pathways” and “momentum factors.” Such a systems working tool could be the first step in building sustainable ecosystems for peace. Perhaps that should be IEP’s – or one of their partners’ – next project.

Legality and justice: Hate speech, property defacement, or freedom of expression?


So, this controversial video is going around the internet, in which a woman is arrested for spraying pink paint over an NYC subway ad that reads “In a war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

While Mona is spraying the ad, another woman, Pamela, attempts to physically prevent her from painting over it and at one point uses her camera equipment to try and shove her away from the ad.

I originally read of the incident on Political Fail Blog, via a Facebook post. Today, I read over a long Facebook comment thread between my classmates that inspired me to write about the incident. A lot came up in this thread, but I’d like to explore an issue that I think of often: does legality equal justice? How about legitimacy? This ad was legally sanctioned by a NYC judge; defacing a subway ad is illegal. But many people find the ad offensive, and onlookers as well as internet commentators applaud Mona’s action. So who’s right, and what does the whole incident mean for social justice?

Two Facebook posters noted that breaking the law, and doing so with graffiti, are historically accepted and even successful means of activism. Mona contends that her action is “freedom of expression, just as [the ad] is freedom of expression.” But nonetheless, one is legal and the other isn’t. I contend that legality is as fallible as the humans who created it, and therefore does not automatically equal justice or legitimacy. Now, in the interest of a peaceful and orderly coexistence, I am not suggesting we all treat the entire governing structure as illegitimate whenever we don’t like it and just do whatever the hell we please. But I will assert that it is our responsibility as citizens to think critically about the law, to discuss when it does and does not appropriately protect our freedoms, and, when we determine it is unjust, to use our full range of means to have it changed. In this case, our freedom to express religious and cultural opinions is juxtaposed with our desire to live free from hate speech. Mona implied they were both rights, and exercised her right to the later.

When legality sides with injustice there are a number of historically accepted and successful tactics available to activists, including the similar but distinct civil disobedience, noncooperation, and nonviolent direct action (NVDA).

Civil disobedience involves directly breaking a law that the activists finds to be unjust. Ex: Entering a public space, such as a school, that your are legally excluded from based on your race, gender, sexual identity, etc.

Noncooperation involves not cooperating with a law or norm in order to draw attention to a cause and/or express opposition to injustice. Ex: Staging a sit-in that disrupts normal activity. While a demonstration may be illegal, it is often directed at a different legal or normal injustice, such as marriage inequality.

NVDA includes a wide range of tactics that are often noncooperative and civilly disobedient, and also intended to put direct pressure on actors who uphold unjust laws or norms. Ex: Blocking the entrance to the NY Stock Exchange to prevent the ringing of the opening bell. While possibly illegal and definitely noncooperative, this action also directly disrupts and pressures actors at the major corporations on Wall Street to change their actions or experience further disruptions.

I would label this NVDA, in that Mona was taking direct action against a practice she finds unjust. It could also be said that she was engaging in civil disobedience by breaking a law she felt is unjust: the law that says one can buy hate speech in the NYC subway for $6k. (Also at issue: $ = speech?) And for those who have said that, no matter how offensive the ad, she shouldn’t have defaced it: that’s the point. Mona, like many activists before her, refused to cooperate with the social norm and the legality that says this hate speech is acceptable while her pink spray paint is not. All of these tactics are indeed accepted and historically successful means for bringing about social change. In fact, statistically, nonviolent tactics are twice as successful. (An interesting discussion is whether or not property defacement constitutes violence, especially public property.) What’s my point here? If Pam can rightfully buy that add for $6k why can’t Mona rightfully spray paint over it?

It’s September – Back to Work!


Summer is definitely my favorite season – it’s play time! But fall feels like the most productive time of year. In the next few months, in addition to writing my thesis and finishing my master’s degree, I have a lot of good work coming up. A few exciting updates for the fall:

I’ve begun an exciting partnership with the social justice organization Disarm to keep all of our readers updated on peace, justice, and economic development in México. Disarm has generously supported my current trip, during which I’m investigating the status of economic opportunity in a small part of central México. Huge thanks go out to the Disarm team for making this possible! During and after my travels, you can read updates and see photos on the From the Field section of Continue reading

Visionistas: Building Peaceful Economies in the Americas

ojuelos de jalisco mexico

Visionistas is dedicated to building peaceful economies in the Americas by identifying what economic structures and business models build peace and working to implement them.

Visionistas is the organization I’m working to build, and the above is our mission statement. As I embark on the first Visionistas research project this summer and fall – my masters thesis, on economic opportunity in México – I want to introduce the organization this work will serve to create.

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