Thanks to Andrew Tomlinson, Director of QUNO-NY, Olivia Ensign, QUNO Program Assistant, and Theresa Kirby for assistance composing this post.
Security was tight in New York City as delegates gathered for the high-level meetings that marked the opening of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in late September. There were snipers on the roof of the UN buildings, and black limousines with flashing lights crowded the streets nearby as they lined up to get through the NYPD roadblocks.
One of the key items on the agenda that week was a series of discussions around the shape and content of a new global development framework to put in place after the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals. Part of the background to the discussions was that 12 years into a 15 year timeframe, no low-income, fragile or conflict-affected country had been able to achieve a single one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), goals like better maternal health and universal education.
It seemed clear that the next global framework needed to address one major obstacle: the impact of violence and fragility on development. And that’s why staff from the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) invited representatives of peacebuilding organizations from all over the world, including grassroots groups from countries impacted by conflict, to gather at Quaker House that week to make their case to the assembled delegates. The aim: that the voices of those affected by conflict were heard, and that their needs were incorporated into the post-2015 agenda.
As Andrew Tomlinson, QUNO Director, said, “Taking account of context, addressing the root causes of violence and fragility, and helping local people do what they think is most important to create resilient communities is a different mindset for many development organizations. The traditional aid approach, in which rich white people give things to poor brown people, creating dependency rather than empowerment, is still too often the norm.”
AFSC’s programs in Burundi and Zimbabwe serve as an alternative model of the kind of economic development that QUNO and the other organizations wanted to promote. Conflict transformation lays the ground for economic development and is woven into the program. It works - in Zimbabwe, AFSC livelihoods programs that incorporate conflict transformation skills have helped one community raise income levels by 70%.
The peacebuilding organizations launched a statement, released on the International Day of Peace, that set out nine recommendations for the new global development agenda, including issues such as addressing the causes of conflict, not just the symptoms, supporting inclusive, responsible, fair and accountable governments, and establishing global commitments to pursue sustainable peace.
Those attending knew that their experiences held real lessons for those developing plans at the U.N., but that it would take more than a statement to ensure that voices from affected countries would be heard. So they held an event at Quaker House on the opening day of the high level meetings at the UN, and invited in diplomats, UN officials and civil society representatives who would be involved in putting together the new framework.
In that quiet space, representatives from fragile and conflict-affected countries such as Liberia, South Sudan and Kenya, and government officials from Afghanistan, Timor Leste, and Liberia shared their perspectives with delegates and officials who would soon be heading into the formal discussions. They affirmed that to do development in these environments means addressing issues like violence, political inclusion and justice.
For QUNO staff, this echoed the stories they heard from Friends’ communities around the world at the FWCC World Gathering in Kenya earlier this year. Stories told of growing levels of gang violence in Guatemala, of communities in Kenya where people were afraid to go out at night, and of gun violence in the United States.
Bringing voices from the ground, the lived experience of violence and fragility, helped reframe the conversation. Quaker House often serves that role – it’s an island of openness in the midst of extreme security, a hub for conversation, a place away from the microphones and TV cameras where delegates and officials can meet in an informal and supportive environment and get to the heart of the issues. The best part? The conversations started there continue – in the halls of the U.N., in policy centers around the world, and – we hope – in the framing of the next set of global development goals.