Building Inclusive Civil Societies with, and for, Young People in 5 Post-Conflict Countries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Languages, Cultures and Societies


The legacy of internal conflict, violence, even genocide poses one of the most intractable obstacles to development in post-conflict states. The on-going lack of resolution of the past is often a very significant factor in the marked fragility of any development gains in such countries. Our project investigates the efficacy of civil society organisations (CSOs, including museums, heritage organizations, community participatory arts and activist groups) in promoting social reconciliation and respect for equality and human rights in the aftermath of conflict in 5 countries from across the DAC list of ODA recipients and from the OECD list of 'fragile states': Colombia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo and South Africa.

Over the last 40 years, these countries have had to confront the material consequences of their violent pasts. Each has a very different relationship to this past, from Colombia, where the processes of reconciliation are only just beginning, to Cambodia where the violence of the Khmer Rouge has passed into history and yet its memory continues to shape contemporary society. The international development community and donor states have invested heavily in the work of CSOs supporting reconciliation initiatives, particularly focussed on children and young people - a disproportionately large part of the population due to the effects of past violence on their parents' generation. This demographic imbalance is often exacerbated by the long-term impact of a wide range of social issues (e.g. HIV/AIDs in South Africa, on-going visa restrictions in Kosovo). CSOs are invariably considered 'an essential component of peace-building work' (Zelizer 2003). For example, the role of community theatre in Rwanda is often cited in efforts to support transitional justice, similarly the growth of inter-ethnic musical groups in post-war Kosovo. Such initiatives can have immediate, therapeutic impact for participants. They are also often considered to play an important role in the building of stable institutions, and stronger societies, raising awareness of human rights in the face of weak state structures. However, given the lack of resources generally available in CSOs and the focus of colleagues in international development on the frontline delivery of services to the communities they support, there is only a weak research evidence base for the efficacy of these interventions.

Building on our previous GCRF projects, we will deliver the first large-scale comparative study of CSO practice across a range of post-conflict societies, confronting the challenge of building strong institutions for the delivery of social justice for young people. We will begin by undertaking a critical review of current work by CSOs across these countries, in order to highlight innovative practice, as well as areas that require further investigation. This will lead to 5 'proof of concept' pilot projects, based on lessons learnt from this review. Our initial R&D phase will then lead to the commissioning of 2 rounds of projects, one aimed at ECRs, one at colleagues at all career stages.

Adopting quantitative and qualitative, co-production and action-research methodologies, we will work in partnership with researchers at HEIs and IROs across these 5 countries, locally-based CSOs, the British Council (BC) and its in-country network of partners, as well as other international development organisations (including UNICEF, UNESCO, Hope and Homes for Children, Plan International, Salzburg Global Seminar, PAX). We will develop new methods, case studies and practical toolkits, for engaging children and young people with the many ways that violent national pasts continue to impact on their communities and countries. In the process we seek to make a significant intervention both on the ground and at policy level across and beyond our 5 case-study countries.

Planned Impact

This project has been designed in collaboration with our partners to ensure genuine, long-term sustainable impact at 3 levels:
1)Communities: Our most immediate impact will be on the communities we will support to directly effect change in young peoples' lives. In Cambodia our research will help DC-Cam to develop new tools to generate intergenerational dialogue between former victims and perpetrators of Khmer Rouge violence, as well as their children. Similarly, in Rwanda, our work with community-arts organisations will focus on the on-going process of reconciliation and dialogue between Hutu and Tutsi communities, and in Kosovo we will explore ways that artistic practice can facilitate understanding between the Serbian and Albanian community in some of the countries most rural communities. In South Africa we will work with the Bishop Simeon Trust and the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation (SAHGF) to investigate how the lessons of the Holocaust and past genocides can be used to challenge xenophobia amongst young people today. Finally, in Colombia our project will develop new methods for CSOs to support the urgent need to reintegrate communities of young people, not least child soldiers, back into mainstream society. These initiatives will provide 'proof of concept' projects for two further sets of projects, to be commissioned during Strand 2, that will support further communities across and beyond these 5 ODA-recipient countries.

2)CSOs: The project is designed to support CSOs to reflect upon their practice, providing international networking and support opportunities for practitioners. The CSOs with whom we will be working have a wealth of area-based experience. However, opportunities are frequently limited for such organisations to learn from each other, or for them to undertake a longer-term review of their work, given their focus on the direct delivery of support to communities on the ground. Our particular focus, which has been identified as a key need by all our in-country partners, is on how CSOs have sought to deal with the legacy of past violence and its impact on the issues facing young people in these societies, be it the work of Stacion in Prishtina or the National Commission for Historical Memory in Colombia.

The British Council (BC) will be a key partner in this regard. Our project will allow BC to reflect upon its own practice in ODA recipient countries, aimed specifically at the development of civil society. It will also allow for the project's research findings, and the practical materials it will produce, to be disseminated across the BC's global network of community-based partner organisations, ensuring the project has a significant impact beyond the organisations we will be working with during Strand 1. This will further be enhanced by a number of international development organisations that will take part in Strand 2 of the project (e.g. UNICEF, UNESCO, Hope and Homes for Children, Plan International, Salzburg Global Seminar, PAX).

3)Policy Level: This will be twofold. First, one of the envisaged outputs of our research will be the development of new approaches to child-led advocacy, designed to help the children and young people we will support to have their voice heard within their local communities in order to improve the services designed to help them. Second, the project will enhance the efforts of our partners to engage regional and national policy makers. Through the government connections within our network of academic and CSOs (e.g. UK contacts with DIFID, the BC, the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice at UFS, AEGIS Trust, Hope and Homes for Children, UNESCO etc.) and supported by a major event to be organised in partnership with the Salzburg Global Seminar, we will engage policymakers at a regional and national level. In the process, this will also give policymakers access to a substantial research base, significantly enhancing the effectiveness of their work.


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