2021's Impact: Jon Bellish on OEF's progress towards sustainable peace

With the release of One Earth Future's 2021 report, Executive Director Jon Bellish shares an overview of the Foundation’s progress in incubating programs to foster sustainable peace, and our programs’ major milestones and achievements.

2021 was a productive year of transformation and advancement, and in preparation to scale our economic stabilization work in Somalia, Colombia, and other conflict-affected regions around the world, we’ve been paying close attention to our internal systems and policies to ensure we can scale sustainably without compromising on the quality of outcomes we are able to deliver for our stakeholders. 

Peace Negotiation

We believe that inclusive governance and economic stabilization are key to peace, and we made great strides in advancing both in 2021. We influenced policy and practice in both branches of the US government and in 20 other nations to ensure that gender perspectives are included in peace and security decision-making. We trained peacemakers from 58 organizations working across 38 conflicts on ways to overcome seemingly impossible challenges by swarming leaders with attractive alternatives to organized political violence. And we demonstrated to governments and international organizations around the world that open-source data can form the basis for inclusion and dialogue that can reduce the risk of sleepwalking into war. More perspectives can help reduce political tensions, avoid unforced errors and unintended consequences, and provide a social container in which peace can flourish.

ERA's beekeeping

Livelihoods and Peace 

Conventional wisdom says that state fragility can best be overcome by using security services to create space for peace and development to emerge. Yet effective national security is itself a challenge requiring at least a modicum of locally legitimate governance. Economic growth can provide a venue for such governance. For this reason, OEF sees opportunities for market-based development where others see the need for humanitarian assistance. To be sure, many of our impacts in 2021 were economic in nature. Our partners in Colombia—ex-combatants, ex-coca–growers, Venezuelan migrants, and Colombian campesinos—sold over $500,000 in goods, saved over $200,000, and leveraged $6 million for reincorporation and market-making efforts. We invested $6.7 million in small and medium Somali enterprises, creating hundreds of new jobs. The governance impacts of our economic stabilization work were equally clear. We linked local communities with regional and national governments, providing a critical platform for them to express their opinions and influence policy. We also helped create the first regional network for peace in Catatumbo, one of the most conflict-affected regions in Colombia. In the end, peace is built on the ground by sharing time together and iterating with communities to help them find their own solutions to collective problems. Collaborative approaches to economic development are a great way to catalyze this kind of collective problem-solving and link it to local and national governance structures.

Woman working in Adco Factory

Operationalizing Peace

Operationally, we optimized our hybrid work model in the face of Covid, streamlined our performance review process, reorganized our security team, and upgraded our web presence for more active and personalized sharing of content. We also brought on several key executives with strong industry experience. These changes will allow us to deepen our partnerships with the key actors where we work, which is essential not only for OEF to operate at scale, but also for our theories of peace and network coordination to flourish.

While OEF’s administrative structures are changing, our commitment to relentless empiricism remains, and we try to go above and beyond in understanding our impact. We put surveys into the field in Somalia and Colombia, speaking to almost 1,000 of our local partners. These surveys revealed some of our impacts on improving social trust within our communities, trust between communities and government, and perceived safety, all of which are critical for connecting our economic stabilization work to peace.

Fish data collection at port

Inclusion and Partnerships for Peace 

We also partnered with the Alliance for Peacebuilding to launch Some Credible Evidence: Perceptions about the Evidence Base in the Peacebuilding Field. The report provides a foundation for organizations and individuals interested in developing a strategy for evidence-based practice in peacebuilding, providing information about how to approach evidence generation and which interventions peacebuilders see as evidence-based.

Inclusivity is at the heart of OEF’s mission and core values. In addition to economic stabilization, our main focus is ensuring inclusive and responsive governance, whether via the inclusion of gender perspectives, access to transparent and credible information, or new methodologies to bring “the third side” into peace negotiations. We also try to practice what we preach, integrating gender analyses into our program strategies and working every day to ensure that OEF is a welcoming environment for our global and diverse staff. 

As important as inclusive governance and economic stabilization are to peace, they are not enough. That is why OEF works hard to link our work on the ground with the work of others. Network Coordination, as we call it, is a middle ground between ad hoc and hierarchical coordination structures, and we believe that it can help overcome the shortcomings of both. We are excited to partner with grassroots organizations, fellow international NGOs, governments, and donor agencies to move the world towards peace in 2022.