There's no magic key15.09.2015
The invitation to serve as a resource person for the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum got me confused. What can I say about the topic? Peacebuilding is our field, I'm coming from the Centre for Nonviolent Action Sarajevo-Belgrade. We are a peace organisation working on peacebuilding, dealing with the past and reconciliation in the region of the former Yugoslavia. We have almost two decades of experience in doing peacebuilding work in the Balkans, so that is not confusing. But global partnerships? During all this time we actually had very few international partners although we have quite some international contacts. But when it comes to partnerships, to doing something together, most of them run away. Only some brave stay. Or we run away, we are not so brave.
So, to learn something from the situation of having lots of contacts but very few partners, we have to ask ourselves why is this running away happening. I suppose the very usual reason is that we demand partnerships at "eye-level". Not a declarative one, but honest exchange, communication, clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Of course, people working in international organisations on peacebuilding in the world are very democratic, non-racist and ready to work at "eye-level" with their partners from third world countries. But, sometimes we were not so lucky.
Once we had a person from a well-known international organisation visiting us. They were thinking about supporting an activity we planned to do. We were not so experienced at that time so we thought we will talk about the aims, expected outcomes, what we want to do, how and why. Instead, we received quite a number of suggestions like the following: "This should not last ten days but seven"; "You should invite more people from Kosovo and less from Bosnia and Herzegovina"; "These few topics are fine, they can stay, the rest has to be changed into..." I am not sure if there are still people talking to their children like this. So we said "Thank you." and "Interesting idea." and "Why don't you do it yourself?" And we made space for them to find other partners.
Arrogance, power games and racism are the most obvious enemies of fruitful partnerships. Of course, the given example is an extreme one. But these extremes are built into prejudices against international organisations. If we talk with our partners openly about existing prejudices, we may develop enough trust to start fruitful partnerships.
I suppose there is a lot of frustration round the globe with different “partnerships”. Entering partnerships in peacebuilding just because some donors are giving money for cooperation between different organisations is a very wrong reason to cooperate with someone. Chances are weak that you are going to implement a successful project, and even weaker that you are going to enjoy the partnership.
Relationship between partner organisations comes first. A relationship needs to be built, it requires quite some effort and it is time-consuming. But our experience shows that it pays off more than donors’ impulses.
As most of us know, there is no magic key. One of the filters for us to recognise organisations we could have a fruitful partnership with is the attitude towards public reports. Peacebuilding does not need neat and shiny reports describing what a brilliant job is done. The situation in the world is far from neat and shiny. Peacebuilding needs the sharing of: dilemmas, difficulties we face in our work, wrong assumptions we had, what we tried that works and what does not work, what kind of mistakes we made, etc. Peacebuilding is one of the fields where you learn by doing.
So, I suppose we are not an easy partner to deal with. We need constant self-reflection, so that we can learn from our experiences and mistakes. But it is important to say that we have these few partners who did not run away. They wanted to learn together with us. They were brave enough not to be afraid of own mistakes and learning from them, and they were not afraid to communicate difficulties they faced. They were brave enough to walk with us by stepping unbeaten ways, what peacebuilding certainly is.