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Conflict as Addiction: One Divided Society Helping Another

Yevgeny Kuznetsov's picture

Addicts are known to be narcissic – they tend to think that their affliction is unique and cannot possibly be compared to anyone else. Long-standing conflict can be usefully understood as an addiction – or so was a claim made by the recent seminar’s core speaker Padraig O'Malley, the John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of International Peace and Reconciliation, University of Massachusetts, a former addict himself. Just like addiction, long-standing conflict is a form of insanity and recognition (which often comes as an epiphany) that the party you are in conflict with is very much the same as you are – is a first step to recovery.

With funding from the Ireland Funds, Padraig brought the warring factions of the Irish conflict to South Africa for a week-long deliberation with Nelson Mandela and his team. The two factions weren’t flying on the same plane, wouldn’t sit on the same table and wouldn’t come together within a half a kilometer for fear of “contamination”. Predictably, the logistics of accommodating the two sides in South Africa was quite a project, which was falling apart continuously, because, say, the size of beer bar in one faction’s hotel appeared to be larger than in the other. The trip to South Africa and the dialogue there helped to open a line of indirect negotiations between the Irish fractions, effectively supported by their South African hosts, which ultimately brought about the peace agreement.

The Ireland Funds – the global philanthropy organization of the 70-million Irish diaspora – supported this and several other high-risk high-return peace and reconciliation processes. The second part of discussions that day focused on how the public sector could better support innovative high-risk high-return projects – a topic which is of central concern to the World Bank Innovation Practice.

More about the seminar series:

In the modern world, talent is the most precious of resources and it tends to move globally. Mobilization of talent which emigrated abroad for the benefit of country of origin has shown a tremendous potential. Yet putting this promise into practice has proven to be elusive: diaspora initiatives are very easy to start but difficult to sustain in both high and low income countries. Ireland and the Ireland Funds implement such initiatives well locally, and recently they have been moving to the global stage. Ireland Funds is an organization with more than 100 years of history and an established track record in delivering sustainable social, developmental, and cultural projects. The brown-bag seminar examined peace and reconciliation projects supported by the Ireland Funds such as a tour that brought warring factions of the Irish conflict to South Africa. These are high impact projects, which were implemented in rather innovative and flexible ways. Another Ireland Funds' project – sponsoring a meeting of leaders of Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Helsinki – also serves as an example of how mature diaspora organizations could be instrumental to effective delivery of global public goods.

The session was a part of the BBL series: 'How can talent abroad help build institutions at home?' which is project on migrant talent as key participant of domestic reform coalitions (funded by the MacArthur Foundation).


Submitted by Anonymous on
Conflict as an addiction?!? I am sorry but this trivializes what is a very complex field. It seems to imply that if only we could treat these addicts then we coud cure the problem. There is a whole industry out there of NGOs and Funds who are always getting opposing groups together but there is never any serious evaluation of what impact it has. Ask the Palestinins and Israelis. So now if we only bring together the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, they will all understand their similarities and common humanity and stop hating each other. Folks, please read the history of humanity. Addicts are narcisistic so people in conflict are too? My goodness!

From meeting to projects: peace-building from a venture capital perspective Comments of an enlightened skeptic are always welcome. More so in this case, in which the whole motivation of the discussion (to which my blog entry, admittedly, doesn't do justice) was exactly how we can go beyond inspiring meetings (financed by risk-taking donors), but which tend to evaporate into nothing, to more practical peace-building processes and projects (articulated and supported by a broader set of stakeholders). Encouragingly, those preciously rare examples of breakthrough do exist: the week the two warring factions from Ireland spent with Nelson Mandela in South Africa was efficacious in part because the Ireland Funds developed a portfolio of activities within the Northern Ireland Peace Process, out of which this mission emerged as a success (eventually resulting in the historic Belfast or Good Friday agreement). For instance, access to key decision-makers in Washington (assured by the Ireland Funds) appear to be critical to ensuring progress, and both sides from Northern Ireland received a warm welcome on their many visits to the US. In a venture capital parlance, the Ireland Funds was the equivalent of early stage venture capital support, which bridges the perennial gap between potentially high-risk high-return projects financed by small grants (the world of foundations to which our enlightened skeptic alluded to) and conservative investors who tend to be very sensitive about reputation risk and thus tend to be very quite risk averse. My proverbial enlightened skeptic is likely to say that venture perspective on peace process is yet another unacceptable analogy, outrageous in its simplification of complex and context-specific reality. Yet international development organizations and the world of venture capital are after the same process -- to transform bold ideas and interesting meetings into tangible projects and outcomes. We are after preciously rare 'home runs' (high risk-high return projects illustrated by the Good Friday agreement in Ireland). To be able to witness the home- runs (if only once in our life-time), we have to live and learn from many failures and so-called 'living deads' (a technical term for projects social returns of which barely cover their social costs). And above all, we have to have an open mind...

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