Outward Bound Peacebuilding pursues two strategies to build relationships across divided communities and contribute to lasting peace. First, we base our methodology on experiential learning – learning by doing. Second, we invest in local leaders who are best positioned to understand and solve the conflicts in their communities.
1) Experiential learning – Learning by doing
How can people threatened constantly by violence, and with no positive or neutral experience of the “other,” learn to co-exist? We believe that the experiential learning approach can build trust and facilitate positive experiences among former adversaries. Substantial evidence shows that certain types of experience, particularly cooperative learning toward the mastery of critical life skills and sharing a peak life experience, while embedded in groups, are especially likely to promote group solidarity.1 Outward Bound’s curriculum has provided this combination of experience for decades.
2) People power – Building public support for peace processes
All too often, political dialogue and negotiated agreements to bring peace occur only at the top political level and suffer from an absence of popular support. Without this support, a negotiated agreement is likely to be unsustainable and prone to collapse. People must believe in and actively work to support peace in order for peace to hold. This approach is often referred to as “track-two diplomacy,” a peacebuilding approach that focuses on the fundamental issues of identity, ideology, perceived and real injustice, and human needs at an individual and community level – issues which are often outside the scope of formal peace processes. Track-two programs are designed for groups of citizens who may not have official roles in the formal negotiations, yet through their influence impact public attitudes and support politically negotiated settlements.
Outward Bound Peacebuilding supports people power by working with local leaders who are best positioned to understand and solve the conflicts in their communities and societies. We identify influential groups of people as “hubs” of leadership who, because of their position in society, charisma, and strength of will, have an increased impact on their communities. We invest in these local leaders by inviting them to join a unique wilderness expedition with participants representing various perspectives of a conflict. The joint expedition, with its focus on building group solidarity, provides leaders with a vision of what is possible between formerly adversarial groups. Follow up joint workshops and retreats, as well as individual coaching, help to further skills and offer tools that increase the leadership capacity of participants. By facilitating joint activities and opportunities for social contact over several years, we then ensure the sustainability of these groups through the development of an alumni network. The approach empowers leaders from different social sectors and backgrounds, to realize their own potential, advance their skills, further their networks and launch initiatives that improve their communities and advance peace.
What does this look like in practice? A Palestinian civil society leader who participated in the 2009 Young Social Entrepreneurs Program stated during the orientation that he “would never share a tent with a Jew.” A month later, during the catalyst expedition, the same person told a religious Jewish participant, “You have changed my perception of religious Jews.” Four months later, this same Palestinian shared a room with an Israeli during a retreat. Eight months later, he participated in a strategic planning workshop for the group in Tel Aviv and was hosted in the home of one of the Israeli participants. Currently, he is working, together with Israeli colleagues, on a code of conduct for the alum network of participants.
1 Among others see Rachel Hertz-Lazarowitz and Norman Miller, “Interaction in cooperative groups: The theoretical anatomy of group learning,” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).