Eva Gordon Armour: Seeds of Peace aims to inspire and equip new generations of leaders from communities in conflict with the relationships, understanding, and skills needed to advance peace. We have a growing network of more than 5,000 alumni, primarily from the Middle East and South Asia, and are always looking for ways to partner with institutions or individuals who have expertise in key areas of conflict mitigation and peacebuilding. The work of the Clinic seemed an obvious fit for our needs of both providing further education and skills to graduates of our summer camp, as well as piecing together a better understanding of how peacebuilding organizations in the region might work together more effectively.
For the training projects we were looking for students at the Clinic to use their knowledge of negotiation and mediation to develop and deliver a basic skills training to our youth leaders. Clinic students first developed a training specific to Israeli and Palestinian youth, delivered over three days in Jerusalem. Two years later, a new team developed an advanced training specially tailored to a cohort of emerging Afghan, Indian, and Pakistani professionals. We were looking for skills training and enrichment, but in contexts that would resonate with both the ages and regions of the participants. We are also making the training curriculum available to others working with youth in these regions.
We were also eager to better read the landscape of peacebuilding organizations dedicated to resolution or transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the extent to which these organizations were collaborating to better both their individual and collective impact. As a player in the field, we needed independent research and analysis, particularly around opportunities and recommendations for increased cooperation. A third project culminated in a workshop in Bethlehem, offered to members of the nearly 30 organizations that were interviewed for the study.
HNMCP: What were the most important issues you wanted us to address in our projects with you?
EGA: The most important issues for the mediation and negotiation trainings were to develop methods for teaching skills that could be used in everyday life, in dealings and interactions both within and between their societies. The training was more experiential and practice-oriented than lecture-style as a result. It was also designed directly and specifically for those living in the Middle East and South Asia so that it could be applied in that context.
For the peacebuilding NGO study, it was crucial to have a large and diverse enough sample size for the findings to be meaningful. Participants needed to be willing to partake in the process and to be receptive to the results, and it was important to us to build in a mechanism for the peacebuilding community to come together to workshop ways to utilize the recommendations and strategies proposed by the students.
HNMCP: What have you seen as some of the challenges for Seeds in the projects?
EGA: In any training, there is always the challenge of applying techniques and tactics outside the classroom. After the first training in Jerusalem, we decided to bring the group together one month later so they could share their experiences trying to use what they learned and get feedback and guidance from their peers. This year we will also add meetings with their senior members of their political negotiating teams so they can link the knowledge gained during the training to that context and the peace process as well.
With respect to the peacbuilding NGO study, I’m reminded of the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” While we were able to get nearly 30 interviews from organizations, and even a researcher and donor involved in the field, It was a struggle to bring the community together locally in order to build off the findings—even in ways that stood to benefit the individual organizations themselves. Ironically, this points to one of the study findings, which is that there is a very real deficit of trust and sense of fragmentation within the community itself.
HNMCP: What was fun and interesting for you in the projects?
EGA: The best part of working with the Clinic is the spirit, creativity, insights and dedication that the students bring to each project. They are thoughtful, professional, and add their unique perspectives to the challenges we face. Neither the mediation and negotiation trainings nor the peacebuilding study would have been nearly as strong if we had attempted them on our own. In addition, the faculty supervisor, HNMCP Director Bob Bordone, has been both gracious with his time and highly involved to ensure that both the students and organization benefit from each project. There is a very real sense of caring about the issues, people, and contexts at hand and an obvious commitment to ‘getting it right.’ I can say in all honesty that each project has been a joy.
HNMCP: What were the attractions of working with students? What concerns did you have?
EGA: It was great to have both the enthusiasm and diligence of students. I was a little concerned that there would be a lack of familiarity with the countries or contexts in which we work, but in each case the students demonstrated a desire to learn and understand. It was clear that they truly cared.
HNMCP: What tangible results have you seen unfold for Seeds as a result of the projects?
EGA: The training has become a mainstay of our program line-up and is easily one of our most popular activities each year. One Palestinian participant reported,“Since the program, no conversation has been the same. I’m able to reach a middle ground without anyone feeling as though they are on the losing side. The program made me rethink everything I do.”
We are also still exploring ways to build off the findings from the peace NGO study, including the possibility of designing two local events that would speak directly to the needs expressed by the organizations involved.
HNMCP: What else would you like to share about the experience of working with HNMCP ?
EGA: Working with the Clinic has not only been a massive support to Seeds of Peace, but produced high-quality deliverables that we have been able to make available and useful to others in the field. We are grateful to both the students and to Bob for going above and beyond the classroom to bring their skills and minds to the work we do.
Eva Gordon Armour is currently the Director of Global Strategy and Programs for Seeds of Peace, and is responsible for oversight of all local programs in the Middle East, South Asia, and United States as well as overall programmatic strategy and growth. She began her journey with Seeds of Peace fourteen years ago as a counselor at the International Camp in Maine and has since held positions designing and implementing programs out of the New York and Middle East offices. She received her Masters degree in International Educational Development from Columbia University, and her undergraduate degree from Tufts University. Eva was a featured as an up-and-coming leader and changemaker in Le Figaro and in Change-Makers: Social Venture Specialists Changing the World by Nana Watanabe.