Op-Ed: How can cultural diversity drive peace and development?

Opinion: What is one way we can reinforce cultural diversity as a driving factor of peace and development? Here, the world’s leading peacebuilding NGOs answer the question in honor of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. This story was first published in Generations for Peace.

Monica Curca | Founder & Managing Director at Activate Labs

I believe that whenever there is an effort intentionally or unintentionally to erase, diminish or discount the cultural lived experience of any person or group it is in the service to violence and oppression. That is to say that as peacebuilders we have the obligation to create spaces of mutuality and cultural diversity as a universal protocol to combat violence and oppression. One way we do this at Activate Labs is by honoring and amplifying cultural diversity through first person storytelling – by which each person is centered as the owner and alchemist of their own histories and identities.

Uzra Zeya | CEO at Alliance for Peacebuilding

Every day, peacebuilders navigate danger and discord to prevent violent conflict and sustain peace. While every country is unique, some truths are universal, namely that inclusion generates more lasting peace. The evidence case is strong, from Liberia to Northern Ireland to Colombia. As a field, however, peacebuilders should ask ourselves if we are fully modelling inclusion in how our organizations are structured and operate. With ample evidence that diverse groups produce better results, we can aim higher— from modelling inclusion in organizational leadership, to giving local, diverse, and youth actors greater voice at gatherings. Let us draw inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change…We need not wait to see what others do.”

Aseel Zahran | Education Specialist at Generations For Peace Institute

Reinforcing cultural diversity requires a commitment to inclusion as a dynamic collaborative process that enhances the participation and contribution – rather than mere representation – of everyone within a community. Inclusion is also not just about providing a platform where people can express their different cultures and ways of being, but also acknowledging that everyone can bring something valuable and unique that can enrich the whole, and that everyone can contribute to fostering social cohesion. In fact, it is the responsibility of everyone.

At Generations For Peace, we are constantly grappling with how to ensure inclusion in our learning spaces. We create safe spaces where young people from different backgrounds feel safe and supported. They learn to be grounded in who they are, but also to respect and honour the different identities around them.

Friederike Bubenzer | Senior Project Leader at the Institute For Justice and Reconciliation (IJR)

I believe that really listening to one another’s stories has the potential to open our eyes to the beauty of the difference in the Other. When we hear those stories, we see each other in one another, and we are united by our common humanity rather than divided by difference. As the Nigerian write Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says: ‘Stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess, to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.’

Charlotte Melly | Head of International Programmes at Peace Direct

Reinforcing cultural diversity as a driving factor of peace and development means providing opportunities for dialogue and interaction which respond to community needs. This means working at the grassroots to understand the contextual knowledge and diversity of civil society and developing tools that allow local groups to contribute to peace in the way that works best in their context. For example, in Nigeria, this means empowering young people from diverse backgrounds to find common ground through sports. In DR Congo, this means bridging ethnic divides through agricultural cooperatives that not only increase understanding between participants, but also build resilient communities. Nurturing cultural diversity for peace means opening the spaces for dialogue and reconciliation that resonate in the contexts and cultures themselves.

Todd Shuster | Co-Founder of The Peace Studio

As human beings, we are all the “same kind of different.” Each one of us has a unique mind, personality, and appearance. Each one of us has inherited traits as well as characteristics shaped by our education and life experiences. Most everybody on this planet wants the same things—peace, health, safety, comfort, personal attainment and fulfillment, a sense of purpose and meaning, love, friendship, family.

When we notice differences between ourselves and others, we might feel uncomfortable or unsafe. At times we may feel so frightened that we might separate ourselves from those who don’t seem to be quite the same as us. In some cases, we may even become violent because of such differences. It’s the unfamiliarity that breeds corrupted thinking and destructive behaviors. The salve, then, is coming to know others whose culture, or way of being, or appearance is different from ours. When our friendships at work and in our communities embrace such diversity, any differences we detect in others become familiar to us. They then come to seem less peculiar. And then we realize that we are, indeed, the same kind of different. We’re all in the boat of life together. We are all in fact quite similar. We can be with one another in peace.

Malu Marella‐Sulit | General Manager, Programs & Communications at Sport at the Service of Humanity (SSH)

Intolerance and hatred are major deterrents to peace and understanding. They are rooted in ignorance and fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar. Therefore, one way we can pave the way for inter-cultural understanding is to create environments where people, regardless of culture and beliefs, are able to engage with one another through a shared interest or activity. In the process, they get to know each other and find common ground.

Sport has this unique power to celebrate our common humanity because it brings people together – allowing them to meet each other across boundaries, sharing a common love for the game, competing on equal terms, following the same rules and respecting differences even in competition.

*Note: to avoid bias, responses are placed in alphabetical order of organisation name

Photo: UNESCO

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