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Centre for Peace and Justice, BRAC University, Green Delta Aims Tower (13th floor) 51-52 Mohakhali C/A Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh

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The Peace Cafe model: ‘The knowledge-method’ for peace and social cohesion: Investing in youth through C4D

May 19, 2023 Hossain Mohammed Omar Khayum and Md. Wahidul Islam

The relationship between peace-building and international development, even though these fields have functioned separately for years, is now quite well known. Communication plays a significant role in shaping views and building opinions on conflict, which is why it is often interpreted as an integral component of peace-building mechanisms. Similarly, robust information flow and communication processes are necessary for successful development. Unsurprisingly, therefore, communication serves as a platform for rebuilding democracy and good governance in post-conflict countries because the processes inherent in it provide a platform for citizens to engage in dialogue and facilitate debate on governance reform and development by providing much-needed information.

We observed the economic and social transformations during a period of fast new changes and strains which Bangladesh had to cope with. The challenges include rising income inequalities, structural change, means of communication, media transformation, and the need to meet citizens’ rising expectations about standards of living and access to opportunity. Citizens living in a fast-growing economy have increasing expectations about their current and future living standards as they seek their share of the benefits of growth.

Against this backdrop, peace and social cohesion somehow went on different paths, and sometimes social cohesion was absent which was evident in the Global Peace Index 2021 where Bangladesh’s position was 91 out of 163 countries. The pattern of crime and crisis has evolved into a new dimension that affects gender equity, peace, and social cohesion. An ActionAid Bangladesh and Jatiyo Nari Nirjaton Protirodh Forum research has stated that 66 per cent of Bangladeshi women are victims of domestic violence. Mass media and social media are constantly feeding us with news and information that does not show the prevalence of peace. Additionally, cyberspace bullying and hatred have become new dimensions of hindering peace and cohesion. And women and girls are increasingly falling victim to violent extremism (VE) which has become a critical issue on the security agenda in protecting human rights in contemporary Bangladesh.

Given this backdrop, considering the potential of youth’s role in building sustainable peace and ensuring social cohesion, in 2013, UNICEF launched its Peacebuilding, Education, and Advocacy Programme (PBEA) which covered the use of “Communication for Development (C4D) and education in Peacebuilding” where C4D in Peacebuilding is “a social process that fosters dialogue and meaningful conversations to reduce and prevent the risk of conflict or relapse into it. Using Various Participatory Tools And Methods, C4d In Peacebuilding Creates Safe Spaces For Discussing Both The Causes And Consequences Of Conflict And ‘Normal And Everyday Life.’ This Process Generates Transformation At All Levels By Promoting Listening, Debating, Building Trust, Learning To Appreciate Differences, Sharing Knowledge, Developing Skills, Formulating And Implementing Policies, And Learning To Lay The Foundations For Sustainable and durable peace.”

Since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, this project has shaped and reshaped its trajectory, corresponding to the needs of pandemic-hit communities and the country at large. Through its diverse initiatives and activities focusing on specific skills or knowledge-based development, this project paves a path for the younger generation to actively participate in civic engagement and community development and contribute to meaningful positive change. One of the things that drove the idea’s success is its responsive nature and being able to put the most prospective demographic dividend into use at a time when much of the entire country appeared to be at a standstill due to the lockdown. And by doing so, led by the Centre for Peace and Justice (CPJ), the Women Peace Ambassador from the women-led ‘Peace Café’ arranged the training and the dialogue events with capacity-building endeavours designed to be particularly beneficial to the youths of today for building peace and ensuring social cohesion among themselves and towards the community.

After the Peace Café beneficiaries had received training, they were invited to submit ideas and detailed community development plans. The best applications received seed funds for four months. This initiative was devised in such a way that allowed a three-tiered benefactor-beneficiary relationship bolstered by a great outflow of knowledge-sharing of crucial themes and aspects that matter most in the case of establishing a peaceful, equal, and just society. This arrangement facilitated outspreading of these learning and positive thoughts across the communities. The ripple effect is expected to be felt in full force, mushrooming constructive ideas that cover the general mindset of people from place to place.

If not with the ‘right’ company, youth members can come in contact with the darker side of the world plagued by drug addiction, drug dealing, terrorism, violence, extremism, fundamentalism, and so on. If young minds can be shaped and channelled towards constructive thoughts and engaged in work like community building and development, they get less scope to get involved in wrongdoings. Thus, the Peace Café model is particularly intriguing and replicable in this regard and they have proven it right.

This analysis was originally published in The Financial Express on May 19, 2023

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors based on their own thoughts and do not represent the position of any affiliated organisations.