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Financing peacebuilding ecosystems

Financing peacebuilding ecosystems
Network abstract. Photo: Pixabay

The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to rising tensions and conflict. In one year, more than 100 million people have been pushed into poverty. Democracy is being eroded. Violence continues to spread in some regions, like West Africa, while countries like Afghanistan and Somalia are at risk of renewed violence.

The need for peacebuilding is real. Peacebuilding aims to address the drivers underlying conflict, as well as the drivers of resilience, to promote prevention and sustain peace. Peacebuilding extends beyond elites at negotiation tables, and includes dispute resolution, reconciliation work, intergroup dialogue and cooperation, (re)integration measures, prevention of violent extremism, post-traumatic healing, social cohesion, tolerance and trust-building.

Peacebuilding has always been underfunded. However, given the economic shocks emanating from the pandemic, more peacebuilding may need to be delivered with even less financing. It is therefore high time to address some problems with how peacebuilding is currently financed.

The current approach to peacebuilding financing is largely centered on donors separately funding individual peacebuilding actors. This approach can result in problems such as:

  • fragmentation or lack of alignment in funding;
  • underfunding of some national and local peacebuilding actors, increasing the risk that opportunities for peacebuilding will be missed and gains will not be sustainable;
  • inadequate impact of peacebuilding efforts; and
  • vulnerability to changes in donor behaviour.


Peacebuilding as an ecosystem

An alternative is to finance peacebuilding taking an ecosystem approach. In such an approach, a key insight is that donors are part of the ecosystem.

Importantly, the approach also shifts the focus away from individual implementers to how they align or interact with others to effect positive change. Peacebuilding implementers are diverse, and include civil society organizations, government, multilateral and regional organizations, private companies, and individuals.

For the ecosystem to be resilient (i.e. able to continue functioning during and recover after a disturbance) and sustainable, enough actors need to be connected. The connections need not be rigid or formalized—implementers need freedom to go about their work—but they should entail regular liaison with others in the ecosystem, or at least awareness of what others are doing. Also, a critical mass of implementers need to be national or local, representing different sides of the conflict, to ensure some degree of horizontal and vertical alignment within the country.

Peacebuilding ecosystem actors and their financing challenges

Donors need to understand this peacebuilding ecosystem in each country context in order to effectively support various types of implementer with different objectives or mandates.

Some implementers will have peacebuilding as their main objective, while others have as their primary mandate delivering health services, food or education, with peacebuilding as an added ambition or informing their work. This diversity of ecosystem ‘species’ is a strength, as they have complementary roles, perspectives and skills. However, the different types of organization face different financing challenges.

Consider first the peacebuilding non-governmental organization (NGO) community. International peacebuilding NGOs may be direct implementers, but increasingly they serve as enabling and capacity-building intermediaries to smaller-scale local peacebuilding partners on the frontlines of conflict. The peacebuilding NGO community relies on a handful of key donors (primarily the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands) for their existence. They grapple with dilemmas linked to their sensitive work in insecure settings.

NGOs, particularly local ones, have a range of financing concerns. In some cases, they receive no donor funding at all. Evidence points to a disconnect between what donors are willing to support—technical and procedural aspects of state building—and the actual needs of peacebuilding after conflict—such as promoting trust or reconciliation. Donors’ single-year funding cycles can severely limit NGOs’ effectiveness and ability to retain professional talent. When national governmental actors view peacebuilding adversarially, NGO peacebuilding funding may need to be delinked from government.

The United Nations has an explicit peacebuilding mandate centred on the UN peacebuilding architecture. UN financing for peacebuilding comes through the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), and primarily supports the work of UN agencies. The top five implementers—the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)—have received more than US $800 million over the years for peacebuilding. Actors are thus nudged to ‘multipurpose for peace’; that is, to carry out their primary missions of development or providing protection to refugees, with peacebuilding as an added objective. Recently, the Fund has started to provide some direct funding to NGOs, if the host country government signs off. The main challenge for the PBF is that it remains underfunded.

Major development actors (international financial institutions and regional development banks) play important roles in conflict-affected settings but like the UN implementers do not have peacebuilding as their principal objective. The largest among them is the World Bank, which has an equivalent of the Peacebuilding Fund, the Statebuilding and Peacebuilding Fund. However, like its UN counterpart, the money in this trust fund is dwarfed by other funding streams and does not extend to all operations in conflict-affected states. The issue here may be to ensure that future concessional financing for infrastructure, education, energy, health and social development is even more systematically multipurposed to further peacebuilding and resilience in line with the World Bank Group’s new Fragility Conflict Violence Strategy.

Financing peacebuilding ecosystems: coherence, resilience and sustainability

In summary, an ecosystem approach to peacebuilding funding requires both a holistic view of the system and understanding of the funding needs of the different implementers.

Short of offering a full solution to financing healthy peacebuilding ecosystems, we suggest focusing on three key aspects: coherence, resilience and sustainability, and offer some practical ways to promote them.

For coherence

  • Country-specific multi-donor or multi-partner trust funds have proved useful for joint analyses, shaping common priorities, integrated approaches and common oversight of implementation. In Somalia, joint funding platforms have contributed to these outcomes. In Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund has become the largest source of funding for the government, pooling funding from 34 donors over time. However, a question mark remains over whether pooled funds are the right tool when government counterparts are not committed to peacebuilding.
  • Platforms, clusters, task forces and collective outcomes: Where specific needs are identified, donors can rally collective action through joint task forces and platforms. This follows the cluster approach that humanitarian actors are already using. The concept of collective outcomes can help align humanitarian and development action towards a common purpose.
  • Core support to multilateral and regional organizations could be explicitly directed at peacebuilding collaboration, alignment and policy dialogue at country level—especially in countries where such organizations have access and operational engagement. Regional actors may have additional influence. If the government is not yet committed to peacebuilding, multilateral and regional actors can facilitate the necessary dialogues.


For resilience

The ecosystem approach reminds us of the value of diversity, and that different species of peacebuilders face different funding problems. Many peacebuilding organizations are faced with a weak and possibly shrinking funding base, but not all of them. Therefore, ‘deliberate plurality’ in financial flows is needed in support of diversity.

  • Core funding to peacebuilding NGOs: NGOs need predictable core funding in order to maintain their operations and effectiveness, and to innovate. While some peacebuilding NGOs may be able to access funding from multilateral organizations and multi-donor trust funds, others may need funding entirely independent from the host government. Evolving umbrella NGO networks or consortia that incubate local organizations merit more attention.


For sustainability

While donors generally agree on the need for national ownership and supporting national capacity, the practical steps for gradually transferring decision-making, implementation and oversight powers to national and local government or civil society actors call for more systematic comparative research. Interesting lessons can be drawn from Myanmar and Afghanistan, where international partners phased themselves out of development programmes. The two-steps-forward, one-(or more)-steps-back nature of peacebuilding is likely to complicate these transitions.

A peacebuilding ecosystem approach centred on coherence, resilience and sustainability in a given country context challenges us to rethink the design of financing instruments, financing models, levels and platforms.

For form to follow function in peacebuilding financing, much remains to be done.

Good Peacebuilding Financing was a thematic focus of the 2021 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development. This commentary is inspired by several Forum sessions including ‘Good Peacebuilding Financing: Doing More, Doing Better‘ ‘ReNEWing the Deal’, ‘Investing in Peace, Investing in Trust: Financing Women Led Organizations’ and ‘How effective is the current peacebuilding financing architecture at building peace?’.


Dr Jannie Lilja is the Director of Studies, Peace and Development, at SIPRI.
Dr Gary Milante is an Associate Senior Researcher.