This piece was co-authored by SuhYoon Kang and Roberta Sotomaior. It is a summary of Panel Four from the WPF sponsored conference, Unlearning Violence, held February 13 & 14, 2014.
How do we translate research findings into effective policy? How do we ensure that the evidence reaches the political channels? This panel, moderated by Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, Director of Research at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, presented some insights to these challenges by outlining the on-going efforts to transform the United Nations’ traditional way of peacebuilding as well as highlighting the success of ACEV (Mother Child Education Foundation) in translating evidence to policy by working with various stakeholders.
Dr. Rima Salah, currently at Yale University with the Early Childhood Peace Consortium after a career with UNICEF, stated that for the United Nations, peacebuilding and peacemaking have been important elements since the beginning. However, even today, more than 1.5 million people live in countries affected by violent conflicts. In these settings, children and women are increasingly becoming targets. Moreover, increasing conflict, violence, and insecurity have caused significant development challenges and have posed barriers to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and sustainable development goals. In order to address such shortcomings, there are discussions among the 194 member countries to include the “rule of law” and “peace” in the post-2015 MDG agenda. Also, the UN and its partners in peacebuilding are working to address root causes of violence, promote social reconciliation, and domestic social capabilities. However, most peacebuilding efforts until now have applied a top down approach that usually left the children, families, and communities on the margins. This is an incomplete approach to peacebuilding. As Salah stated: “We have to expand these efforts to include human security with emphasis on the individual, particularly the needs of women and children.”
This is the context in which UNICEF, Yale University, representatives of NGOs, private and philanthropic organizations came together to create an early childhood consortium to promote the transformative power of early childhood development and the role of families as agents for change. Presenting the key evidence, the early childhood consortium is working to support the general peacebuilding efforts in the UN and Security Council resolutions that promote safe environments for children. Salah argued, however, that more work is needed to raise the visibility and political salience of these issues: “We have to transform the people sitting in the Security Council.” The consortium will also promote the importance of families and communities during the discussion of peaceful societies at the General Assembly in April 2014.
Emphasizing the importance of cooperation at the community level, Salah noted that: “One hand cannot do it all. We have to work in partnership.” Hence, the consortium has sought to collaborate with organizations such as Mayors for Peace, as well as academic researchers, the UN, NGOs, and donors to transform the mindset of policy makers. Their goal is to make providing a safe place for children just as important as signing a peace agreement.
Yasemin Sırali Altuğ,the International Programs Advisor at ACEV also emphasized the importance of partnership in translating evidence into policy. The organization’s experience of engaging scientists and academic researchers not only attracted attention from supporters such as the World Bank, but also contributed to the development of an evidence-based parent training program. Their programs have reached 850,000 individuals since 1993 across 14 countries – with results that showed positive effects on children’s social and emotional development, and also on parental behavior. The organization prioritized establishing a strong partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Education since the early phase of the program’s implementation, resulting in the government’s adoption of a national mandatory year of early childhood education. ACEV’s long-term partnerships with researchers and governmental officials demonstrate the importance of committed collaboration in supporting the sustainable translation of evidence into policy.
Panel moderator, Dr. Jacqueline Bhabha, recognized ACEV as a striking example of “how a really tiny investment and a cheap program can have such a dramatic impact.” She drew attention to the connections between poverty and access to education, a particularly salient point in light of the discussion from the first panel of the conference linking education to peacefulness. Bhabha then concluded – paraphrasing Elha Bhat’s, one of India’s foremost women’s rights activists – by reminding the audience that “poverty is violence with social consent.”