Turning Research into Action for a Safer World
History of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding
Marking the Center’s 20th Anniversary
If anyone wanted an example of what an ordinary citizen could do to help peace efforts, they would only need to look to the group of individuals who have offered their time and talents over the past twenty years in service and partnership with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine.
The Center for Citizen Peacebuilding (CCPB) has come a long way from its earliest inception twenty years ago as the Peace Associates, which was born out of a meeting one sunny afternoon in 1999 on the UCIrvine campus by three women: Paula Garb, Marlett Phillips and Lori Warmington.
What followed was an international conference about best practices in citizen peacebuilding. Held in June 2000, it was funded by the US Institute for Peace, UC’s Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation, and UCI’s Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies. The conference brought together thirty researchers and peacebuilding practitioners who lived and worked in the conflict zones of Kosovo, Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia/Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Moldova/Transdniestria. Gang intervention workers from various communities in Los Angeles and Orange County--our own US war zones—also participated. All of these committed citizen peacebuilders examined and compared their experiences in public peace processes. They validated the need for a “clearinghouse” with the goal of promoting peace research, peace education and sustained action for a safer world.
Soon after that conference, a founding board including both faculty and community members with equal decision-making powers launched the UCI Program in Citizen Peacebuilding. For twenty years the board members have come together almost every month to ensure that we remain true to those early goals, which essentially became the three prongs of our mission: (1) research; (2) education; and (3) action and our vision of Turning Research Into Action for a Safer World.
Today, the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, University of California, Irvine remains dedicated to its mission and vision, endeavoring to build a safer world through the collective efforts of individual "citizen peacebuilders." We are helping everyday citizens to reduce violence and promote reconciliation and sustainable peace through dialogue, education and support of grassroots activities. The integration of all three of these activities is especially important in promoting knowledge about positive models for change and fostering constructive public debate. Our integrated approach has included direct engagement in peacebuilding projects in neighborhoods in Orange County and Los Angeles, California, as well as in select communities in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Bosnia/Herzegovina and the former Soviet Union, and research in Africa and Central America. We study the best grassroots peacebuilding methods in both domestic and international conflicts, sponsoring Best Practices Conferences with worldwide experts, and collecting those findings in an online database. To promote awareness and local peacebuilding capacity, we sponsor training workshops, lectures and forums– which have included international women’s dialogue circles, gang intervention training, and mediation and conflict resolution courses– in order to share the insights and perspectives of international peacebuilders with community members and students.
From those early days to now, our Center has been a catalyst for change. It has planted the seeds of a movement where sustainable peace, rather than violence, is the norm. Certainly, change is possible at all levels, but for peace to truly be sustainable, it requires action beyond a series of peace talks or a negotiated agreement. Rebuilding communities requires work at the grassroots level. By partnering with community-based efforts, we are helping bring economic development, peace and reconciliation around the globe. More recently, our peacebuilding initiatives have had a particular focus on women and young people as widely unrecognized or untapped resources in peacebuilding, often overlooked as key actors and positive agents of change. Engaging youth from a variety of cultures and backgrounds in a creative training atmosphere is one way that the Center is turning research into action for a safer world. Our innovative collaborative programs, with their development of new social ties and exposure to positive support, help young people develop and apply the values and communication skills needed to understand conflict and, with this new insight, the ability to promote the cause of peace among their families, friends, and the wider communities in which they live. When young people can learn about peace, understand its value, and share their ideas with global partners, there is hope that the next generation will be empowered to contribute to peaceful, just and sustainable communities and global harmony.
We all know that children are our future, but you are as well. Since 1999, the CCPB has endeavored to build a safer world through the collective efforts of individual “citizen peacebuilders.” We help ordinary citizens reduce violence and promote reconciliation and sustainable peace locally and globally through dialogue, research, education and supporting grassroots activities across cultural divides.
It has been our honor to acknowledge the efforts of people who have set an example to find solutions amidst the pain and suffering where it was thought none existed, and to provide hope for a better tomorrow. Our UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Award is awarded to exceptional peacebuilders who come to campus to share their educational and inspirational stories. Selected for their efforts to foster peace and dialogue, such recipients have included Nobel Peace Prize winners Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Jimmy Carter and Leymah Gbowee. [INSERT poster link] We were honored to acknowledge 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai as our 4th annual UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Award recipient. Through her efforts of planting over 30,000 trees – one tree at a time, one person at a time – she has had a tremendous impact on fostering sustainable economic and social development, democracy and particularly women’s rights, and peace in Kenya.
Of her efforts Maathai said, "Our recent experience in Kenya gives hope to all who have been struggling for a better future. It shows it is possible to bring about positive change, and still do it peacefully. All it takes is courage and perseverance, and a belief that positive change is possible. When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children."
We hope you are inspired to join us in our efforts going forward. We want and need your help to educate our young people and future generations in effective, peaceful problem-solving skills, in promoting sustainable peace movements and climate action in a divided world. This work is understandably daunting at times, and we may wonder what ordinary citizens can do for peace, but let’s not forget the words of Margaret Mead:
This work is understandably daunting at times, and we may wonder what ordinary citizens can do for peace, but let’s remember the words of Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”