Susan StigantRoundTable photo

In this era of tribalism and identity politics, there are still ambassadors of peace and inclusivity working in communities around the world to ensure that today’s challenges, such as the growing refugee crisis, do not interfere with the peaceful progress of the last century.  

In “Sustaining the Long Peace,” the third and final presentation of “Pathways to Peace,” sponsored by Rotary International in partnership with the Harris Policy Institute at University of Chicago, four people described their work – in the United States, Canada, Pakistan and South Sudan – to a packed auditorium at Rotary International headquarters on April 10.

“The objective of the partnership between Rotary International and the Harris Institute is to present the questions: ‘What is the state of peace today? How can we measure it? How can we sustain peace – global health, peace and prosperity – in the face of climate change, refugees and violence?’” said Jeremy Edwards, Associate Dean of the Harris Institute.

Susan Stigant, Director of Africa Programs at United States Institute of Peace, helps forge decision-making processes for governing bodies that will be as inclusive as possible. Power-sharing, she said, will help rein in violence.

“There’s a way to make decisions; there’s a way to structure government, so people will believe in the constitution and believe government can make their lives better. … A part of this pathway to peace has to be about how we got there, bringing the right relationship between the government and the governed.” Making the immigrant/refugee population feel welcome in their new home is vital, said Rotary Peace Fellow Alumnus Abdikheir Ahmed, Director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg Program, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. “The global refugee crisis is not a refugee crisis; it is a crisis of poor government. You have to change the environment that is forcing them to leave. These are the relationships that can fundamentally change how we look at the rest of the world.

Pakistan is ranked as the third on the list of most dangerous countries for women, said Hafsah Lak, Deputy Team Leader, Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, Punjab, Pakistan, and Business Development Lead, Cambridge Global Advisors. Her work addressing violence against women involved educating the police and prosecutors, creating shelters and offering rehabilitation to victims of domestic violence. “We provide training that violence is not OK. We help women get jobs. Our questions are ‘How do you make women independent? How do you make women get empowered?’”

The less visible life of Special Ops teams is one of community-building, said Harris Public Policy Alumna Kristen Hajduk, Adjunct Counterterrorism Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies. In Afghanistan, these teams worked on village-sustaining operations, such as building bridges and digging wells, she said.

The United States military has learned “in order to effective, they must include the people affected,” she said. Implementing that concept was difficult in Afghanistan, she said. “The Special Ops were missing 50% of the population: Women were prohibited from talking to outsiders. The Department of Defense had to make special dispensations and find women to dispatch them to Special Ops to talk to [Afghan] women.”

Ms. Hajduk added, “Research shows that more diverse groups will make better decisions and have better outcomes.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...