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"Conflict and dispute are inherent in development and social progress. Any change may disrupt the status quo....Navigating conflict peacefully is the cardinal challenge of every society."

Jointly published by the United Nations and World Bank, this report reviews the experience of different countries and institutions to highlight elements that have contributed to peace. Central to these efforts is the need to address grievances around exclusion from access to power, opportunity, and security. This study seeks to improve the way in which domestic development processes interact with security, diplomatic, justice, and human rights efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. Its key audiences are national policymakers and staff of multilateral and regional institutions.

The background research and literature reviews, including 19 case studies, were prepared in partnership with think tanks and academic institutions. Regional consultations were conducted throughout 2016-17 with policymakers, members of civil society, representatives of regional organisations, development aid organisations, and donor partners in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and North America.

Based on a review of all recent conflicts, which was undertaken as part of the study, it appears that grievances around exclusion usually manifest themselves in four specific areas: access to power; access to natural resources; access to security and justice; and access to basic services. Each of these has a central economic and social dimension. Power is often regarded as separate from economic and social policies, but policies of decentralisation, citizens' participation and voice, and transparency in budget and economic decision making are all at the end of the day about power.

Among the factors contributing to the need for prevention in an interdependent world are fast-emerging global trends that are affecting the way people and societies operate and interact. Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) represent opportunities for innovation, growth, and the unfettered exchange of ideas. However, ICT benefits and access are not available to all, and the so-called "digital divide" threatens to widen the gaps between high- and low-income countries. New technologies and automation are rapidly transforming industries, with the effect of reducing the need for unskilled or semiskilled labour in industries. Interconnectivity also enables transnational organised crime to flourish, allows the rapid transmission of violent ideologies, and leaves economies vulnerable to cybercrime.

The study also shows that an early, shared understanding of the risks of violent conflict is central to prevention. But understanding risks is not sufficient; it is fundamental for actors to be ready to adjust policies and programming to address these risks. This requires establishing platforms at country or regional levels that allow a frank discussion with all concerned actors about the types of policies and programmes that are required at the early signs of risk, not when violence has already started and in situations of acute crisis.

The reader learns that development has important implications for security, because insecurity greatly undermines development efforts and because development interventions can often contribute to local security much more than policing alone. However, this requires that actors - both on the security and the development side - understand each other and enter into constructive cooperation.

Some other key messages:

  • Violent conflict is surging after decades of relative decline; it afflicts both low- and middle-income countries with relatively strong institutions. A rapidly evolving global context presents risks that transcend national borders and add to the complexity of conflict. This places the onus on policymakers at levels - from local to global - to make a more concerted effort to bring their tools and instruments to bear in an effective and complementary way.
  • The human and economic cost of conflicts around the world requires more collaborative work. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be at the core of this approach. Development actors need to provide more support to national and regional prevention agendas, through targeted, flexible, and sustained engagement. Prevention agendas, in turn, should be integrated in development policies and efforts.
  • Exclusion from access to power, opportunity, and security creates fertile ground for mobilisation to violence, especially in areas with weak state capacity or legitimacy or contexts of human rights abuses. The report points to specific ways in which state and other actors can seek to avert violence, including through more inclusive policies.
  • As argued here, the best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis - including but not limited to conflict - is to ensure they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development. For all countries, addressing inequalities and exclusion, making institutions more inclusive, and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis.
  • The primary responsibility for conflict prevention rests with states, but to be effective, civil society, the private sector, regional and international organisations must be involved.
  • Growth and poverty alleviation are crucial but alone will not suffice. Preventing violence requires departing from traditional economic and social policies when risks are building up, or are high, and seeking inclusive solutions through dialogue, adapted macro-economic policies, institutional reform in core state functions, and redistributive policies.
  • Enhancing the meaningful participation of women and youth in decision making, as well as long-term policies to address the economic, social, and political aspirations of women and young people, are fundamental to sustaining peace at all levels.
  • In order to achieve more effective prevention, new mechanisms need to be established that will allow the various tools and instruments of prevention - in particular, diplomacy and mediation, security, and development - to work in greater synergy, much earlier on.

The study also establishes a link between gender equality, women's participation, and a society's ability to make peace. Women's status relative to men's - especially their vulnerability to violence - is a significant predictor of a country's propensity for violent conflict overall. Countries with 10% of women in the labour force are nearly 30 times more likely to experience internal conflict than are countries with 40% of women in the labour force. When women's organisations participate in peace negotiations, there is a stronger chance for a peaceful outcome.

Drawing on the pathways framework illustrated in figure ES.1 in the report, the study describes the experience of national actors in three areas: shaping the incentives of actors for peace, reforming institutions to foster inclusion, and addressing structural factors that feed into grievances. From the case studies analysed for this report, common patterns emerge, even if specific prescriptions do not. Overall, the studies suggest that effective prevention is a collective endeavour that is led domestically, built on existing strengths, and with international and regional support. "The more successful cases mobilized a coalition of domestic actors to influence incentives toward peace, bringing in the comparative advantages of civil society, including women's groups, the faith community, and the private sector to manage tensions. Decisive leadership provided incentives for peaceful contestation, not least by mobilizing narratives and appealing to norms and values that support peaceful resolution."

In addition to the full report, available documents include:


United Nations and World Bank. 2018. "Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict." Conference Edition. World Bank, Washington, DC. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO - sourced from: "Economic and Social Policies Have a Significant Role to Play in the Prevention of Violent Conflicts", by Alexandre Marc, February 28 2018; and World Bank website - both accessed on March 9 2018. Image credit: © Shutterstock

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