Learning for Peace: Availing UNICEFs Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Program (PBEA) | Guest Friedrich W. Affolter, EdD

August 12, 2019
Nigerian school children show their support for UNICEFs PBEA program. © Courtesy UNICEF_UNI181989_Rich

Series 2019 / Episode 2

Friedrich W. Affolter, EdD, education expert for Risk-Informed Programming at UNICEF New York Program Division, and Secretary to the ECPC, joins host, Nancy Shemrah Fallon of the ECPC Global Communications Team. Dr. Affolter discusses his pioneering work as manager of UNICEFs Peace Building Education and Advocacy Program (PBEA), also called ‘Learning for Peace’, which designed education programs that contributed to the mitigation of drivers of conflict in 14 fragile and post-conflict countries.

Dr. Affolter talks about the many informative research products, produced by the PBEA, and how they can be best used by others to further this work. These 75 downloadable research products, made available on this website, include: data research and case studies, manuals and guidance, notes, summaries, reports and outcome evaluations, advocacy and issue briefs, gender and peacebuilding reports, a video series and toolkits for practical use and much more—all illustrating the vital links between education, social cohesion and peacebuilding. 

Education Expert
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Manager Global Communications
Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

Learning for Peace | Availing UNICEFs Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Program (PBEA)

With guest,  Friedrich W. Affolter, EdD

N. Shemrah FallonHi! I’m Nancy Shemrah Fallon from the global communications team at the Early Childhood Peace Consortium and host for today’s podcast.

Our next guest needs no introduction. For those of us working in the field of early childhood development, we know him as the driving force behind UNICEF’s Learning for Peace Program among others that serve to improve the lives of young children across the globe. As secretary to the ECPC, he has spearheaded the first collection of ECPC publications that advanced the powers of science and practice in elevating real hope for raising children of peace.

He is Dr. Friedrich Affolter, education expert for Risk-Informed Programming at UNICEF New York Program Division. His assignments have included Sudan, South Africa, Angola and Afghanistan. In this podcast, we will spotlight his work from 2012 to 2016 when he served as manager of UNICEF’s Peace Building Education and Advocacy Program (PBEA), also called Learning for Peace, which designed education programs that contributed to the mitigation of drivers of conflict in 14 fragile and post-conflict countries. Welcome, Dr. Affolter. 

Dr. Friedrich W. Affolter: Hi! Thank you for having me.

Shemrah: So on behalf of our listeners, can you tell us about you, your inspirations and what led you to UNICEF? So in other words, can you go back in time and take us through your life to bring us up to date on your work, beginning where were you born?

Dr. Affolter: Well, I’m from Germany originally. I was born in the South Black Forest. I spent most of my childhood in Germany but eventually started to traveling, working in different volunteer programs around the world, including in Canada. I work with native Americans. I worked in Israel, in kibbutz. I worked in many, many other volunteer programs and that’s what acquainted me with other parts of the world, different people, different challenges, different problems, different beauties. I wanted to work internationally. I wanted to work for development. I wanted to be a contributor to positive development and realization of potential of people, and that’s why I joined UNICEF where we work with children. Children are the future and the children are the hope of tomorrow.

Shemrah: So this led you to joining the Risk-informed Programming at UNICEF?

Dr. Affolter: Actually, I have worked at many different education capacities with UNICEF and other UN agencies over time. I worked in community education programs with UN Habitat in Afghanistan. I worked with a cluster in Sudan education cluster. I worked with victim empowerment programs with UNODC in South Africa. When I came to UNICEF New York, I worked first of all with the Learning for Peace Program for four years and then afterwards with a unit which is called the Risk-informed Programming.

Because, as you know, UNICEF is mandated to provide humanitarian assistance to children and caregivers who are suffering from natural catastrophes, from conflict, from, from disasters. UNICEF needs to develop programs that are risk-informed in order to prevent risks from occurring when hazards happen, how to protect children and also help community to transition out of hazards and risks.

So, it’s quite a big topic, Risk-informed Programming, and that’s one of the big areas where UNICEF is involved in. Not only me as an educator, we also have colleagues with the health section, with the child protection section, with water section, with nutrition sections. Every section within UNICEF has to engage in Risk-informed Programming.

Shemrah: Now the work that you have done on the PBEA or Learning for Peace Program, does that have something to do with the United Nations considering social services as contributors to peace building?

Dr. Affolter: Yes, and it is actually a relatively new chapter in peace-building thinking or at least it’s now being taken much, much more seriously as it used to be in earlier decades. We could say that peacebuilding has always been a mandate of the United Nations, but a lot of focus in the peacebuilding world was put on obviously diplomacy mediation, which is and continues to be important, then support with security, economic support, government reform, elections. Those are typical peacebuilding interventions which we have seen them throughout the decades.

About 2008 or 2009, a new discussion emerged that the way governments manage social services, health, protection, education, water infrastructure, that the way these servers are being managed, they are being either managed well and they bring, they facilitate connection between people or they are very often also managed not well, inequitably, incompetently, intransparently and that can actually creates to conflict or tensions.

So, the big question was asked, how can United Nations agencies who deliver social services and other agencies, not just UN agencies, how can they deliver services in such a way that it contributes to social cohesion and how can they avoid to deliver services in a way which alienates people? This is where UNICEF came in and tried to experiment with rolling-out services such as education, child protection, water, health, nutrition in ways that are peacebuilding relevant.

Shemrah: Why did the government of the Netherlands fund the Learning for Peace Program that was a result of these new initiatives of the United Nations?

Dr. Affolter: I don’t know whether the government of the Netherlands decided to provide funding for education, for peace building because of this new impetus in peacebuilding discourse. The government of the Netherlands always had a strategic interest and goal to contribute to stability. That’s a big topic and stability is the opposite of fragility and stability similar to resilience and basically strengthening the social fabric of society. Humanitarian programming costs a lot of money and the government of the Netherlands had actually given considerable funds even prior to the PBEA in order to address needs and help communities and populations and parents and children cope with disasters and distress.

When we had during 2006 I think to 2011, there was another very big program. It was called ePCT, and the government of the Netherlands was making an evaluation. They were asking, they were saying, “Look, you are doing really good work when there are refugee camps, when there are natural disasters, when there’s conflict. You UNICEF go and you provide education services and other services to children and their families and that’s fantastic. What are you doing to actually strengthening the social fabric of society? What are we doing in general to prevent those hazards from occurring?”

The discussion which evolved was a discussion where we said basically, “Yes, we are basically providing aid. We are providing emergency assistance, but we are not really having a conceptual framework for strengthening the creativeness of societies so that disasters and conflicts are less likely to occur.” Then we decided, okay, let’s try to see how we can actually address this issue of fragility through our programs. Let’s continue to deliver education services as we always do and as we do effectively, but at the same time let’s also see how we can strengthen relationships between groups and communities who are estranged, how we can strengthen relationships, transform relationships at the same time, how we can build trust between governments and communities so that conflict is less likely to create the havoc it has done in the past.

So, that was a new challenge and we wanted to engage in it. We eventually were able to demonstrate that, yes, program managers can leverage education services and probably other services in such a way that it not only meets the needs of children, education, health, et cetera, but that it also transforms relationships.

Shemrah: I guess our focus today is on the work of the Peacebuilding Education Advocacy program, also known as PBEA. Can you provide us an overview of that specific program and as the program manager, what steps did you take and in what order to get the results that you did achieve?

Dr. Affolter: Okay, so first of all, the country took place in 14 post-conflict countries, as you explained in your introduction, and that was interesting because we were basically delivering in countries which were affected by conflict in which were quite different so eventually we could compare. They had programs in Western Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, and Democratic Republic of Congo. We had countries in Southeastern Africa like Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Dadaab Camp, and Uganda. We had countries in the Middle East such as Yemen and State of Palestine. We had countries in Southeast Asia, which is Pakistan, and we worked with Myanmar in Far East Asia. So quite different countries, but all countries with a track record of, with a record of conflict.

We know from World Bank statistics that countries who are emerging from conflict and try to transition into long-term development stability very often lapse back into conflict after a number of years because the conflict drivers, which prompted conflict in the first place, are still not addressed. People are aware of them, but there’s not really a good approach to addressing the drivers of conflict.

So, what we decided to do is UNICEF has country offices in all these countries. We talked with the government and we said we want to engage in education programs for conflict-affected areas. We want to do what we always deliver, quality education for children, schools, materials, services. We also want to do it in areas where there’s conflict. We want to see how our programs actually brings people together and the governments some immediately agreed. Others hesitatingly agreed because dealing with conflict issues is a very uncomfortable thing and governments don’t like to admit sometimes that there is conflict or that there are problems.

Then, we basically ask for permission, can we conduct the conflict analysis? The conflict analysis means you try to identify conflict factors which contribute to conflict in the past or who might contribute to new conflict in the future. Again, that was a very sensitive request but governments eventually conceded, they were interested in reading the conflict analysis. Then we try to see how can we as educators contribute to the mitigation of these conflict factors.

Now, it could be that in some areas, for example in Congo, maybe land reform or land legislation is a big driver of conflict. Obviously, educators cannot really contribute to this topic a lot through education services. In other countries, maybe youth unemployment or the curriculum, which is irrelevant for making youth more employable, that could actually be a topic which produces resentment among youth, something which is of concern but through new education programs and education reforms, this project could actually be tackled.

Or in Myanmar for example, we knew that there were tensions between the different ethnic groups and the majority ethnic group and cultural identity is a big thing. So we developed a program around a minority language policy because, and we proposed that government and ethnic groups discuss together a minority language policy where the identity of the different ethnic minorities are being recognized in the curriculum, and that would be a way to start dialog between ethnic minorities and the government.

Through these kind of ways, first the conflict analysis where we identified conflict factors and then afterwards programs which could mitigate those drivers of conflict, we then developed education programs which were not only good for education, but they were also good for facilitating social cohesion.

Shemrah: So this amazing strategy is what sets you apart and is responsible for the success of the PBEA. Would you agree?

Dr. Affolter: Well, I would not necessarily say success because we, the PBEA was a program which lasted only four years and that’s we could have done much, much more if we had eight years or 10 years. What is really, really special and new about the PBEA was that we would not just deliver services but that we would conduct the conflict analysis, identify drivers of conflict, agree with the government about how to address those drivers of conflict and with the stakeholder groups and then basically run programs which are not just education programs but education programs which have the potential to transform those conflict factors. That was a very, very new experiment which at that magnitude in 14 post-conflict countries in parallel over 14 countries over four years, I don’t think there’s another program which has done what we have done.

Shemrah: I would have to agree. So what were the most important results in findings from the PBEA program that you can share with us?

Dr. Affolter: Well, the biggest result was that we conducted 14 conflict analyses and that we developed 14 four-year education work plans designed to address those drivers of conflict and then try to evaluate how were we doing, what was possible to, what was achieved as a result of this new programming approach. That is perhaps the first or the most significant achievement, basically conflict analysis and and programming against those drivers of conflict.

We have a lot of case studies. We have a report which is on the ECPC website; I will not go into this. One thing which we did was we conducted research and evaluations. One thing which we found, one research for example which we conducted has to do with our partner FHI, looked at education statistics from 106 countries around the globe over the last 60 or 70 years, and juxtaposed those statistics about education access and education quality with conflict statistics from the University of Uppsala where there’s a big conflict research center. They could show that there is very, very robust evidence that in countries where there is a pronounced education inequality, that also the risk of conflict increases by more than 100%.

Also, they found that where gender inequality is reduced, the likelihood of violent conflict also reduces by 36, 37%. So that is… The evidence we have is very robust and you can read the research on the website, but that actually means that it’s not just inequality which produces a risk for violent conflict. It is education inequality, which uses the risk to violent conflict.

Shemrah: This is information that is absolutely invaluable. On behalf of the early childhood peace consortium and all of our colleagues and people in the field who are working to make this world a better place for children and their families, I mean, thank you for pouring your time and energy and expertise into this program and sharing with us. These very, very invaluable results are highly significant. So it seems like the lessons learned from this Learning for Peace Program have been integrated into UNICEF’s thinking into programming efforts in fragile and post-conflict countries.

Dr. Affolter: Yes. Basically we are recognizing at UNICEF of course that conflict is not the only source of distress. There are many, many other risks and many, many other hazards. There’s natural disasters. There are biochemical hazards. There are economic shocks. There is climate change. There’s school-related gender-based violence. In different countries, there are different challenges, and we need to address those challenges through what we call Risk-informed Programming.

The risk of conflict is a very, very complex risk. It requires different approaches to research and assess conflict risks. It requires different considerations in order to design conflict-sensitive education programs. So we have now integrated this PBEA experience in our overall Risk-informed Programming approach. You will find also on the ECPC website guidance notes on Risk-informed Programming where you find case studies about conflict-sensitive programming and all the other disaster-related program approaches.

Sometimes unfortunately, those different risks also overlap and they reinforce each other. For example, when we had Ebola in Liberia or Sierra Leone, it was not only biochemical hazard. It eventually also resulted in conflict, and actually the same thing is happening right now in Congo. On the other hand it’s also possible and that’s also what PBEA was showing that together with youth and through schools, you can actually educate about Ebola. You can mitigate conflict.

So, education is a force which can be used for strengthening cohesion, for building trust as much as alter education can be abused for polarizing society, creating prejudice. It is not an innocent and neutral social service domain, but it is a powerful domain for strengthening societies, building cohesion and strengthening education.

Shemrah: Well, definitely the work that you’ve done on the PBEA program is pointing the way for us to continue the work, appears the need for more research in the field and more programs that are designed specifically for the cultures in which that the studies are being conducted.

I just wanted to let the listening audience know that the PBEA program has produced over 75 high-quality research products, including the data research and case studies as you had mentioned, manuals and guidance, notes, summaries, reports and outcome evaluations, advocacy and issue briefs, gender and peacebuilding reports, a video series and toolkits for practical use and much more, all illustrating the vital links between education, social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Now these downloadable resources have been relocated from unicef.org to ecdpeace.org, which is the web address for the Early Childhood Peace Consortium and can be found in the work area on the platform building the culture of peace and within that work area learning and teaching piece.

So, Dr. Affolter, how do you suggest our audience base make best use of these materials? Can you provide us a few examples of how they may be used?

Dr. Affolter: Oh, I would love of course to see that those reports make it into universities and into undergraduate and graduate classes in order to illustrate how social services can contribute to peacebuilding. We are not saying that education alone or water or health is the panacea for peace building. We are saying with all our services, which we are delivering, we are not just delivering services. We are also influencing relationships to the better or to the worst. So we have to be careful, we have to be conflict-sensitive and mindful how we are delivering services. That’s maybe the first goal, so I hope that the students will find that these materials interesting. They will read them and they will share them with their colleagues, because it is evidenced that social services have a role to play.

The second perhaps programmers, colleagues from NGOs. We all need to be mindful that when we are delivering programs which are of humanitarian system or aid programs, it’s not just for aid or for humanitarian assistance. It’s also for strengthening and forging positive relationships. I actually think we are not always mindful that these services have this potential for strengthening social cohesion. There was a time we did development work, but the development work was gender blind. Today to do development work, which is not gender sensitive, which does not lead to empowerment of both gender groups, that is unforgivable.

Are we really, really asking ourselves the same question all it’s about conflict sensitivity and peace building? Are we really doing our programming work also with a question in mind? Is this conflict-sensitive? Does it strengthen peace in societies? I actually think we need to do some catch-up work in this area and I hope that the peacebuilding program provides food for thought and how this can be accomplished.

Shemrah: Absolutely. I was thinking the same thing that is definitely food for thought, but actually the PBEA has really laid the ground work for this movement going forward. So again, I do encourage our listening-based to visit ecdpeace.org and really review these amazing materials that again are downloadable.

Dr. Affolter, I know concurrently with your work on the PBEA, you orchestrated a multitude of activities as secretary to the Early Childhood Peace Consortium that has resulted in the recently released ECPC brief and background paper contributions of early childhood programming to sustainable peace and development. Along with that, you just released on the ECPC website an automated video that is about, what, four minutes in length that captures the highlights of this research. Can you tell us a little bit more about this, this work that you have spearheaded and how it can be used by our listener base?

Dr. Affolter: Yeah, actually it’s really important that we mentioned the amazing potential that Early Childhood Development services have for peacebuilding. As I said at the beginning of the interview, it is only during the last 10 years that the question of how can social services contribute to peacebuilding that this question really surfaces and is being looked at more closely. Of course, there are social services like water or health or education. It is now recognized, yes, they are relevant, and we need to manage those services conflict sensitively and peacebuilding relevant, in a peacebuilding relevant way.

From all the social services, Early Childhood Development actually has the hardest time to make its voice heard. Maybe because people think what two little babies have to do with peace. We have big conflicts and we need to have a ceasefire agreement. We need to stop things from deteriorating to now, say, let’s invest in early childhood development that helps to strengthen peace. That’s a little bit too farfetched. It’s highly moral. Nobody is against Early Childhood Development, but Early Childhood Development for peacebuilding? Come on, that’s really bending it too far. We actually think this is not… It is a very relevant topic.

Actually, Early Childhood Development in comparison with all the other social service domains has overwhelming evidence in its favor. We know from brains, from the neurosciences, how the early childhood brain development is so sensitive, and so it is such a development momentum in the life of a human being that if things go wrong in the first thousand or 2,000 days, it will have lifelong consequences.

So basically what happens in the first five years has consequences for the next 80 years. So stress, toxic stress, violence, lack of nurturing care, neglect, those things will contribute to children whose potential for making connections, for building trust, for building attachment ties, for learning, for contributing as citizens later on for becoming employable, it actually reduces their chances of becoming a headstart in life.

So, on the one hand, we need to protect children and caregiver in those sensitive phases of their development. We need to protect brains and we need to build brains, that is very, very important part of peacebuilding. Secondly, we are able to contribute to transformation of relationships within families and even within communities through Early Childhood Development services.

For example, one of the case that is, we have on the ECPC website is a case study from Cote d’Ivoire where in rural communities in Western Cote d’Ivoire the war at the border to Liberia who were from different ethnic origins and who were affiliated with different political parties who had affiliated militia groups, they were basically at a silent war for decades. Militia groups coming in ransacking villages but only the houses which belonged to the opposite group. Later on, another militia group came in, ransacking houses of families who were from the opposite militia group. There was such a distrust in the community. Women would not even have faith of leaving their children in their homes or going to a neighbor and borrowing flour. There was deep division and friction within the community.

We were able… UNICEF provided kindergarten services in those communities under the condition that they would be accessible to all members of the community no matter what ethnic group. Chiefs had to agree to that otherwise the service would have not delivered. Then when children went into those kindergartens, the women, the mothers were had free time and they were invited to take literacy classes together where they would learn to read and write and also talk about women issues. They became closer to one another. They developed trust. They began to form mother clubs.

For the first time, since many, many years, women from different ethnic origins started to work together, meet together, consult together, do things together, even engaged in business activities together. Then eventually, they started to talk to their husbands and their husbands, some husbands were willing to basically begin to meet with other husbands. So a lot of development happened just around joint ECD services.

So, we can say that ECD services are a tool to establish trust and relationships between strange groups. We have seen that worked not only in Uganda and not only in Cote d’Ivoire. We have seen it worked in Uganda. We have seen it workeded in the Philippines. We have seen it work in Northern Ireland. So it is… We have to be mindful that Early Childhood Development is a tool which can be leveraged for contributing to conflict factors.

Shemrah: What your program says to the entire world is that there is real hope for positive change. Well, Dr. Affolter, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you and learning from you today. On behalf of the ECPC and our listener base, thank you so much for your invaluable contributions to peacebuilding through the transformative power of children and families and for your invaluable service to all youth everywhere. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the listening audience before we conclude this discussion?

Dr. Affolter: I like to finish with a quote from Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, which really, really drives the point home, which are very much liked. “Education is-” he says, “… quite simply, peacebuilding by another name. It is the most effective form of defense spending there is.”

Thank you for having me.


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