Strengthening Grassroots Peacebuilding From the UN to the Classroom


by Gay Rosenblum-Kumar

My career includes work for the United Nations on governance, anti-apartheid, and conflict prevention that took me to South Africa from 1992 to 1994 in the run-up to the election of Nelson Mandela and to many fragile and conflict affected countries over the past twenty-five years.  Prior to that I worked for a dozen years with international NGOs in New York on children’s rights and refugee education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gay with team in Mindanao
Gay with team in Mindanao

I teach Peacebuilding and Development at CGA.  The course is an amalgam of subjects that intersect with my past work for the UN and with international NGOs in conflict-prone environments such as conflict transformation, dialogue processes, and reconciliation.  I start with a sound theoretical grounding in peacebuilding and inequality followed by an opportunity to understand this work through practice in conflict analysis, formulating project documents, working conflict-sensitively on human rights, elections, with women and youth, and on natural resources issues that contribute to about 40% of all violent conflicts.

Most recently, I have been advising several NGOs in their advocacy efforts at the UN and have held short-term consultancies with the UN and the Swiss government.  Last year, I was part of a team conducting a conflict analysis and re-design of a UNDP confidence-building project in the predominantly indigenous Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.  This year, I joined a review team of a UN-World Bank technical assistance project that supports the Mindanao negotiations for the peace process between the Philippines Government and the Mindanao Islamic Liberation Party.

In my NGO work at the UN, I represent Peace Direct, a small London-based NGO that bolsters the capacity of grassroot peacebuilders and advocates for policies and practices strengthening indigenous, locally-led efforts in the field.  I also advise Nonviolent Peaceforce, which deploys unarmed civilian protection teams to protect communities from violence in places like Myanmar, South Sudan, the Philippines and most recently in Lebanon working with Syrian peace organizations.

I work on atrocity prevention with the Swiss-led Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC) a global network helping governments prevent atrocities through developing better laws, governance institutions, and stronger civil societies.

I bring stories from these recent missions into the classroom.  These include both positive anecdotes of things that have worked well as well as sobering stories of missteps and interventions that didn’t work out.

I find that teaching at NYU makes me deepen my knowledge base. Both preparing for each week’s subject and having students, many of whom bring a lot of experience to the classroom, ask challenging questions, forces me keep up with the professional publications in the field and re-evaluate what I have practiced in the field. As a result, I have also become a stronger practitioner.

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