Earlier this week, November 15 & 16, I had the opportunity to visit colleges in Southern California. I frequently give talks and workshops at institutions on peacebuilding and conflict resolution. At times, I work with faculty in examining curricular approaches to teaching. I also offer programs for students on peace awareness. Recently, I published Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing, 2016). The book is a guide for young people - high school and college age- to consider careers in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
Lately, I have been stressing entrepreneurship with students. Though most students will seek employment in traditional settings increasingly students are exploring ways in which they can take an idea and promote it on their own. This notion of entrepreneurship is a strong one today and has been significant in incubating social media and technology initiatives.
I have developed a quick activity for students called "Peace Entrepreneur." In this activity, I break down students into groups of 4-5. Each group is a team working for the company "Make the Peace, Inc." The company focuses on innovation in the peacebuilding field. In the exercise, each team is given a budget of $500,000 to develop a product or service that would promote community peace. The team can define peace and community anyway they wish. The teams are asked to (1) determine a community need (2) propose a product or service that would respond to that need (3) consider who the direct market is and what the impact would be, and (4) develop a draft poster or ad that would promote the product or service. They have 30 minute to do this. Afterwards, each team makes their pitch to the other teams. We applaud after each presentation, which lasts no more than 5 minutes. (Probably in a typical set up there might be voting as to the best product or service, but I'm not so interested in ranking the ideas).
I have now done this exercise in three very different educational environments: (1) with high school students in Baltimore; (2) with community college students at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, CA, and (3) with liberal arts students at Soka University of America (an institution founded on Buddhist principles) in Aliso Viejo, CA. I did the exercise with high school students during the Association for Conflict Resolution conference in October. I wrote about it here. The students came up with interesting initiatives including a community center for youth and the need for air conditioning in all schools (as a means to reduce conflict).
In my recent visits to California, I went to Golden West College (GWC) and Soka University of America. The GWC students focused on community needs that they wanted to address including violence and racism. One team wanted to develop an "app" that a person in conflict could use to find an expert to help them resolve a conflict they were dealing with! The Soka University students wanted to develop initiatives that would create space for free expression - an open space for artwork - and help underprivileged students transition to college, with a service that youth could use for mentoring.
It is important to use entrepreneurial strategies to promote peacebuilding and the resolution of serious conflict. Too often entrepreneurship is considered only in terms of for-profit efforts. Creative approaches to peacebuilding are critical today, and tapping the innovation of young people who are often directly impacted by conflict and violence is essential. They are often best situated to come up with practical and appealing strategies to improve their community life.
David J. Smith is an educational consultant and peacebuilding trainer. He is the president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education. He can be reached at [email protected].