Tag Archives: conflict

UN mobilizes volunteers to research contribution of volunteerism in fragile communities and post-conflict environments

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, in partnership with ActionAid, the Association of Voluntary Centres (in Russian), the Beijing Volunteer Federation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), is deploying 15 national and international volunteer researchers to collect evidence on the contribution of volunteerism in fragile communities and post-conflict environments.

The volunteer researchers are currently deploying to 15 countries to gather evidence for the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR) on the theme of “Resilient Communities: The Role of Volunteerism in a Turbulent World”. The volunteer researchers will spend up to six months living with different communities in Bolivia, Burundi, China, Greece, Guatemala, Egypt, Madagascar, Malawi, Myanmar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tanzania to generate evidence and data to inform the report.

More details of this deployment and research project.

Follow @UNVolunteers on Twitter to stay up-to-date on this project and know when the report will be released.

Previous reports from UNV include the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015: Transforming Governance and the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011: Universal Values for Global Well-being.

Also see:

On behalf of a Forest Grove family

I am working with the family of the student that instigated the “Build a Wall” banner incident at Forest Grove High School yesterday. On my blog, I am sharing the apology letter from the student that was emailed earlier today to the main address of Forest Grove High School. It was addressed to:

Ms. Karen O’Neill
Ms. Tami Erion
Mr. Brian Burke
Mr. Doug Thompson
Ms. Yvonne Curtis

 

I am sharing it here on my professional blog because the family urgently wants this apology to get to the community. It is being shared with their permission.

Again, this content is from the letter student to Forest Grove high school earlier today, and these are the words and sentiments of that student:

Dear Forest Grove and Cornelius Community,

On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss  sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.

But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was – but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention.

I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt. Because my words did hurt – I understand that now. I will think more carefully in the future about my words and my actions. I still passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I also understand that just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

I will work to learn about other cultures and how different people perceive different messages. I am going to learn much more about the issues of immigrants in the USA, especially Forest Grove, and learn about why they have come, what their life is like, the challenges they face and how they improve this community.

I may be present at the walkout that I have heard is happening later today. I may not. I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t decided yet what’s best for the school, and what I should do regarding my participation. And to anyone that would like to have a formal and sincere conversation accompanied by a verbal apology I would like to make myself available.

I would sincerely ask that people not threaten violence, or engage in violence, over this incident. As students yelled and drove by my home today, I was scared not for myself, but for my family. I love my family very much – a family I have disappointed and that did not raise me this way – and I want them to be safe.

I am withholding the student’s name, but it is known to all school administrators. The family will be working with others to explore ways to further educate this family member, and all their children, about the consequences of words and actions, about racism, and about community responsibilities. Respectful, meaningful suggestions for this family regarding such action are welcomed in the comments section of this blog.

This blog was originally posted at 12:39 p.m. on May 19, 2016. This edit is from 4:34 p.m.:

I did not write the letter. The student wrote the letter. I did edit the first draft of the letter regarding grammar, and later, encouraged him to add some sentences based on things I heard him saying verbally in discussions with his family I was able to observe. The words are all his.

For the press: if you want to confirm that this is the content of the letter that was sent to the school, please call the school – they will confirm for you.

This edit  was posted on May 26, 2016 at 9 a.m.:

For folks that want to understand the many circumstances that lead up to this banner being put up and to the protest in Forest Grove on May 19, 2016, there are three media stories that, altogether, provide a good overview of how complicated the issues and feelings in Forest Grove are:

Unlikely allies agree hurtful language cuts both ways

Trump supporters feel the hate

Student protests about more than just a banner

And on a related note is this article about a commencement speaker at California State Fullerton getting booed. What I like about it is that students on both sides of the issue are interviewed.

volunteer engagement to promote social cohesion, prevent extremism?

social cohesionThere will be a conference in Brussels, Belgium on 13 October 2016 regarding the possible role of volunteer engagement in promoting inclusion and preventing extremism.

Examples from across Europe and beyond, such as from South Africa, Colombia and Algeria, will be reviewed to explore ways that volunteerism has contributed to building trust and social cohesion. The conference will also discuss elements and factors that are essential for success in such endeavors. The examples will be included in a publication that “will offer analysis of the challenges faced in Europe concerning social inclusion and the risks of extremism from different belief groups and explain how the volunteer projects contribute to addressing these issues.”

The conference is being promoted by the European Volunteer Centre (CEV), supported by the European Commission. The event will be organised in the framework of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union and with the support of London House and Team London (European Volunteering Capital 2016).

There are lots of ways for an organization that involves volunteers to be thinking about inclusiveness in its volunteer engagement, even if social cohesion or community building isn’t explicitly stated in its mission. For instance:

Also see these related resources:

Taking a stand when you are supposed to be neutral/not controversial

handstopSo many people responsible for communications at nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government programs and international development agencies like the United Nations do their work from a place of fear: fear of negative publicity, fear of reprimand from supervisors or partner organizations, fear of controversy, etc. One of the consequences of this fear-based work style is that these communications professionals overly-censor themselves on social media, avoiding messages that relate directly to their program’s mission, simply because they don’t want to make anyone angry.

It’s impossible to work in communications and not make anyone angry. Impossible. While I think it is very important to be culturally-sensitive/appropriate in communications, the reality is that the work of most mission-based organizations is meant to grow understanding and change minds – and that means, at least sometimes, being challenging, even provocative. I long ago accepted that not everyone is going to like the messages of whatever program I’m representing, even messages that seem quite benign and non-controversial to me. As long as I make all messages reflective of the mission of the program, and ensure all messages come from a place of sincerity and honesty, I make no apologies.

If you want to post a message to social media that promotes something that relates to your program’s mission, but you want to keep negative responses to a minimum – or have a solid response to anyone who complains about such a message, including a board member or donor, here’s what you do: find the message you want to say on your headquarter’s Facebook or Twitter account, or a partner organization’s account, and share it or retweet it.

Here’s an example: I’ve had colleagues at the UN say, “We cannot talk about rights for gay people. It will make too many people angry.” Yet, the UN has a human rights MANDATE that includes rights for gay people. So, what could an office in such a position do in order to promote that human rights message and have a firm defense for doing so in the face of criticism? Follow the United Nations Free & Equal initiative on Twitter (@free_equal) and on Facebook. This is an initiative of the Office of the High Commissioner for United Nations Human Rights (follow that initiative on Twitter and Facebook as well). Share and retweet the messages that initiative says that you feel you cannot say yourself, such as this video from the UN Secretary General in support of the Free & Equal initiative. No one can argue that you shouldn’t share it – unless they can point to a specific, verifiable threat as a result of such a message that could endanger staff.

Another example: while working in a country with a lot of armed conflict going on, our communications office decided that celebrating the UN’s international day of peace with our own messages could be seen as taking sides in the hostilities – saying “We hope for peace” could be interpreted as encouraging one side to “give in” to another. So we decided not to post our own messages – but to share and retweet official UN messages related to international peace day.

It’s a good idea to make a list of Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts that interns and/or volunteers could monitor and whose messages they could share or retweet without pre-approval from a supervisor. You might want to also make a list of accounts they should absolutely *not* retweet or share; for instance, at one work site, I would not allow articles from a certain media outlet to be shared or retweeted via our official account, because I felt the media outlet was profoundly biased against our work and because I felt their articles were often riddled with misinformation.

No matter what: keep communications mission-based. Think about the intent of your message: To educate regarding an issue related to your program’s mission? To encourage someone to do something related to your cause? To celebrate your program’s activities or accomplishments? To create goodwill with a certain community? Always be able to justify any message you want to send.

And did you see what I just did there?

Also see:

Why you should separate your personal life and private life online

 

 

How to Handle Online Criticism / Conflict

Using social media to promote respect, tolerance, reconciliation?

The Center for Disease Control in the USA uses a special Twitter account, @CDCSTD, to help people” to be safer and healthier by the prevention of STDs and their complications.”

The initiative @EverydaySexism uses Twitter to create awareness about the every day harassment and sexism that women experience. This organization does this both via its own tweets and using this hashtag, #everydaysexism, which they encourage others to use with their own tweets; they monitor use of this hastag and, often, retweet messages using it.

These are two examples of organizations using social media – Twitter, specifically – as a part of their program delivery. They aren’t using Twitter to point to a press release or provide updates on programs; Twitter IS the program delivery or, at least, part of it.

I’m looking for examples of organizations using Twitter, Facebook, even just simple, old-fashioned text messaging, to promote:

  • tolerance
  • respect
  • reconciliation

And to counter:

  • bigotry
  • prejudice
  • inequality
  • misperceptions and misconceptions about a particular group of people or different people

I’m not looking for just organizations that are promoting tolerance, respect or reconciliation among different groups; I’m looking for examples on Twitter or Facebook of organizations actually using social media as a way to build tolerance, respect and/or reconciliation – they are sending out messages that somehow encourage two groups that have previously been or are currently in conflict to respect each other, for instance.

I’m going to be gobsmacked if some organization somewhere in the world isn’t trying this…

My job: reading the consequences of war

A lot of my current job is reading large volumes of text and then trying to synthesize them down to something smaller, easier to understand and quicker to read, for various reports, web pages, etc.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading a lot about what’s happening to people that have fled the violence in Eastern Ukraine, and people who have remained behind, as well as what life is like for Crimean Tatars and others that have had to flee Crimea. I haven’t cited all of my sources below – there are just too many. There’s no one comprehensive report on this crisis – yet. But all of the following is easily verifiable using news and humanitarian reports, all publicly available online:

In the areas of armed conflict, homes, buildings, roads and bridges, electricity, and water systems and other basic infrastructure are often severely wrecked. Heating systems are needed and sanitation is poor, access to medical and social services is inadequate, and access to food remains a concern. Many of those that have stayed behind are the elderly or people with disabilities. And winter is coming… many of those who have stayed behind, regardless of their politics, are experiencing not only the threat of violence, but also abduction, extortion and harassment. Many people, especially men, have disappeared without a word to family, and it’s not known if they’ve are being held somewhere or if they have been killed.

And that’s for the people that dare to try to stay in areas affected by war. Around 15,000 Crimeans of mainly Crimean Tatar ethnicity (80%) are now internally-displaced people (IDPs) and have sought refuge in the Ukraine mainland, mainly in the west. As of 8 August 2014, UNHCR reported a total of 125,032 from Eastern Ukraine, but this is probably way too low – there’s no widespread systemic way right now to register IDPs. A needs assessment conducted by OCHA in June 2014 indicates that a total of 1.52 million people may leave the Eastern regions of Ukraine, should armed conflict and violence continue, let alone escalate. Some IDPs are living in collective shelters, which were built for youth summer camps, and their numbers in those shelters are far beyond what buildings were constructed for. These shelters often do not have heating systems. And winter is coming…

IDPs usually do not have the appropriate paperwork they need to register for government services or to get a job in their new location. They can’t access their bank accounts because such have been frozen by the government here or in Russia, depending on where they have their money. IDPs have great difficulties to get legal services for protection from civil and criminal issues. Gender-based violence is on the increase, and largely unreported. There is a HUGE need to provide services to those IDPs who are suffering from psychological disorientation, alienation and stress. Communities where IDPs are living are starting to become wary of them, as any community does of people they perceive as outsiders: misunderstandings and misinformation about IDPs abound, and there is a growing need to promote respect and tolerance among everyone, through deliberate, facilitated community dialogue and communication – the stuff some people call touchy feel-y, but that I think prevents violence, even civil war.

And all of these problems are growing, every day, as conflict continues.

There are a lot of reasons the United Nations has been in Ukraine for so long – but this new, more urgent reason, is why I’m here, albeit oh-so-briefly. Such a huge challenge… so huge…

If you are saying, “I want to help Ukraine! How do I do that?” I think donating financially to any UN agency that accepts financial donations, such as the World Food Programme or UNICEF or UNFPA, and saying you are doing so for Ukraine, would be awesome. These agencies provide both direct service through their own staff and through local Ukrainian nonprofit/civil society organizations. Just please don’t send stuff – don’t collect t-shirts or baby supplies or what not if you are outside of Ukraine – it’s cheaper, more efficient, and better for local economies to buy things right here in country.

Reconciliation

I need a better word than reconciliation.

It’s become a loaded term, a political term, an undesirable term. To many, it means appeasement to an oppressor or abuser. It means to relinquish any demands for justice for atrocities committed. It’s not a word most people want to think about during the heat of conflict or in the immediate aftermath of such.

What reconciliation is supposed to mean is peacefully co-existing with those with whom you have been in conflict, and laying those conflicts aside. It is an acceptance of the past, without agreeing with it, and a mutual understanding that, in the future, there will be reciprocated respect and cooperation.

Even when one group militarily defeats another, many of us expect reconciliation, as happened with the Allies and Axis countries after World War II (a war many believe was caused because of the lack of reconciliation and, rather, the focus on punishment, after World War I). Isn’t reconciliation the 21st Century goal for every conflict now, whether in the Middle East or Ferguson, Missouri? Yet, to say the word in regard to the eventual resolution of conflict – and all conflict must resolve at some point, even if only because one runs out of ammunition and funding – can produce immediate resistance, an utter dismissal of the idea. You don’t get a too soon! response, you get a NEVER response.

But what is the alternative to resolutionI don’t think there is one. At least not one we can live with.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) is a non-governmental organization and think tank in South Africa. It was forged out of the country’s now legendary Truth and Reconciliation process in 2000. It’s allowed South Africa to move forward in a way I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. South Africa has so, so far to go, so many massive challenges, many of which make my stomach churn. Yet… what would have been the alternative to attempting even this incomplete reconciliation?

Reconciliation is an ongoing process. For many countries – for many individual people, for just their own daily relationships – it’s a never-ending process. It’s a constant struggle. Rarely do you hear of a person that has completely reconciled with an abuser or oppressor, with someone that has done a grave injustice to that person. Rarely do you hear of two formerly-warring factions, or two populations – one the oppressor, one the oppressed – that have achieved complete reconciliation. You hear that they are still struggling, still debating, still trying to respect and understand, still bristling at the lack of respect and understanding. But even just that ongoing process, that struggle – isn’t that what we should strive to reach after every conflict, whether its a civil war, a war between two countries, or a divorce following a horrific marriage?

I need a better word than reconciliation.

Further reading:

From Resolution to Reconciliation in Postconflict Societies, by Daniel Bar-Tal, in World Politics Review (you get the full article for free if you’ve never visited the site before, so be sure to download it and read it offline, because after a few days, it goes away and asks for a subscription – and if I could afford to subscribe, I would).

Reconciliation After Violent Conflict: A Handbook, from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2003, available from the United Nations web site.

When volunteers compete

Have you had problems with mission-competition among volunteers: an environment where volunteers compete in terms of more-devoted-to-the-cause-than-thou, or have mission-purity-tests for their fellow volunteers?

Some examples:

Several years ago, an animal shelter in a large city asked me for advice. They were working towards becoming a no-kill shelter. That means they wanted to create the conditions that would allow them to never have to kill adoptable dogs and cats – where they could have the resources to house every adoptable dog and cat, at the shelter or in foster homes, and get those animals adopted permanently as quickly as possible. That’s a massive undertaking. It requires vast amounts of money, facilities, messaging and volunteers.

The shelter was quite successful in recruiting a lot of volunteers to the cause, but a problem had appeared, and was growing: volunteers who were against hunting wanted to exclude people that were hunters from volunteering at the shelter. Arguments were erupting among volunteers with different viewpoints about hunting. A lot of volunteers were threatening to leave, either because they did not want to work with hunters or because they felt such hostility from other volunteers.

A few years before that, I was volunteering with a pro-choice coalition, made up of members representing a variety of groups working to ensure women’s access to safe, legal abortion services. Some of the groups were focused primarily on improving legislation and helping law enforcement to understand their responsibilities, while other groups were focused on defending health clinics from protesters on a day-to-date basis. Some groups members were anti-religious, while others felt their religious faith was the basis for the pro-choice work. While everyone was on the same page regarding reproductive choice, feelings about abortion varied HUGELY. Volunteers from both groups clashed often over which was the best approach for protecting women’s health decisions.

I thought about these two situations when I read this comment from a friend’s Facebook page:

This…..this whole “Lemme tell ya somethin’ ” attitude….. is THE reason I am getting out of dealing with non-profits. I will not be volunteering to do anything for a non-profits ever again. I can not tell you how many times I’ve gone into a situation full well knowing that I will put my prejudices aside ( organic food) to work for the larger picture ( sustainability or local farmers…etc…..) only to realize that *I* am the only person in the room who has checked their own personal agenda at the door.

Preventing this kind of mission competition among volunteers is far easier than trying to solve a problem that has festered too long. Some ideas:

  • Screening volunteers for attitude
  • Explaining to volunteers at their orientation, at other meetings and in your online group for volunteers what the mission of the organization is, and that the mission is ALWAYS the primary objective – that it can usurp how long someone has volunteered with the organization, a long-practiced tradition at the organization, etc. Be explicit about what mission competition among volunteers might look like, and why you want to discourage it.
  • Explaining to volunteers at their orientation, at other meetings and in your online group for volunteers your written rules regarding respect among volunteers. Very easy to find statements regarding workplace respect on Google.com or Bing.com.
  • Explaining to volunteers at their orientation, at other meetings and in your online group for volunteers your acknowledgement of different points-of-view among volunteers regarding why they support your organization’s mission.
  • Talking with volunteers directly that may be creating this mission-competition among volunteers.

 

How do you know if you are facing this problem? ASK! Ask volunteers why they are leaving, and ask volunteers what stresses them at your organization. Don’t just ask once: ask in informal meetings, ask at formal, official meetings, ask in feedback surveys, and ask on your online community.

Support Your Local Online Discussion Manager!

I’ve dealt with a LOT of debates and conflict on a variety in online discussion groups, and that vast experience lead to creating this resource on how to deal with such, especially for nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies and other mission-based folks. It’s one of the most popular pages on my web site.

Recently, an experience made me realize there was a crucial piece of advice missing on that resource. Here it is:

Support Your Local Online Discussion Manager!

When you, the Executive Director or Marketing Manager or Program Director, see your online discussion manager facilitating an online debate about something your organization is or isn’t doing, the temptation may be for you, the senior person, to jump in and start posting.

That may or may not be a good idea.

It’s a good idea if there is something you need to clarify that you can say better than your online discussion manager, particularly if it might relieve pressure on that person and allow him or her to move the discussion forward. It’s also a good idea if you see the manager under fire – it can be wonderfully motivating for an online community manager that is bruised from an online virtual debate to see your public support for him or her, and it can help for discussion group members see your faith in that person.

However, it’s a bad idea if you are seen as “taking over;” your posting to the discussion can disempower your online discussion manager, reducing his or her importance to the community. Why should the community look to that person as their liaison with the organization online, when you’ve made it clear that YOU are higher up and in-charge, and you took over the discussion?

If you think there is a different way to handle an online situation than your online discussion manager is doing, talk with that person FIRST, and if at all possible, have the discussion  manager continue to be the lead in facilitating the discussion. If you must post something, be sure to add verbiage that shows you still have faith and trust in your online discussion manager, and that you fully support that person.

Read more about how to deal with online criticism / conflict.

Chat with me on Twitter Oct. 2!

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, from 1-2 p.m. New York City time (10 a.m. Oregon time), I’ll be leading the tweetchat on Twitter.

The tweetchat is focused on building and sustaining online communities for nonprofits, charities, schools, government programs and other mission-based initiatives, though some corporate folks frequently show up and share.

The focus of the chat tomorrow will be on dealing with conflict among members of an online community.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I addressed it in this web page, Handling Online Criticism, which recently got quite a few mentions on Twitter. Just as criticism of an organization is inevitable on an online community, so is conflict among members. There’s no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address conflict that can help an organization maintain a reputation for being transparent and responsive, but without allowing someone to dominate a conversation and drown out others. How an organization handles online conflict speaks volumes about that organization, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come.

Participating in the tweetchat is simple: you log into Twitter, and then you click on the link or do a search on the term #commbuild on Twitter. All messages with the #commbuild tag will appear. Keep reloading the tweets and you will see all new messages. To respond, just choose a message and click on “Reply”. Be sure to put the tag #commbuild in your message, however, so everyone else can see it too!

The questions I’m going to be asking on this Tweetchat (subject to change!):

Q1: Is conflict in an online community avoidable?
Q2: Is conflict on an online community ever healthy? Examples?
Q3: Have YOU ever been an instigator or participant in a lively conflict on an online community?
Q4: Do you include info about conflicts that happen on your community in staff meetings, or to your supervisor? Why/why not?
Q5: Do you have written rules on how to deal with conflict on your online community?
Q6: How long do you let conflict/debate go on on your online community?
Q7: Have you ever said no to calls by others to ban a member? Why?
Q8: When is it time to ask for a debate to stop?
Q9: Other tips for dealing with conflict online?

And regarding Q3: yes, I have been a participant in MANY lively conflicts in various online communities. Some of the experiences have actually been really gratifying: a problem that several people were experiencing got resolved, or minds got changed (this happened a few times in debates regarding virtual volunteering back in the 1990s). Some experiences have not been positive: I’ve lost respect for organizations and individuals who I felt were wanting to shut down debates because they didn’t like the opinions being expressed.

In addition to this being a terrific learning experience regarding how to handle conflict on an online community, it’s also a great learning experience if you are new to Twitter or to tweetchats.

More about the #commbuild tweetchat events.

POSTSCRIPT: Archive of this tweetchat.