Bringing corporate thinking to peacebuilding

Peacebuilders are often cast as dreamers. Amal-Tikva uses business techniques to move changemaking organisations from idealism to efficacy. DEBORAH STONE reports.

The Middle East Partnership for Peace (MEPPA) grants have the potential to change the face of peacebuilding.

The grants, approved by the US Congress in 2020, provide $US250 million over five years, advance peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians and enable a sustainable two-state solution.

But the grants could also backfire terribly, said Ariel Markose, Acting Executive Director of Amal-Tikva, a social changemaker dedicated to supporting peacebuilding organisations.

“This is exactly the injection of hope and finances that the sector needs but it needs to be managed strategically. Because it’s Congress it’s going to be very carefully monitored and evaluated and if organisations are not able to deliver it could get cancelled.”

MEPPA offers grants of between $US500,000 and $US3 million to changemaking organisations. But many peacebuilding organisations are simply too small to manage such a major influx.

Markose said the typical civil society or peacebuilding organisation in Israel consists of perhaps 15 people, each running projects and reporting directly to an overworked CEO.

“The CEO can’t even get into a place where they can think creatively. Many of these organisations have entire operating budgets of less than $500,000. You are talking about doubling their capacity. It’s deep work. If you could get them a MEPPA grant of perhaps $150,000 it could make a huge difference, but they need to be able to structure the organisation to use even that,” Markose told Plus61J Media.

“We are the people running alongside, handing water to the marathon runners.”

Building that capacity is the role of Amal-Tikva, an Israeli civil society organisation whose hyphenated name means hope in Arabic and Hebrew. Through training, advice and community-building, Amal-Tikva provides small grassroots peacebuilding organisations with the strategic and managerial skills they needed to succeed.

It’s not glamourous work. People are far more interested in grassroots organisations that train nurses like Project Rozana, or facilitate environmental change like Ecopeace, or enable Muslim and Jewish children to talk to one another, like Kids for Peace.

But many organisations doing important work would collapse without the support of Amal-Tikva.

“Everyone is so hand-to-mouth,” Markose said. “It’s hard to get out from under and they don’t have the structure or space to take on a new idea. “We are the people running alongside, handing water to the marathon runners.”

Amal-Tikva uses many tools from the business world including strategic planning, leadership training, and monitoring and evaluation tools. Participating organisations can attend workshops, access resources and join a community that supports one another in running changemaking organisations.

Amal-Tikva was started by Meredith Rothbart and Basheer Abu Baker in 2019, when they realised the challenges they faced in running changemaking organisations were widespread. 

It works within a theory of change that prioritises building capacity, changing the discourse and encouraging giving.

The theory is that if a critical mass of Israelis and Palestinians at all levels of society see themselves as agents for creating a more peaceful reality, then the cycle of violence and tension between the two sides will be replaced by a sense of partnership based on mutual interest.

Amal-Tikva’s approach to change means the organisation defines peacebuilding not just as organisations engaged in dialogue and relationship-building but also any organisation which is working to reduce hatred or violence, improve quality of life, or improve systems of interaction.

Markose gives the example of Lissan, an organisation which teaches Hebrew to Palestinian women in East Jerusalem and helps them access workplaces.

“The systems are stacked against these women. Sitting in a room making nice conversation to people who are different from them is not what they need. They need to get a job but they don’t understand how to write a CV and everything is in Hebrew. We are never going to succeed in ending the occupation and living side-by-side until we have mutual interests.”

Other organisations that Amal-Tikva supports do more traditional dialogue work, such as Shorashim (Roots) which connects settlers and Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank.

Markose said the peacebuilding field in Israel is stagnating, under stress from increasing pessimism and Israel’s move to the Right. But it is still stronger than in the Palestinian territories, where any engagement with Israel is regarded with suspicion as normalising the occupation.

But she said organisations that support the building of infrastructure in the Palestinian community were an essential part of the field.

“We need to be playing the long game. There’s not going to be peace any time soon but the day that the agreement is signed we are going to need to have infrastructure up and running. We will need organisations that understand how the system works, we will need cultural organisations and religious leaders and we are preparing for that.”

Photo: Peacebuilders in a session with Amal-Tikva (supplied)