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Searching for Peace: My Time at the U.S. Institute of Peace | Michael Darden


My summer in Washington, D.C. came at a volatile time not only domestically, but internationally as well. My time with United States Institute of Peace can be summed up as a lens through which to see policy in action being achieved through peaceful means.

I worked as a Research Assistant for the Inclusive Societies team within the Global Practice and Innovation (GPI) umbrella. The goal is to advance the Institute’s thought leadership on finding creative, innovative and evidence-based practices and dialogues to achieve a world without violent conflict.

My primary project was to continue the ongoing research of the recent Colombia Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the FARC. The historic peace agreement was a watershed moment in Latin America which marked the end of a half century long insurgency which took the lives of over 220,000 people. Latin America’s longest armed conflict had finally come to an end. Peacefully.

USIP played a large part behind the scenes to make the accord happen and for it be a more inclusive process. By researching the role of women mediators and the USIP-led workshops to connect grassroots movements united what was until then disparate and regionally localized mediation groups. The workshops resulted in a national network of women mediators. Their advocacy led to the negotiators to include women in the peace negotiations in Havana, which until then was made entirely of men on both sides and which inadvertently neglected over half of the population and substantial proportion of the victims who until then had been left voiceless.

In addition to the work on the role of women mediators, I worked closely with Oliver Kaplan, a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow and assistant professor at the University of Denver, to look at the role of the Colombian economy post-Accord. I specifically looked into the peace dividend, the idea that upon the cessation of hostilities the economic benefits of peace will lead to a decrease in military spending and an increase in economic output. Within this peace dividend is the reintegration of the 7,000 FARC fighters who will transition to civilian jobs and the formal market. Agrarian reform, a key tenant to the accord and a primary reason for why the insurgency began, will be a pivotal test for both the government and former guerillas to integrate non-coca subsistence farming and the establishment of property rights.

By aggregating numbers from government projections and private sector think tanks, we used forecasting projections offered by the University of Denver to calculate the cost of such initiatives and the provide short term recommendations. The Special Report will be published later this fall.

Additional projects had me working with the Nonviolent Action team for an event to look at case studies of nonviolent moments in conflict zones and lessons learned. The event held in the Carlucci Auditorium had almost 300 attendees and started a larger conversation on the role of such movements as a mobilizing force to bring meaningful change to conflict zones.

In the ending weeks of the internship, the situation in Venezuela had gotten worse. The governments rein on power had eroded any semblance of due process and has become a democracy in name alone. In conversations with my supervisors and in a lengthy conversation I had with USIP President Nancy Lindborg, I brought up the role the Institute could play in regards to Venezuela. Through the power of convening and mapping of the situation, conversations have started with DC-based entities to start a dialogue and see what action can be taken to promote peace in the country.

The US institute of Peace provided an excellent opportunity to experience how policy is implemented. Its commitment to mitigating violence and promoting peace is an exemplified by the on the ground work and reputation it has established. I have been fortunate to be part of this community.

For this reason, I want to continue the work I have done both at Sanford and at USIP and will be conducting my Masters Project over the course of the next academic year with the Institute. My MP will focus on the role of exclusion in countering violent extremism and will use case studies from conflict zones to analyze thematic trends. A focus will be made in returning fighters and rates of recidivism as a method to analyze trends of past reintegration programs and lessons learned and recommendations for improvement. With USIP as my client I will be able use their networks and expertise to refine the MP and continue the work of mitigating violence through actionable research.