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Telling Stories That Matter- A global partnership to revolutionize the narrative of peace

The Art of Storytelling is leveraged to address the entire spectrum of conflicts inhibiting peace.

Photo of Kiran Singh Sirah
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What if…

The power of storytelling were harnessed, by the world’s broadest network of peacebuilders, alongside the tremendous quantitative analysis power of the Global Peace Index, to create the world’s largest collection of qualitative data, in the form of stories, aimed at helping to turn Positive Peace data into a broadly accessible and complete, 360° picture of world peace?

Peacebuilding is the challenge of our age. We have entered an era of conflict that is taking new forms, and spreading in ways that are outstripping the power of the international community to respond.

It is clear that we need new conceptual lenses and creative approaches for managing global violence. Underlying trends point to the need for dramatically new ways of thinking about conflict, peace and stability:

· Problems such as climate change, access to resources, and outbreaks of disease are increasingly linked to conflict and challenges of governance.

· Social compacts are coming into question globally with power shifting away from states and institutions to more amorphous networks.

· Extremist ideologies are finding fertile ground in countries where large segments of society feel marginalized.

· New communications technologies are changing social and governmental dynamics on every level, in unpredictable ways, e.g., civil society’s capacity to build coalitions and momentum against powerful elite interests using social media.

Conflict, security, human rights abuses, crime, and related global challenges are interconnected "wicked problems" -- not amenable to linear solutions. Just as the causes of violent conflict are complex and interwoven, the approaches to managing conflict must be equally sophisticated and adaptable.

 Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for all nations to strive for peaceful, inclusive societies – a paradigm shift of the highest order from earlier aid architectures that ignored the role of conflict. The guiding principles for the World Humanitarian Summit call for peacebuilding and conflict prevention to be part of a “grand bargain,” in which all countries seek to avoid refugee flows by resolving the underlying conflicts that lead to mass migration. The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States – calls for radical shifts in the aid process in countries like Burundi, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia, recognizing conflict as “development in reverse,” and requiring aid processes to address key drivers of conflict like illegitimate governance, restricted access to justice, and predatory security forces.

While the emphasis on peace is deeply welcomed by communities around the world, we face a serious gap in how to imagine peace in specific local contexts. 

Peacebuilding is ultimately an elastic concept, encompassing a wide range of efforts by diverse actors in government and civil society at the community, national, and international levels, to address the immediate impacts and root causes of conflict before, during, and after violent conflict occurs. Peacebuilding ultimately supports human security—providing freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from humiliation. As global violence proliferates, a major challenge for us is to create systems of peace – to interconnect the full spectrum of norms, institutions, and formal and informal networks and agencies that can manage conflict before it escalates into the kind of fury that poisons future generations.

The Positive Peace Index provides a framework for thinking about peace not simply as the absence of violence, but as a series of actions that people can take to build societies that resolve conflict through negotiation, politics, and institutions rather than through deadly violence. The Pillars of Positive Peace are: a well-functioning government; a sound business environment; equitable distribution of resources; acceptance of the rights of others; good relations with neighbors; free flow of information; high levels of human capital; and low levels of corruption. The Positive Peace Index quantifies data relative to these pillars and gives data from a wide range of countries, each with its own balance of indicators from across the pillars.

The PPI is a tremendously valuable tool, but it is static, giving only a snapshot in time. These innovations of analysis can make the PPI more dynamic through systems maps that show the inter-related connections between the different positive peace pillars, and stories, which bring those connections to life.

This proposal focuses on how storytelling can be used to illuminate the complex dynamics occurring in each PPI country – and how citizens live the Positive Peace pillars. “Storifying” the PPI will serve the broader goal of peacebuilding in several ways:

1) Storytelling and micro-narrative mechanisms  help people to better understand complexity.

2)  Stories describe systems in a more nuanced and granular way. 

3) Stories help bridge gaps, by highlighting the ways in which peace builders can engage horizontally with peers, and vertically with government and regional actors.

4)  Stories bring to light the ways in which citizens move along and between the Positive Peace Index pillars, to weave a new tapestry in areas of conflict.

5) Stories connect the personal with the political– yet people have very personal experiences with the Pillars. Stories bring to light the lived experience of citizens in each of the pillars – connecting personal experiences of conflict with the development of new structures and positive frameworks for peace.

6) Stories allow a greater narrative of peace to evolve and will allow a new vision of peace to emerge. These collective narratives complement the data over time, and will provide a living picture of conflict transformation.


Explain your idea

While the emphasis on peace is deeply welcomed by communities around the world, we face a serious gap in how to imagine peace in specific local contexts. Stories of war are rampant in the media, but individual and community stories of peace are not rooted in the public imagination – and are not reflected in policy processes in major capitals. As a global community, we do not understand how peace is actually made. Peace is not simply the absence of war – peace is something that needs to be built, in complex systems, integrating a wide range of elements from good governance to education to economic opportunity. There is a broad range of literature and tools that describe “positive peace” – but we lack stories from local communities around the world that have resisted or overcome conflict, and have built peace. These stories are more than tales around a campfire – they are the building blocks and imaginative tools that inspire policy makers, spark imitation in similar communities, and begin to form a common set of learning tools that we need internationally to imagine peace in an increasingly networked, connected world.

Who Benefits?

Collaborative planning efforts will produce, as a primary deliverable, identification of viable and promising Exploratory Pathways. Through these Exploratory Pathways, we will ensure that practitioners and researchers work together to identify best practices and innovative approaches to supporting grassroots organizations and individuals in telling and publishing their stories to a global audience. Main areas of focus will be conducting collaborative research to determine how best to leverage the global digital revolution to reach isolated and marginalized people and how best to ensure that all efforts to support people in telling their stories result in empowerment, not exploitation. Our primary audience will be a diverse collective of not-for-profit and non-governmental agencies from around the world who we will engage and support in leveraging the power of storytelling to advance their good works.

How is your idea unique?

Peacebuilding capability has not been truly networked throughout the world –not in the sense of one more UN coordinating mission, or one more “infrastructures for peace” project – but integrated in every sense of the word into the DNA of society, in ways that are adapted to local conditions and local peacebuilding capacity. Similarly, vertical and horizontal linkages do not exist in any concerted way between islands of peacebuilding. There are very few connections between local peacebuilding capacity and global initiatives, and civil society peacebuilding efforts have no reliable way to connect horizontally to other efforts across national or sectorial boundaries. Stories help bridge these gaps, by highlighting the ways in which peace builders jump across different societal levels – engaging horizontally with peers, and vertically with government and regional actors.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.
  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

At the International Storytelling Center, founded in 1975, our mission is to enrich lives and build a better world through the power of storytelling, to help people use stories to engage with, contribute to, and illuminate culture, to nurture world-class talent, to develop and host educational resources and digital archives. We remain grounded in oral tradition while being open to storytelling’s new, emerging forms. For over forty years, the International Storytelling Center has been at the forefront of the storytelling revival, not only preserving storytelling as a traditional folk art, but also promoting its study, innovation and the integration of storytelling across disciplines. After years of scientific research in 17 different fields, analysts conclude that storytelling is our most powerful tool for effective communication. Our flagship event, the National Storytelling Festival, not only ignited a renaissance of storytelling throughout America and the world, but is also recognized as the world’s first, largest and most acclaimed public event devoted exclusively to the art of storytelling. The Festival is credited with having professionalized storytelling as a field, an industry, and as an artistic and academic discipline. We are about more than storytelling as a performance art. We serve as a Learning Resource Center, a hub for networking, research, and innovation for the entire storytelling field. The project will bring together a powerful and impactful set of partners to revolutionize the narrative of peace— the International Storytelling Center, the world’s leading institution in leveraging the power of story to enrich the lives of people around the world; the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the institutional home for the peacebuilding community, a network of over 100 organizations working to resolve conflict and create sustainable peace in 153 countries; and, the Institute for Economics and Peace, the world’s leading think tank dedicated to developing metrics to analyze peace and to quantify its economic value and home of the Global Peace Index and Positive Peace Index. The project will establish a global story project whereby local communities around the world can gain access to training and opportunities that empower individuals and organizations to tell their stories of Positive Peace to illustrate in narrative form the realities and human stories represented by the data presented through the Global Peace Index and in the Positive Peace Report. The International Storytelling Center will meet the training and facilitation needs of individuals and organizations around the world engaged in poverty eradication, improving health and educational outcomes, and peacebuilding, to develop their ability to tell their stories and share them with a global audience.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

Attachments (1)

Kiran Singh Sirah CV (2).docx

Project leader CV


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Kiran!

Thank you for sharing your project and the great work you are doing in peace.

Is your project touching planet and/or prosperity as well and why? It is touched upon in your submission, but I was wondering if you could possibly write a few short sentences explaining why it touches planet and/or prosperity.

Photo of Kiran Singh Sirah

Thanks Kate.
I guess it was from the categories listed it seemed best to locate the project in the peace, prosperity and planet category, although the project is more geared towards Peace overall. The GPI that we draw as well as our own research indicates how to achieve peace is based on a numerous and a number of factors- for peaceful societies to occur. And not just one. Where for example climate change or environmental issues may result in displaced populations as a result instability and tensions. we also know that with many of the route causes of conflict stem from cycles of Poverty and deprivation and with those factors, combined with instable governments, access to resources, violence both subtle and overt may occur. I've base much of this on personal experience of work in Northern Ireland and west of Scotland where I was based for many years, where I led storytelling approaches to peacebuilding.  And in all saw the culture of behavior and actions that needed to be addressed in order for more peaceful societies to develop.  But I guess for this- maybe I should have clicked the box for solely the Peace section and not all three? if it would make the project concept clearer to the reader. one of our big programs here is we produce the National Storytelling Festival-  the world's largest and oldest public gathering for storytellers. we also live stream this to around 33 countries and classrooms. But the stories cover many topics from cultural experiences from tellers from across the world, environmental, community empowerment, experiences of people with diverse sexual orientation, gender, disabilities. and also draw from world traditions, folk based or indigenous  that teaches us lessons on all three of these areas. I'd be very happy to explore adjusting the narrative on this project concept or try to perhaps explain it better. To offer some smaller examples of the implementation we have been doing- we have used story telling to work with families and communities from Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston, SC, in a healing process following tragic event that took place there in 2015. to more strategic storytelling program with the US State department in cultural diplomacy. Also in arenas of health linked to fostering conflict resolution. and developing economic regeneration initiatives that aim to offer a greater sense of pride, inclusion and economic prosperity for a region with economic disadvantaged populations. As well as consultation and training for peace builders, NGOs and planners from places such as South Africa, Rwanda and various local and broader economic development style partnerships ( Appalachia Regional Commission for example). love to know if this has helped in your question and also open to offering more info if you'd like. kindest.