The role of social services for peacebuilding

1. Background – current policy discussion

The discussion regarding the role of social services is currently gaining new momentum within the international peacebuilding debate. The United Nations Secretary General’s Report on Peacebuilding in the aftermath of conflict from 2009 listed the provision of administrative and social services among the five recurring priorities for peacebuilding. Its 2012 progress report highlights that the equitable access to social services, prioritizing the most excluded, can lead to greater social cohesion and stable economic growth.

Similar priority has been attached to social services by the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States (2011), e.g. Peacebuilding and State building Goal 5 on Revenues and Fair Services, and the 2011 World Bank World Development Report (WDR) that mentions social services as a key component of peacebuilding processes on a number of different levels. In addition, social services are highlighted increasingly in peace agreements. The Feinstein International Centre started a new programme in early 2011 that investigates livelihoods, access to basic services, and social protection in fragile and conflict-affected states. Closely linked to earlier work undertaken by the Feinstein International Center in livelihoods and food security, and combining insights from working in protracted conflict settings, this research is part of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, led by the Overseas Development Institute in London.

However, besides this renewed recognition regarding the importance of social services for peacebuilding processes at the policy level, the debate has not yet been translated into concrete post-conflict strategies, programmes, and respective funding allocations.

At the level of the United Nations, funding allocations by the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) have, over the past years, mainly focused on issues related to the security sector, governance, and political processes in post-conflict societies. Traditionally, only a limited amount of funding has been dedicated to social and administrative services in post-conflict situations. Recognizing this imbalance, PBF, in collaboration with a range of UN agencies, commissioned a set of multi-partner thematic reviews beginning in 2011 to identify and better understand sectoral, programmatic contributions to peacebuilding, specifically from a development and humanitarian perspective. The reviews included the relationships between a range of administrative and social services with peacebuilding, including public administration, public financial management, education, health, water and sanitation, and food security amongst others. This study sought to determine whether the PBF should increase its support to administrative and social services, and if so, to what types of programming.

2. What are the contributions of social services to peacebuilding?

There is an emerging global discussion that suggests that social services – delivered in an effective, equitable, and conflict-sensitive manner – can contribute to peacebuilding. More specifically, they can address grievances that underlie or trigger violent conflict, and offer a means for the state to (re-)build its legitimacy and accountability.

The contributions of social services to peacebuilding fall into three broad dimensions, according to the report “Peace Dividends and Beyond: Contributions of administrative and social services to peacebuilding”:

  1. Social service delivery as ‘peace dividends’: This dimension includes the provision of tangible services by the state at the national and sub-national level, reducing tension, supporting social cohesion and the citizen-state relationship, and assisting state building efforts at critical junctures in peacebuilding processes.
  2. Social service sector governance through policy advocacy and capacity development: Good governance across sectors can create conditions to constructively manage conflict and to overcome horizontal inequalities among groups. This includes support to national institutions (such as in planning, legislation, policy development and reform, budgeting and financing), capacity development for inclusivity, transparency, effectiveness and the constructive management of competing interests.
  3. Social service delivery as first entry points for longer-term peacebuilding results and explicit peacebuilding initiatives: This dimension refers to programmes that support social service delivery programmes designed to address underlying con-flict drivers and support social cohesion at all levels.

3. Practical implications for national and international actors

  • Increased inclusion of social services into national peacebuilding strategies and programmes, based on a better understanding of the role of social and administrative services for peacebuilding and how to include a peacebuilding perspective through the different technical areas.
  • Peacebuilding impacts should be leveraged and scaled-up through a closer link between political, security, development, and humanitarian efforts. Lessons learnt from peacebuilding practice shows that sustainable peacebuilding strategies and programmes can only be achieved if political, security, development, and humanitarian efforts go hand in hand (linking track 1, 2, and 3 efforts), including required collaboration amongst relevant actors involved.
  • All initiatives should be based on a sound, participatory analysis of underlying conflict drivers, jointly done between Government and civil society partners. Understanding the roles that social services can play in violent conflict, is an important starting point for strengthening their contributions to peacebuilding. Only if the delivery of social services is done in a conflict-sensitive way, addressing key underlying drivers of conflict, they can actually contribute to peacebuilding. Conflict analysis serves the purpose of understanding better what these underlying conflict drivers are, while it also helps to develop a shared understanding of the key issues to be addressed in given situation.
  • Transition strategies and fragile and or post-conflict environments need to link rapid delivery of social services and longer-term sector reform and/or institution building efforts. This needs to be implemented through inclusive, participatory processes that support the management of societal expectations.
  • Taking and managing risks: Programmes to support administrative and social services in fragile or post-conflict settings include, just like in other peacebuilding efforts, the need to work constructively with Governments whose legitimacy might be questioned in fragile and post-conflict situations – an inherent tension that needs to be managed constructively.
  • Increase capacity and funding for administrative and social services vis-à-vis other peacebuilding processes: policy discussions need to be combined with dedicated national and international capacities for peacebuilding priorities that include social services.

Pre-condition, evidently, for all of the above to happen in practice is political will and buy-in of national stakeholders, sustained commitment by international partners, including financial commitment.

A number of different UN agencies, including UNICEF, are currently conducting research and implementing programmes on the role of social service delivery for peacebuilding in their respective area of work, including the application of relevant theories of change to measure peacebuilding impact through social service delivery (See UNICEF technical note on peacebuilding and conflict sensitivity). The most recent example of that is a global UNICEF programme on ‘peacebuilding, education, and advocacy’, implemented in 13 countries, and funded by the Government of the Netherlands.

Anita Ernstorfer (aernstorfer@unicef.org) is Peacebuilding Specialist at UNICEF New York [Please note that this article represents the personal view of the author and is not an official position of UNICEF].

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