Apply Now for the Peace and Social Change Fellowship
By Meredith Forsyth
The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) program at Columbia University is seeking applicants for the next round of the Peace and Social Change Fellowship Program. The fellowship aims to generate knowledge, build skills, strengthen relationships and exchange strategies among frontline advocates and organizers working on issues of social change, justice, and, more broadly, security for all people. The program in this way serves to build transnational partnerships with women changemakers across diverse geographical contexts around the globe. This call for applications for the 2020 cohort is specifically open to women changemakers based in Africa. The deadline to apply is October 23, 2019.
This year, the fellowship brought together its first cohort of women peace builders working for grassroots organizations across five African countries. These changemakers worked together for six months to form a critical learning community about women’s peacebuilding strategies and mobilization. The broad scope of their work underscores the WPS program’s core beliefs that gender, peace and security intersect in varied and nuanced ways in women’s everyday lives.
“I see the Women, Peace and Security program as a breakthrough, to be able to highlight these organizations that are doing work at the grassroots level,” said Florence Munteh Chea, a Peace and Social Change fellow who works on community peacebuilding in Cameroon. “It has been valuable as a source of contacts and to tap into the resources and realities of what is happening. It is a link that will enable us to face those challenges with bravery.”
Another fellow, Bay Chongwain, leads an organization called Hope for the Needy Association (HOFNA) in Cameroon. HOFNA was on the ground in Cameroon mobilizing women and girls long before conflict flared in its northwest and southwest regions earlier this year — after which HOFNA used its networks to train hundreds of Cameroonian women and girls in peacebuilding skills over the course of just a few months. Bay explained that her participation in the Peace and Social Change Fellowship helped her bring new insight to the work that her organization has been doing at home.
“[The fellowship] was a transformation, a journey, for me,” she said. “I’ve been transformed to understand that each time I work to enable a girl to access education, I am building peace. Each time I work to ensure that an internally displaced person has access to food and sanitary pads, I’m building peace. Each time that I’m able to work with my team to mobilize groups of women to stand up and speak up for what they’re believing, and the kind of peace they’re believing in, I am putting the pieces of peace together.”
These are just a few examples of the extraordinary work of the grassroots activist organizations that formed the first cohort of the Peace and Social Change Fellowship. Another organization, the Institute for Young Women’s Development, mobilizes women and girls from rural mining communities in Zimbabwe to become involved in political processes and advocate for electoral reform. Yet another, Crown the Woman in South Sudan, uses media and radio to push for reform and disrupt gender norms concerning issues like child marriage.
Through cross-learning and research support gained by their participation in the fellowship, these organizations are able to elevate and enhance their intersectional work on pressing issues like physical and community security, environmental management and climate change adaptation, urban and rural development, health, and peace and conflict resolution.
Recognizing the importance and value of a participatory approach, the fellowship is designed in direct collaboration with the activists and tailored to each organization’s work. Doing so results in successful partnerships with grassroots activists to elevate their work. A co-facilitator of the 2019 Peace and Social Change workshop, Martha Mutisi, put it this way:
“The fellowship does not claim to teach women about peace. In actual fact, the program learns about what is peace from the women themselves, and actually provides a platform to them to conceptualize the peace that they want and then provide a space for them to navigate how to create that peace.”
Over the course of the six months, fellows learned and shared skills with one another through webinars and were supported by the WPS program’s graduate student interns from Columbia University and the Graduate Center at CUNY. They engaged in critical conversations on topics like resource mobilization, and received tailored support from interns on projects to bolster their advocacy and to enhance their organizations’ monitoring and evaluation and communications processes. Their time was bookended by two in-person workshops in Nairobi, Kenya to exchange knowledge, build relationships, and cement a strong coalition of grassroots organizations advancing peacebuilding agendas across Africa.
In the end, fellowship organizations are equipped with greater advocacy capacity to influence policy agendas affecting their communities. By participating in the fellowship, participants also noted the ways they achieved greater visibility for their organization’s work and captured a wider scope of their work.
While this fellowship cohort was based in Africa, the WPS program is currently working with a cohort of fellows from across the five boroughs of New York City — acknowledging that critical peacebuilding work is being done within the United States, as well as across the globe. This month, the WPS program is accepting applications for the second Africa-based cohort to continue to build transnational partnerships with women peace builders. This call for applications for the 2020 fellowship is open to African grassroots activists working within organizations or movements focused on peace and security, broadly defined. For more information and to apply, visit the WPS website.
The Peace and Social Change Fellowship is a collaboration between Columbia University’s Women, Peace and Security program, the Columbia University Nairobi Global Center, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Meredith Forsyth is the program coordinator for the Women, Peace and Security Program at Columbia University. She graduated from Georgetown University, where she studied international politics and African studies.