What is Peace? Defining Creative Peacebuilding

Graffiti in Constitution Plaza, Guatemala City.
unRival Network

Peacebuilding is not just about ending violence; it’s about creating the foundations that make societies resilient in the face of conflict.

The field of peacebuilding has many definitions, but all of them have a few key ideas in common:

Peacebuilding, as a process, addresses the root causes of violent conflict, and the reasons people fight in the first place. It works to resolve injustice in nonviolent ways, transforming the structures, systems, and conditions that generate deadly conflict. 

So peacebuilding doesn’t merely resolve conflicts; it builds societies, institutions, policies, and relationships that are better able to sustain peace and justice. This means building resilient systems of human rights, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability that prevent societies from backsliding into violence when problems arise.

As our friends at Nurturing Hope remind us, “Peaceful communities are built and sustained by peaceful people.” Therefore, transforming relationships is key to peacebuilding. Creative peacebuilders develop the personal, group, and political relationships in their contexts, overcoming stereotypes and helping different groups work together.

Finally, peacebuilding is a long-term, collaborative effort. Since it involves changing attitudes, behaviors, norms and institutions, it sets relatively narrow goals specific to a context. Narrow goals do not mean small goals, however; though many peacebuilding activities may seem inconsequential at first, hundreds of these efforts made regularly over time can yield peaceful change across an entire society.

What Supports Peace?

The Global Peace Index names 8 “Pillars of Positive Peace”: elements of any society or institution that help it manage its differences and avoid violence. These include things like fair distribution of resources, accepting the rights of others, and free flow of information. The most successful peacebuilding efforts focus attention on one pillar, or else find ways to address all 8 pillars at once.

UnRival supports one particular pillar: Good Relations with Neighbors. By supporting this pillar, we discovered we could empower experienced peacebuilders to better support the other 7 pillars across their contexts, by giving them a deeper network of trust, collaboration, and positive models.

We discovered the need to support this pillar by interviewing dozens of activists, community leaders, and academics. We asked them about their experiences with rivalry and the breakdown of admiring relationships leading to violence. These peacebuilders affirmed our suspicions that rivalry played a major role, and told us that the solution is community: the support, collaboration, and shared learning which fortifies resilience in the face of intense violence, rivalry, and discouragement.

Therefore, unRival started developing programs designed to heal rivalry through shared experiences, shared learning, and a deep integration of the arts. 

Supporting Artisans of Peace

Even the most creative and courageous peacebuilders are not immune to fear, destructive rivalry, and deep discouragement. They need spaces that renew hope and inspire collaboration, helping them remain human and modeling good relations with their neighbors. Through the Artisans of Peace program, unRival helps them share experiences and form partnerships that sustain hope and model resilience

In these spaces–through connection, creativity, and storytelling–peacebuilders imagine and pursue better ways of being together that welcome all people into true belonging. These amplified relationships help them increase their support of other pillars of positive peace, helping them sustain their efforts for the long haul. We support them with a threefold mission of our own:

Nurturing hope

Peacebuilding is hardly peaceful! It’s often exhausting and leads to burnout due to immersing oneself in conflict. 

Our goal is to soothe this burnout by replenishing reserves of hope. In doing so, we’re learning deeper truths about what it means to be human–to be creative in ways that multiply hope. 

Hope is contagious, and it spreads to others when it wells up in an individual. The Artisans of Peace program nurtures contagious hope in a place of radical hospitality, healing arts, and story-centric growth, addressing the difficulties of sustained peacebuilding. 

Inspiring collaboration

Too often, peacebuilding leaders are siloed from one another by field and method. They are themselves polarized by scarce resources and differing priorities. 

Collaboration is a response to polarization that gives us reason to work together rather than fight. By working together, we learn about each other, and discover each other’s common humanity. We remove the very source of our violence, which is an inability to see the other’s humanity. When we see each other clearly, the impossible becomes possible. 

As we collaborate, we overcome our echo chambers and multiply our strength through our differences. The Artisans of Peace program puts disparate people from different backgrounds–activists, artists, and academics across geographies, creeds and worldviews–together to accomplish this kind of collaboration. 

Overcoming destructive rivalries

Destructive rivalries impede peacebuilding and cause the pillars of positive peace to work against one another. But positive, admiring competition can galvanize collaboration. Destructive rivalries emerge when we imitate one another at our most anxious and defensive, be it because of scarcity thinking, a sense of danger, or other looming sense of impossibility. Our goal is to help others overcome rivalry by seeing the best in one another, breaking through the scarcity mindset by imitating one another at our best.

Imitation and rivalry are not problems to be solved; they are energies to be harnessed for the sake of peace. In the Artisans of Peace program, we’re teaching peacebuilders to surface their own destructive rivalries, so they can take their own risks on positive imitation and collaboration.

Creative Peacebuilders Need Your Support

Peacebuilding is not just about ending violence; it’s about creating the foundations that make societies resilient in the face of conflict. And since peaceful communities are built and sustained by peaceful people, human transformation is key to successful peacebuilding. 

This is how and why unRival supports the work of peacebuilding at the pillar of relationships and neighborliness. We are helping peacebuilders transform themselves and one another, equipping each other with the resources they need to multiply those transformations in the regions where they serve.

We can’t do what we do without your support. Please consider donating today, knowing that you too are a peacebuilder, and that your generosity strengthens the pillars of positive peace.

Hold onto hope with us.


When we resist rivalry together, there is hope for peace.

By contributing as little as $25, you join us in supporting peacebuilders who are bringing creative solutions to the world’s toughest problems. Your donation funds leadership formation programs, research, and resources for those resisting rivalry with you.