International Geneva needs more peace actors. The good news is that they are already here

An aerial view of Geneva and the Palais des Nations taken in June 2020 showing a giant ephemeral landart painting by Swiss French artist Saype entitled "World in Progress" representing two children drawing their ideal world. (KEYSTONE/Valentin Flauraud)

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) officially received the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize via an online ceremony on Thursday, serving as another reminder of the acute widespread poverty in the world and the link between hunger and peace. However, awarding one of the most prestigious world prizes to a UN humanitarian agency in spite of several other UN agencies and programmes having received it in the past is not an obvious choice.

The award raises a more fundamental, and controversial question: How do humanitarian interventions contribute to peace, and should they? While they certainly do respond to urgent and even critical needs, do they in any way lay the groundwork for peace to be sustained in that given context? Peace is inherently political and it must succeed in fostering long-term trust and cohesion between the parties in conflict. This leads to another question. Isn't it contrary to humanitarian principles to require humanitarian interventions to contribute to peace?

In Geneva, where some of the largest humanitarian agencies are hosted, this question is ever-present. It is behind the famous "nexus" agenda which is a set of reforms allowing humanitarian action to better understand its role in contexts of fragility.

Sudanese refugee man sits on his bike after collecting food from a World Food Program (WFP) food distribution in Yida, South Sudan. The World Food Program won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and food insecurity around the globe. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File)

Several thousand kilometres from the Place des Nations, the reality on the ground reminds us of the concrete and complex challenges that this debate entails. While most humanitarian interventions are now taking place in contexts of protracted conflicts humanitarian emergencies, conflict, peace and long-term development needs are intertwined and often inseparable. Recent examples are not lacking and indicate that deep-rooted changes in the way the system operates must take place, from cases of risky program management leading to tensions between communities to the complex Ebola response campaign made difficult by local suspicions and existing conflict dynamics in the DRC.

Aid organisations have already started this operational shift. They are preparing themselves with tools to ensure that “Peace writ large”, can be at the core of their new, updated, "software". They are keen to understand how their own intervention can enhance the resilience and social cohesion of communities they serve. And they are keen to seize such opportunities more proactively.

The international Geneva environment offers ideal conditions for this transformation to be successful. Its "peace hub" combines a unique set of peace talks tradition alongside renowned actors with wide-ranging expertise from mediation, to security policy to dialogue facilitation. This hub can be a first-choice interlocutor for humanitarian agencies wishing to better contribute to peace.

Of course, peace and humanitarian actors have not waited until today to talk to each other in the corridors of the Palais des Nations, or even to be on the same (virtual!) panels during events. What is new, however, is that this proximity allowed a concrete and innovative model to evolve. The Peace Responsiveness Facility launched this year by Interpeace is such an example. Building on a range of partnerships with agencies such as WHO, FAO and UNICEF, it essentially offers the necessary peace expertise to be nested and nurtured from within these agencies. Through a detailed understanding of the inner incentives and requirements driving a partner organisation’s way of working, the peace responsiveness model eventually contributes to make this “software” update last.

International Geneva's “peace hub” will no doubt densify further in the years to come. However, it is unlikely that tomorrow's peace actors will be newly established institutions. They will rather be a wide range of existing organisations with expansive mandates all characterised by their ability to integrate a peace “software” within their own modus operandi. And one of them may very well be the next Nobel Peace Prize, who knows?

Alexandre Munafò is director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications at Interpeace, an international organization for peacebuilding headquartered in Geneva. He is member of the Geneva Diplomatic Club and Chairman of the Board of ASED (Action for the Support to Deprived Children). Alexandre holds an Executive Certificate on Advocacy in International Affairs and a Diploma of Advanced Studies in International Relations from the Graduate Institute. He also holds a BA in Law from the University of Neuchâtel.