Putting peace in perspective

Peace. What exactly is it and how do we obtain it? Often regarded as an intangible, utopian concept eliciting vague images of beautiful, flower-bearing, mandala-wearing youth, what does peace actually look like and how do we know if and when we have it? Can peace be measured? The answer, incidentally, is yes!

When Australian software entrepreneur turned global philanthropist, Steve Killelea, found himself wandering through North East Kivu, a war-ravaged region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of the most violent places on Earth, he had somewhat of a lightbulb moment.

“I suddenly started to think, ‘What is the opposite to all these stressed-out violent nations and could some of the world’s most peaceful nations offer anything I could learn from? Where are the world’s most peaceful nations?’”

A fairly straightforward question. Nothing a quick Google search couldn’t figure out. Surprisingly, it did not.

“That created a very profound question,” Steve says. “If a simple businessman like me can be walking through Africa and wonder what are the most peaceful nations in the world and it hasn’t been done before, then how much do we know about peace? If you can’t measure it, can you truly understand it, and if you can’t measure it, how do you know if your interventions are helping or hindering in achieving your results – you just don’t.”

And so, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) was born.

Founded by Steve in 2008, the IEP analyses data about peace in order to determine the social, political and economic factors that create and sustain peace. The Institute is a world-renowned think tank that aims to create a shift in the way the world thinks about peace.

Each year, the IEP produces the Global Peace Index (GPI), the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness, ranking 163 countries according to their levels of peace.

“The Global Peace Index is my explanation to the world regarding its state of peacefulness,” Steve says. “We use data-driven research to show that peace is an achievable measure of human wellbeing and development.

“The GPI enables us to understand what factors create highly peaceful societies, and when you understand that, you know what you have to do to build resilience within those societies so they can avoid conflict in the future.

“What is really interesting, though, is that the same qualities that create highly peaceful societies also create a whole load of other things we think are important, such as higher GDP growth rate, better performance on environmental measures, better measures for wellbeing and happiness, and better measures of inclusion. Therefore, in many ways, Positive Peace not only creates peace, it also creates an optimal environment giving communities the potential to flourish, and in many ways this is transformational.”

Positive Peace is the cornerstone of the IEP and its belief that peace is much more than the absence of violence (Negative Peace). Positive Peace describes the attitudes, structures and institutions that underpin and sustain peaceful societies. The Institute has developed a conceptual framework, known as the Pillars of Peace, that outlines a system of eight factors that work together to build Positive Peace. Derived from a statistical analysis of over 5000 datasets, the Pillars of Peace provides a roadmap to overcome adversity and conflict, and to build lasting peace.

“The Pillars of Peace all function as a system, and this is really important,” Steve says. “Quite often when we are looking at societies, we are looking for cause and effect, but societies are more like systems and they operate on different principles. The concept of Positive Peace really builds within it systems theory and the way systems operate. By utilising that you get a much better outcome than just looking at point solutions.”

So, what does peace look like and is it achievable?

“Well,” Steve laughs, “peace is a relative concept.

“If you think of yourself, you are never totally at peace. You can say that, overall, you are feeling happy and peaceful, then at other times you can feel highly stressed. But we will generally find some small element of peace and society is the same.

“The idea is to focus on how you keep slowly increasing the levels of peace within society and around the world, and that’s the best way of creating positive change.”

8 Pillars of Peace

  • Well-functioning government
  • Sound business environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources
  • Acceptance of the rights of others
  • Good relations with neighbours
  • Free flow of information
  • High levels of human capital
  • Low levels of corruption