Celebrating our origins, envisioning the future

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CDA’s independent research equips humanitarians and peacebuilders in the most complex environments.

They depend on us. And we depend on you!

30 years of collaborative partnerships emerging out of Do No Harm

Adapting our foundational methodologies for today’s most complex challenges

Conflict Sensitivity/Do No Harm (DNH) in Development, Humanitarian & Peacebuilding Practice

This special issue of the journal Development in Practice features reflections from CDA’s founder and author of the 1999 seminal book Do No Harm: How aid can support peace – or war, Mary Anderson, and analysis from CDA’s Siad Darwish, Ruth Rhoads Allen, and Maureen Moriarty on conflict-sensitive environmental peacebuilding. 

In 1993, CDA embarked on the Local Capacities for Peace Project – later known as the Do No Harm program – to help aid workers find ways to address human needs in conflict contexts without making the conflict worse. We developed a framework for analyzing the impacts of aid on conflict – and for taking action to reduce negative impacts and maximize positive impacts – based on the experiences of hundreds of aid agencies and more than 1000 practitioners from all over the world.

CDA Board Member Millicent Otieno was part of the very first DNH trainings in 2001. In 2005, she founded Local Capacities for Peace International, an independent Kenyan INGO, to carry on the learnings from the project in Kenya and across East Africa.

Watch the video: "LCPI: Origins and Evolution"

Looking back to look forward

30 years after the launch of the Local Capacities for Peace Project, CDA founder Mary Anderson reflects on the history of Do No Harm and its relevance to today’s challenges. She says that it is high time to start thinking about long-term sustainability. We have to accept accountability for how our work has an impact on conflicts today and in the future.

How do we do this?

The answer is through serious broad-based efforts to gather experience and uncover patterns that enable us to work accountably both today and tomorrow. The ‘tomorrow’ for which we save lives today is also partially our responsibility. The impacts of our aid on the long term is central to responsible aid assistance.”

CDA's Collaborative Learning Approach

CDA’s collaborative learning approach creates practical resources to address the challenges of working in fragile settings by engaging diverse practitioners in an inclusive, iterative process of research. We listen for the essential questions – questions that are bigger than any one institution, sector, or country – and learn with people closest to these challenges to contribute to positive change that has practical impact on real people’s lives and wider systems.

Necessary complexity in the Anthropocene: New approaches in socio-ecological systems thinking, Do No Harm, and fragility integration

Climate change is having devastating impacts on communities around the world, particularly in places already grappling with conflict and fragility. Yet CDA sees a pathway to hope and resilience.

Siad Darwish, Ruth Rhoads Allen, and Maureen Moriarty discuss how conflict sensitivity and systems thinking can support the localization of environmental peacebuilding: 

Conflict sensitivity of any kind is impossible to achieve without seriously engaging with the operational context – ideally, through prolonged and continuous analysis and engagement with those people most affected by both environmental change and conflict. Indigenous knowledge, and other forms of local customary knowledge, will be essential to understanding layered vulnerabilities and senses of peace and security.”

Read more

According to the International Rescue Committee, the ten countries most at risk for climate disaster, including Somalia, DRC, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, are all characterized by fragility and violent conflict. As governments, donors, and communities seek to address loss of homes and livelihoods, food insecurity, drought, land and ecological degradation, and more, the frameworks which inform both programming and policy are inherently anthropocentric. That is, the focus is on relationships among people and groups across different domains, overlooking the socio-ecological context and the role of changing environmental factors. In other words, it is people and the environment that should be considered in seeking holistic solutions to the climate crisis.

But there is another “and.” The countries most vulnerable to climate change are also mired in conflict. While conflict analysis frameworks are almost always utilized in developing programs and policies, these too focus on the relationships among people, sometimes overlooking the complex interactions between people and an ever-shifting environment. 

Conflict sensitive programming can address, at least in part, the former and the latter, but not completely. Effective climate adaptation, climate change disaster response, and low carbon development action and policy depends upon the integration of socio-ecological considerations into conflict-informed action.

Using a systems approach, this paper establishes the theoretical basis and practical guidance for addressing this gap. Specifically, the paper establishes the basis for integrating CDA’s systems-based Reflecting on Peace Practice (RPP) approach and Do No Harm framework for accountable analysis and action amidst conflict, reframing the key analytical categories of Connectors and Dividers to Resilience and Vulnerabilities.

Related Projects

Environment-Fragility-Peace Nexus

Conflict Sensitivity in Land Governance