Conflict negotiator and writer John Paul Lederach has spent
decades seeking new paths to peacebuilding.
When John Paul Lederach was a student looking for a college that
offered peace studies, he found only a handful of programs in the
United States. That was more than 30 years ago.
Today, almost 100 US graduate schools and dozens of undergraduate
colleges offer degrees or certificates in conflict resolution and
peace studies. And Dr. Lederach's writings now are a frequent part
of the study of peacemaking.
Some of Lederach's ideas draw on his views as a Mennonite
Christian and an academic, first at Eastern Mennonite University in
Harrisonburg, Va., and since 2001 as professor of international
peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Yet much of his perspective is based on his experiences as a
mediator and trainer of peace workers in more than 25 countries,
places of conflict where Lederach has tried to help people resolve
their differences without violence - despite decades of unrest,
injustice, or war.
He has pursued his career - peace building - with unchanging
inspiration. "[This work] is the only thing I've ever done," he
He works with people "who have taken extraordinary risks and have
suffered the consequences of violent situations," he says. But they
also have kept their hope that they can defeat "violence in a
nonviolent way," he says.
Lederach's first peace-building experience came in Nicaragua in
the 1980s, when he helped mediate between the Sandinista government
and a local movement on the country's east coast.
Since then, he's worked both with villagers caught in local
rebellions and high-level government officials.
In the 1990s he served as a consultant to churches and peace
groups in the Philippines as the country struggled with communist
and Islamic insurgency and indigenous violence. In 2003, the Carter
Center, a nonprofit foundation founded by former President Jimmy
Carter, invited him to Venezuela to speak to groups seeking to
maintain peace in the wake of a coup attempt on the government of
President Hugo Chavez.
When Lederach himself isn't on hand to resolve a conflict, his
influential writings often are there to represent him, sometimes at
In Kenya in Jan-uary 2008, George Wachira, a senior adviser of
the Nairobi Peace Initiative - Africa, was working with former
military leaders as violence raged in the wake of controversial
national elections. Mr. Wachira had partnered with Lederach
throughout Africa in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Wachira's group involved the news media in calls for peace and
consulted with Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-
general, who finally brokered a power-sharing deal between President
Mwai Kib-aki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
"John Paul's ideas are about providing space and connecting,
recognizing opportunities, all guided by a broad, yet clear, picture
of where you want things to go," Wachira says. "These elements were
directly present in our work during the postelection crisis in
In February, Lederach visited Colombia as part of an effort to
help reintegrate former paramilitary groups, who had used violence
to traumatize the population, back into society.
In Colombia, "Many ... people have lost family members or
experienced massacres," Lederach says. The challenge is, "How do we
tell the truth about this violence when some may want to move
quickly past that? …