A blog post by Forest Whitaker
Reflecting on the events of 2023, I find myself torn between concerns and hopes for the future. Resurging conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East have cast a shadow over the world, amplifying the global shock following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The rising number of casualties, especially among civilians, is disheartening, and I can’t help but wonder why global leaders are so hesitant to embrace the path of dialogue.
In my view, dialogue is not just an option; it’s the only sustainable and humane way out of conflict. The alternative is a peace akin to the silence of the graveyard. In this light, even in the midst of somber times, my optimism prevails because dialogue is a universal aspiration. We all know that dialogue is better than violence. But we do not necessarily know how to build dialogue rather than resorting to violence. The practice of peace is not innate. It is a skill that must be learned. This is the principle that we have reaffirmed over the years through our programs dedicated to promoting a culture of peace and dialogue.
In 2023, we continued our commitment to expanding programs focused on Peacebuilding, Community Dialogues, and Conflict Resolution. Our reach extended to over 180,000 individuals across Africa, Northern and Latin Americas, and Europe. This achievement is significant because we equip individuals with skills that can be directly applied in their daily lives, empowering them so they can, in turn, to transform their communities – one decision at a time.
A crucial aspect of our work involves sensitizing local communities, accomplished through 177 sessions throughout the year, impacting over 21,000 people, including local leaders. Moreover, we successfully trained more than 41,000 learners and educators at 330 schools, laying the groundwork for a future where communities possess the capacity to proactively engineer sustainable peace.
Recognizing that community transformation is intertwined with economic opportunities, our vocational training programs have enabled 10,000 individuals to improve their career prospects. This year also, we take pride in our having supported the creation of 358 businesses putting the number of businesses incubated by WPDI at 906, with benefits for nearly 20,000 people.
My hope is reinforced by witnessing the resilience of communities during my field visits to Uganda, South Sudan and South Africa, my first since the onset of the COVID. This resilience-building effort is a testament to our actions contributing to the strength of the communities we work with.
As I reflect on 2023 and look forward to 2024, a valuable lesson emerges—peace requires a long-term perspective. Planting seeds of deep change is paramount, leading us to reorient our global strategy around four main areas: Peacebuilding, Livelihood, Health & Wellbeing, and Sports. We have also incorporated environmental and climate concerns into our strategic objectives to ensure communities are more resilient in general.
In times of uncertainty, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to peace. This realization struck me last July during the ceremony for the return of the US to UNESCO, where, alongside First Ladies Biden and Macron and Director-General Audrey Azoulay, we raised a flag of peace in a world in turmoil. Despite the challenges, we held onto hope — a hope for a better world, one where courage for dialogue and peace prevails.
Peace and Light,