Tell me how you got started. PAX Manifesto is a creative peacebuilding strategic communications organization; it was born out of a desire to marry my former work in strategic communications which focused on health and refugee social justice issues with my passion and education in peacebuilding all while using a new format that is still growing: transmedia storytelling.
After over 15 years working as a strategic communications consultant focusing on social marketing (behavioral change communications not the social media marketing only) I decided it was time to marry my passions – peacebuilding and communications. At the same time I became part of an active community in Los Angeles, California that was looking at the concept of transmedia storytelling from a producers angle. I had already been telling the stories of victims and primary stakeholders in conflict for a while and was eager to adapt a multi-platform approach to this work. Pax Manifesto became this.
My blog (and my former organizational name) Peace For Sale is another aspect of my work which is more theoretical, even though I personally apply it to my work everyday. It reflects my research and work on the application of social marketing and behavioral change communications models to peacebuilding. I investigate theories of environmental and behavioral change and flush out how they might be used in changing the knowledge, attitude and behaviors of the primary and secondary stakeholders in conflict.
What interests you most about what you’re doing now? I have been working on various campaigns with Syrian activists and am currently collecting stories of Syrian women for my “Real Housewives of Syria” Project. The concept is to tell the whole story of the Syrian woman’s role in the current 3-year-old conflict. The project is at the story curating stage, in which I have met with activists and Syrian women and have begun collecting and developing narratives from them. It has been exceedingly inspiring to hear about their triumphs and struggles and to also know that when they finish the conversation that reality remains.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment? Biggest challenge? My greatest accomplishment has been to earn the trust of victims and those affected by conflicts and war. I measure success when the holders of the stories become the primary tellers and I can serve as an intermediary or channel for them. The times when I inspired people to move their pain into action and their fear into power have been the most successful for me.
The biggest challenge for me has been to bring the humanity and ethic of Do No Harm into all of my work. In media and communications, it is so easy to use hyperbole or exaggeration, it is easy to manipulate and distort information and it is also very enticing to want to tell the stories of others in a selfish way. By that I mean to tell them from my own perspective or to expose the individuals to the public when they do not want to be known. I know I could be more successful or garner more attention by following the “if it bleeds it leads” model. However, as a peacebuilder I know that the primary stakeholder in telling real stories is the character him- or herself. My Do No Harm philosophy is very similar to key aspects of Peace Journalism where the actual story needs to build peace, not only convey a message of a peacebuilding activity.
Who or what inspires you? I have been inspired by those willing to share their stories. I am inspired by the mother of a disappeared teenager from Juarez, Mexico who was brave enough to share her story with me. I am inspired by my friend Amenah Sawah who has suffered bombing, sniper shots, living under siege and chemical weapons attack on her city and yet stands up to speak out. These women are examples of what it means to still believe in the humanity of people. They trust and feel that if another human with a beating heart will hear their story then they will act to do good.
Creatively speaking, my fellow transmedia producers and communications specialists in this field inspire me. I love the work that Search for Common Ground does; I would love to take the TEAM series and make it a transmedia project.
Why is peace sexy to you? What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you? When I read Peace is Sexy, I understand that peace is something desirable. I think it’s a tongue and cheek statement that borrows from the idea “sex sells” and hoping that peace also will be something people are interested in. My finding is that peace is sexy when people know, believe or can do something for it. Accessing peace makes peace sexy. People knowing that their future is bound in peace makes peace sexy; people believing that they win when peace wins makes peace sexy; and people knowing that working hard towards peace can bring positive results makes peace sexy. Many people practice peace differently. For me, I feel like my calling has been to use communications and media to agitate.
What is a simple thing you do to create peace? What is something you do everyday? Building on what I mentioned before about the Do No Harm approach, for me a daily task is how to build peace and not do more harm to a situation or person. That can mean in the words I use or the statements I make; do I edify? Do I lift up others? Do I inspire others? It can also mean my role in society: Do I speak up when the powerful continue to oppress the powerless? Do I play into the same power dynamics that holds the status quo? Do I do this even if I will loose out, look like an agitator or make people uncomfortable? We see micro-oppression all around us; do we speak up and act to change things? Peacebuilding is not something one does when they are out in the field or doing a project, it is a frame of mind, a lifestyle and an attitude. Everyday I work to own the title of peacebuilder. While challenging and fraught with failure, I never stop trying.
How would you like Peace is Sexy to make a difference in what you are up to? Thank you Peace is Sexy for your platform, which introduces many people to the key concepts of peacebuilding and some active participants in the field. I would love to collaborate on a project or exchange ideas and see how together we can build peace.
Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? I would love to see my research and work in the application of social marketing to peacebuilding to be developed into a field of study. I want to see peacebuilding + social marketing frameworks—which help flush out how people exactly would change from a warrior to a peacebuilder—go mainstream. In the next 10 years I would like to work with others to develop a body of knowledge which can be the underlying theory in how peace messaging, activities, projects and programs are framed. In the next 20 years I would love to see a scaling and replication of this process in the most organic way, where the understanding of human behavior and theories of peacebuilding could be applied to our work.