Compound risk, response and prevention: learning to act where problems intersect

The Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development is co-convened annually by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which I have the honour to lead, and Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year ‘s Forum was held in early May. Like the 2020 edition, it was online. The theme was Promoting Peace in the Age of Compound Risk.

The Forum was big. This post offers some summary reflections about what was discussed and what those discussions tell us about the way ahead.

The Forum

To start with the numbers: The Forum had 5,310 registered participants from 162 countries; it presented 63 panel sessions, which were organised with 62 partner organisations in addition to SIPRI and the MFA, and at which there were 384 speakers. That’s about half as big again the 2020 Forum. It’s between six and seven times as many registered participants as in 2019, the last time we convened in person.

The theme of course was about peace and sustainable development. It was about the risks and vulnerabilities that get in the way of building sustainable peace and achieving equitable development. And it was about how those risks interact and intersect – and therefore about how action, whether prevention or response, has to act on the intersections.

So the Forum was a scaled up opportunity to make the connections – between people, organisations, governments, issues and action. Such a big event with so many discussions and sessions, it proves hard to summarise. But we all can have our takeaways.

This short film comes from a “closing” session that came just before the actual end of the Forum. It’s the key takeaways as seen by your truly and by the head of the UN, Conflict and Humanitarian Department in the Swedish MFA, Ambassador Carl Skau. This post continues below the film with further brief thoughts on a couple of key issues that I address in my part of the film:

The more observant may notice that the figure for registered participants that I gave on the day (5,291) is a bit lower than the one four paragraphs up. That’s because 19 people signed up as I was speaking (presumably to watch the very final sessions).

By the way, with this link you can access the opening session and the full playlist for Stockholm Forum.

Please: no more excuses on gender

I find myself increasingly exercised by two things. The first is gender. There is no excuse for the exclusion of one gender (and of most young people from the other gender) from participation and decision-making in the social processes that build and sustain peace and drive development. We talk about generating resilience against the key challenges of our time – climate change and environmental crisis, armed conflict, pandemics, inequity and poverty; if we want to do it, excluding women and youth makes no sense. If we are taking the challenges seriously, that exclusion is a lethal process.

Gender inequality kills.

There is no excuse for peace building and development policies that fail to recognise that and act upon it.


Equally, there is no excuse for failing to address compound risks in an inter-connected way. At the Forum we heard many government ministers as well as officials of both national governments and international agencies say the right thing about the need to break down the silos between the different issues such as peace and development, climate and gender, education and humanitarian action, and so on.

They were the right things but they were not new. “Breaking down (or getting out of) the silos” gets said so often it has become a cliché. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It means it’s obvious but isn’t happening.

We cannot put up with that.

So how do you bust silos (or bust out of them)? You start by identifying where they exist: in institutions, in our heads, in the way things are financed. Thus,

  1. We need institutional change – not new big agencies of this or that, but small-scale change, creating hubs of action in the countries where action needs to be and is being taken. Hubs that bring together different groups in the local setting together with international actors and governments where possible.
  2. We need some new training and professional development opportunities for the professionals, education for everybody, and constant argument and evidence in the media.
  3. And the discussion on the financing of peacebuilding needs to focus not only on scaling up but on addressing where the problems intersect.

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