On Being Both a Consultant and a Learner in Bolivia

by Saskia Kriester

During my journey to work, the Línea Amarilla took me from La Paz up to El Alto, which lies at an altitude of over 4,000 meters. Every day I looked out from the yellow gondolas of the cable car over the basin, in which the city lies, and the surrounding peaks of the Cordillera Real. El Alto is in a strategic location: It is a bottleneck for the transport of both people and goods. In this city, where several factors increase the likelihood of conflict, four partner organisations of EIRENE are committed to promoting a culture of peace. They share a common goal, which is to bring about nonviolent conflict transformation and strengthen social participation in EI Alto. EIRENE promotes exchange between the partner organisations with the aim of exploiting the synergies between their various fields of competence.

Conflict management and project management

In 2015 and 2016 I worked at one of the partner organisations, FOCAPACI, as a junior civil peace service professional. I had already become fascinated by the Andean region, during my studies in Peru, and had studied regional conflicts in Latin America. My new task motivated me to combine two approaches: civil conflict management and international project management. My work focused mostly on process design and management, and the development of tools for impact monitoring.

Consulting and learning at the same time

FOCAPACI works to promote increased public participation at the municipal level. One of the ways in which this is achieved is by providing training for potential conflict parties. Wrapped up in warm clothing and blankets, my colleagues and I often sat in the office designing interactive workshops and developing new ideas together. Many aspects of everyday life and the working environment were new to me. And it took me quite a while to learn to understand everything. I had to take on two very different roles at the same time, that of a consultant and that of a learner. And, somehow or other, I had to maintain a balance between the two.

Creating space for dialogue

FOCAPACI aims to reduce the frequency of violent clashes in El Alto by creating space for dialogue. In order to do this, the organisation uses its network to bring together conflict parties who have not yet had any contact with each other. This was achieved, for example, during the transport dispute in El Alto, in which the city administration, the transport association, and well-organised neighbourhood associations were all at loggerheads. The main reasons for the conflict were planned fare increases and poor access to the suburbs. The representatives of the various parties negotiated over their interests into the early hours of the morning. My colleagues and I were exhausted but satisfied with the way things turned out. We drove straight to the office to do an evaluation. That the actors met together at all was remarkable in itself. That the parties then even signed agreements on the key issues was a great success. This is just one example of how active local involvement works. There are civil society initiatives all over the world that are committed to promoting nonviolent social change. In order to bring about change and contribute to reaching the sustainable development goals, we need strong partnerships and the willingness to listen and to try to understand other points of view.

Enriching experiences

I have now completed my development service, but I’m still always keen to see things from a new perspective. In my job as a consultant at Engagement Global, I am concerned with civil peace service once again. And once again I am taking on a variety of roles: On the one hand, I advise development agencies, and on the other hand, I examine their project applications and documentary evidence. My daily work is enriched by the new skills and experience which I acquired during development service with EIRENE.

Saskia Kriester, diploma in political science, peace and conflict research, and geography 2015 - 2016: Bolivia, EIRENE