What Joint Projects Are
Joint projects are positive, usually local, activities performed by members of two or more groups that are or have been in conflict with one another. Such projects allow individuals from opposing sides of a conflict to encounter one another in a conflict-free zone of cooperation. One example of a joint project is Croats and Muslims in Bosnia, former enemies, jointly rebuilding houses destroyed during their conflict. Other examples of joint projects are:
- the Galilee Bilingual School for Arab and Jewish Children, in which all classes are co-taught by an Arab and a Jew
- a Philippine bakery that employs Muslims and Christians
- a project to rebuild Albanian mosques in Kosovo by Jews, Protestants, Serb Orthodox, and Albanian Muslims, all former enemies
- the JAMAA project in Burundi, which encourages soccer games with teams composed of both Hutus and Tutsis
- Some even consider the European Union to be a kind of joint project, since it came about following World War II and has served as a galvanizing focus for former enemies.
The Goals of Joint Projects
The goals of joint projects are three-fold. First, they lead to the construction of specific structures, organizations, relationships, and institutions that will be useful to those on both sides of a conflict. Secondly, joint projects are also intended to lead to grassroots reconciliation and conflict transformation that can then spread to society as a whole. And thirdly, once a joint project is completed, it is hoped that the manifestation of the joint project, for instance a home, a school, or even a coalition government, will serve as a symbol of peace and cooperation.
Why Joint Projects Matter
This type of cooperative effort encourages reconciliation between opposing parties on various levels. One of the greatest impediments to reconciliation during or following a conflict is that enemies are separated from one another. This separation inevitably leads to negative stereotypes on both sides. Joint projects necessarily bring enemies together, which in turn can lead to the breakdown of stereotypes as people on one side get to know people on the other.
Because the focus of joint projects is building institutions that have positive meaning or use for both sides, such as houses, schools, parks, and hospitals, the parties are able to see that they share common interests. Participants who help each other in such simple ways as carrying heavy objects can develop shared work ethics. Through the process as a whole, participants have the potential to begin or continue communication and create lasting relationships or even friendships. Joint projects allow enemies to realize some cooperative accomplishment that may eventually lead to conflict de-escalation and transformation. Joint projects are often seen as one of the key ingredients in peacebuilding, especially at the grassroots level.
The Potential Negative Side of Joint Projects
Joint projects may seem entirely positive; however, there are potential negatives to working closely with one's enemies. While the separation of opposing parties usually leads to negative stereotypes, working in proximity with opposing parties can lead to first-hand verification of such stereotypes. In addition, joint projects can potentially further separate opposing parties if one side feels that the resulting structure or institution will benefit the other group more. Also, joint projects are often conceived of and organized by third parties, such as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) sometimes leading to a lack of the important feeling of ownership that a successful joint project must have.
Who Organizes Joint Projects
Ideally, individuals who are members of conflicting groups cooperate to organize joint projects. For example, academics, religious leaders, or parents who have lost children to the conflict have begun joint projects. These joint projects begun by individuals close to the conflict tend to have the most promise of success, due to the sense of project ownership and the direct transformation that tends to occur as the projects are undertaken.
Larger institutions such as NGOs, third-party foreign governments, local women's groups, and churches have also begun successful joint projects. In fact, joint projects often need the assistance of outside parties, for funding organizations, and the initial unbiased push needed to get people involved. Once initiated by outside third parties, ideally such projects should be transferred to the participants themselves, at least to some extent, so they feel as if the project is their own, not something they are doing for someone else. Funding and other constraints, however, often make this difficult to do.
Although joint projects are certainly not a panacea for highly escalated, intractable inter-group conflicts, they are one element in a variety of peacebuilding activities that are absolutely essential to bring about eventual conflict transformation and stable peace. But they need to exist within the context of many other peacebuilding, peacemaking, and sometimes peacekeeping activities, which together can bring about constructive change.
 Centre for Conflict Prevention. People Building Peace: 35 inspiring stories from around the world. Utrecht, The Netherlands: European Centre for Conflict Prevention, 1999.
Use the following to cite this article:
McMorran, Chris. "Joint Projects." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/joint-projects>.