WHO IS SAJI PRESLIS?
Saji Prelis is the Director for Children & Youth Programmes at Search for Common Ground. Saji co-leads several policy-level platforms including the UN-Civil Society Inter-Agency Working Group on Youth Participation in Peacebuilding and the Global Partnership to enable children and youth participation in peacebuilding. Through the UN-CSO Inter-Agency working group, he has co-led the process in developing Guiding Principles for Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding that was officially launched at the UN on April 24th, 2014 and is currently co-leading the process to develop Operational Guidance on the same topic.
He served as a co-founder and Associate Director at American University’s Peacebuilding & Development Institute in Washington, DC and is currently one of the founding members and chair of the board for PDI-SL in Sri Lanka, an internationally recognized South Asia focused training and research Institution.
Saji was born in Sri Lanka and holds a Master’s Degree in International Peace & Conflict Resolution with a Concentration in International Law from American University.
You can connect with Saji here:
IN TOR 044 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The importance of having a different attitude about youth development, particularly in situations of conflict.
- Saji’s experiences with youth as selfless leaders, naturally inclined towards peace building.
- The many frustrations Saji endures within international development, and his proposals for less redundant work that empowers local people and cultures instead of taking them for granted or even eradicating them.
- Saji’s vision of a future where the role of young people is recognized, even on global policy frameworks, as it was done with women.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Search for Common Ground
- American University’s Peacebuilding and Development Institute
- United Nations Security Council
- Children and Youth policies and frameworks
- Growing up in violence
- Outsider development
- Natural disasters, tsunami
- Negative externalities of development
- Predominantly young demographics
- Peace metrics, measuring performance in peacebuilding
- Youth guidance
- Writing skills
- Washington, DC
- Sri Lanka
- Timor Leste
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Director for children and youth programs
SCG: 35 countries.
Provides technical support, cross-experience learning, informs global policy.
Always on the road.
Ebola outbreak. A violence program with youth started in the midst.
Young people with ideas
Despite challenges, young people want to work, stay engaged, become leaders in their communities.
SCG provides training, leadership skills. It works with policy agencies to inform and show the will of the majority of young people, “which is not to commit violence.”
Issues of perception: “We need to create our broadcast mechanisms and platforms. Young voices are needed.” Young people want the same solutions as adults and institutions.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, violence in front of his eyes.
In the U.S., thinks about help, becoming a doctor, brings solutions. “But solutions are already there, they just need support and expansion.”
Saji kept changing majors to find out the best helping angle.
Founded PDI with other professors, to “bridge theory and practice, and find the middle point between good peace building and good development,” offers training for local practitioners.
Saji has some real experience, “about the ugly side of human nature and the good side of human nature.” All players, good and evil, are local.
In the U.S., he learns about people’s intentions but their ‘outsider’ view. “They miss a lot about the strengths and the capacities already existing. Sometimes it does more harm than good.”
A code of ethics for outside development. Local solutions often need more investment.
Sri Lanka’s tsunami. First responders were local, volunteering for weeks. Then the international communities came in and established a ‘cash for work’ program. “It spoiled the innate forms of volunteering in indigenous people’s cultures and put a dollar figure on it. It destroys the fabric of people doing service for the goodness of others.”
Saji realizes international development misses opportunities, sometimes even destroys them.
Why (not) youth
It’s the majority of the population. “In Congo, 65% of the population is young, in Pakistan 75% is below 30.”
Social movements start with young people. “That’s the kind of world we want to support.”
Young people are naturally willing to be peace builders.
Saji thinks the field becomes more professional. “But measuring peace, trust, is still difficult.”
From a youth perspective, placing the young at the center of performance indicators is critical. “We’ve been thinking about ways to involve youth in management and growth.”
It involves meeting about events and initiatives. A ‘global movement’ is always in the top of his mind. Driving initiatives forward and answering hundreds of emails a day.
On fundraising: “It comes with the flow” About 10% of the time on fundraising. Secure funding has been successful “because work always involve local actors.” But donors’ habits are changing, the landscape is changing and people must be wary.
Donors have started to reach him to do work together developing new projects. SCG specializes in bringing a diverse group of actors to the same table.
Next five years
“I honestly don’t know. But I will be very involved in global policy on youth.”
Saji envisions a UN Security Council resolution on youth in conflict situations. Recognition of young people and more active programs with more data. Just as it was done with women in the past.
More research uncovering the role of young people in development.
Saji will be more involved in frameworks, architecture, institutionalization. Lots of patience.
“There are frustration points.”
“There is a lot of money in the field, but too little going to the right places.”
“There is a lot of solutions with information about them not working, but they keep getting funded. There are a lot of lessons unlearned.”
“We are not innovating enough.”
“We keep struggling to cooperate under a framework that promotes competition.”
Account of failure
Saji created a youth-based research and development centre, but failed by thinking the analysis could be done autonomously by them. “Young people still need guidance.” He didn’t listen to other people’s voices of reason.
For some groups coming abroad to training, it was not meeting their needs.
Lots of indecision failure, especially as students, choosing majors, joining groups.
Sri Lanka, month after the tsunami. Talking with a young boy, 12, describes how he witnessed his family die. Years later he sees him again in school. “I know they are not alive but I want to make him cry.” Saji tears up. When he asks him what he needs, he talks selflessly, about things his sister needs.
Job search starts on day one of your graduate program.
Knowing people really helps, but it’s not enough.
Get experience, unique skills.
“Be a good writer. It’s very difficult to find really good writers these days.”
Create a brand around yourself, have a more memorable CV.
Think critically about the traditional academic path. “People are being more entrepreneurial, taking different kinds of risks.”
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