International conflict manager for USAID highlights Institute for Conflict Management event

By Janel Shoun-Smith on 9/27/2012

levine, neil
Levine pictured at another international conference.

Conflict management is one of the primary tools in use by the United States’ foreign aid agency USAID to promote human progress and free societies in 100 countries worldwide, said Neil Levine, the director of the USAID Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, while visiting the Lipscomb campus Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the Southeast Conference on Conflict Management Conference, held by Lipscomb’s Institute for Conflict Management.

Levine was the guest speaker at the conference which hosted local community leaders and businesspeople interested in dealing better with conflict in various fields such as law, counseling, education, health care, business and public service.

He gave the crowd a glimpse of how conflict management is being used throughout the globe by USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) to promote economic prosperity, human rights, food security, education and various other humanitarian goals.

“We survey the national scene. We look at countries at risk for conflict and identify some of the potential emerging issues of conflict, including factors such as climate change, urbanization and the role of violent extremists,” he said.

The agency then explores research literature and best practices in the field to develop toolkits for USAID’s development program officials to use to defuse potential conflict in that target nation as they implement their improvement programs.

For example, his office currently has field researchers on the ground at the border of Jordan, where Syrian refugees are flooding into the nation. His office will help USAID officers figure out what to expect and how to adjust their development programs to account for the tens of thousands of refugees gathering in Jordan.

Thanks to a World Bank study of unstable nations over many decades, USAID focuses its conflict management efforts on the five factors highlighted in the study, Levine said: establishing legitimate, inclusive politics, enhancing security, justice and jobs, and creating accountability for national budgeting and delivery of goods and services.

Over the years, leaders in many of the developing countries have complained that U.S. foreign aid efforts focus on too many factors, diluting their success, and they also believe that using the existing systems in the nations work better in the long-run than the US establishing new systems, Levine said.

USAID is addressing those concerns by establishing pilot programs that are based on the five factors designated in the World Bank study, he said.

Before becoming director of conflict management in the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, from 2000-2007, Levine served as the chief of the governance division in USAID’s Office of Democracy and Governance where he worked on issues involving promotion of transparent, accountable and effective democratic institutions.

The interdisciplinary, annual Southeast Conference on Conflict Management is open to anyone interested in dealing better with conflict — from professional mediators and attorneys to counselors, teachers, health care workers, businesspeople or public servants. Interactive break-out sessions led by Institute for Conflict Management faculty dealt with conflict in family, health care, business, K-12 education and religious congregations. Other topics include negotiation and mediation trends in Tennessee.