Challenge, Approach and Theory of Change

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Daily headlines about Israel and Palestine tell of conflict, controversy and stalled peace initiatives. There is a feeling of exhaustion and a growing sense of futility. Peace seems all but impossible. Yet the search for an answer can and must continue. As former U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell said, if humans have caused the conflict, then humans can surely solve it. But after so many years of effort by so many people in the Middle East, is there really anything new that can be said or done? NSL claims that there is. Our answer is contained in our name, New leaders inspired by a New story. New Story Leadership introduces a radically different approach to peace-building, one that does not pretend to solve the historical controversies or mediate between antagonists. Instead, NSL proceeds indirectly, offering a narrative-based program based on four premises that it seeks to demonstrate:

1. Stories Matter:

    Conflicts that persist are fed by stories – stories that endlessly recycle old grievances, inflate differences and inflame passions. Acting as ongoing declarations of war, they are as powerful as rockets or roadblocks in keeping people apart. As long as oppositional communities lack stories of cooperation, no amount of negotiation or appeals to self-interest will work. On the other hand, every true story of common effort, no matter how modest, can grip the imagination of opponents and help them visualize the possibility for a more promising future. These are the stories that NSL seeks to grow, stories that begin modestly and yet can grow, year by year, into resounding declarations for peace.

2. New Stories come from New Voices:

    The media incessantly trumpets the opinions of politicians, academics, lobbyists, and all manner of self proclaimed experts on the Middle East, many of whom do not even live in the region. Something is missing. Where are the voices of the young people who live there, and have to endure the decisions being made for them by their elders? It is the opinions and stories of these future leaders which will ultimately determine the success of any effort to build peace. That is why NSL seeks out such voices.

3. A safe space for new stories must be deliberately created:

    In a climate of suspicion and conflict, transformative encounters between educated and open-minded young people on both sides rarely occur spontaneously in the highly charged environment of the region itself. In this narrative space, fragile new stories need room and a safe space to grow. That is why NSL brings young people from the region to Washington DC for a summer.

4. New Stories require time to take Shape and Work their Influence:

      When violence and hatred have been institutionalized over centuries, new ways of imagining need time to take hold. This process does not happen overnight. Yet when young leaders in their formative years bond through life changing programs like NSL, they retain a memory of fellowship that becomes the foundation for deeper trust. Whenever the program story is retold, its transformative effect is renewed through the power of its enduring witness to new possibilities.