Brief outline Mensen met een Missie
Mensen met een Missie is a catholic organisation for international cooperation and solidarity. Our expertise is locally-led peacebuilding and reconciliation, with a keen eye for religious dynamics. We believe that exclusion is at the heart of every conflict and that religion is a power for social change. For nearly 100 years we have dedicated ourselves to peace and justice in countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. In thirteen countries across the world we work together with local networks of people and organisations, unknown heroes - or ‘people with a mission’ - that work tirelessly for a just and peaceful world. We provide the tools, networks and platforms to transform conflicts, with respect for diversity.
As Mensen met een Missie, we want to counter hate, hostility and violence caused by the dynamics of discrimination, exclusion and polarisation. We believe that one of the most important drivers underlying those dynamics are convictions about the ‘other’ that have a basis in harmful sociocultural and religious narratives and norms, that lead to harmful practices, and are often based on abuse of power and privilege. Therefore, we direct our efforts towards changing those harmful convictions, norms and practices and changing such power relations. At the same time, we work toward an alternative reality: one in which reconciliation is possible and where peace and equality are paramount.
We are Mensen met een Missie
We believe that the convictions about the ‘other’ that people hold are of central importance for the dynamics of discrimination, exclusion and polarisation. We broaden the idea of convictions to the whole constellation of narratives, norms, values and beliefs that are expressed in traditions, rituals and practices. These convictions are often rooted in social and cultural factors, but also in religious factors. The essential role of religion can be negative, but we believe religion is especially a strong resource for good. We take action at the level of convictions, but also at a variety of other, underlying issues, such as the power relations or the constructive encounters between people. The centrality of convictions is not intended to function to the exclusion of these other issues.
When we address convictions, we intend to do so from a viewpoint of equality and mutual respect. We appreciate cultural and religious resources and it is our desire that these inspire positive action. We do not stand on neutral ground as an objective arbiter, and we do not have a completely relativist understanding of normativity, where we believe that every conviction is equally good. Our own conviction is that all people are equally dignified and worthy, and that any narrative, conviction or practice that leads to discrimination, exclusion or polarisation is a harmful conviction. We stand in the missionary tradition of contextualisation. We realise the need that this inclusive approach needs to be embedded in each context in its own cultural and religious narrative, language, metaphors, rituals and expressions.
Another crucial aspect from our missionary heritage, is the focus on long-term engagement. Because we believe that change needs to be contextual and embedded, we believe that the processes we work on require deep listening, forging long-lasting relations and lengthy and repeated personal encounters, experiences and dialogue. This is the reason why our programmes have a ten-year horizon. A long-term horizon underlies our story on how we believe change is going to happen as a result of our actions. This long-term engagement applies to the presence of the people with a mission in their contexts, but also to the relations between Mensen met een Missie and these people on a mission. These long-term relations do not necessarily depend on funding for specific projects, but they are characterised by very personal interactions, co-creation and flexibility.
We work with people with a mission
We support people, not organisations. They are people with a mission, driven by passion, who are wellplaced to break the dynamics of discrimination, exclusion and polarisation and to model and advocate for an alternative narrative. They bring authenticity, legitimacy and (often spiritual) inspiration, are able to cross divides and have the power or the potential to start change. Often – but not always – these people are placed in an organisation or religious institution. In working with these people with a mission, the relation comes before the formal aspects of cooperation.
Mobilise, Connect and Advocate
The work of Mensen met een Missie we summarize as Mobilise, Connect and Advocate. We mobilise mutual motivation, knowledge and resources to facilitate people with a mission. We connect people with a mission to each other, to a wider audience, to policy makers, to build bridges, gain influence and credibility, and to amplify their voices. We advocate for better policies to be put in place or existing policy and regulation to be better implemented or enforced, contributing to a reduction in discrimination, exclusion and polarisation.
Dialogue is key
In our work for peace and reconciliation, for changing conviction leading to violence and exclusion, dialogue, building bridges is key. Because in our experience violence stops when people meet, engage and listen. When people are brought together and look each other into the eye; when people have personal experience with the other, the negative cycle of othering will begin to break down. Through constructive relations, openness to other perspectives will increase and harmful prejudices may reduce. However, this assumes that people meet each other in respectful ways, with sufficient equality, a shared objective and real interaction, otherwise the result of an encounter can be negative by confirming stereotypes.
We facilitate such experiences within the own group (religious, social, cultural), between communities, and between communities and other stakeholders such as government and security actors. We empower religious, youth, women actors to address harmful norms and discourses and advocate for alternatives from within. We leverage existing formal and informal structures that encourage and facilitate interaction between communities. We connect local experiences and realities with national and international policy levels, by facilitating dialogue between local actors and other stakeholders in order to sensitize authorities and media outlets and influence the public agenda.