El Avispero: the civil society network promoting peace in Colombia

By Lina María Jaramillo

13 March 2017: The promise of peace has led to many changes within Colombian society. The most recent is the increased activism of young people, who through technology are promoting local change and peacebuilding, says Lina Maria Jaramillo.

The El Avispero team in Colombia. Photo: El Avispero 

The promise of peace has caused a lot of changes in Colombian civil society. After the defeat suffered by peace promoters in the 2016 referendum, Colombia appears to be facing a wave of citizen mobilisation from a civil society historically understood as an apathetic one.

This awakening, mainly in younger generations, has marked a clear distance between the changes that society is demanding, and the way politicians have traditionally acted. This generation feels as though they are living a new paradigm of political participation boosted by social networks and connectivity.

The awakening of civil society

El Avispero realised something was missing in the way people wanted to stand up for the peace process.
Seen from a different perspective, the context in which peace agreements were at risk after the referendum could be understood as a positive output for political culture and peace activism. Many civil society groups were organised and launched, with the aim of promoting citizen initiatives and increasing mobilisation around peace and solidarity.

El Avispero is one of the most successful organisations mobilising citizenship around peacebuilding. It is a civil society initiative whose main achievement has been to promote their high social impact campaigns. 

Through a very small campaign focused on demanding the right to vote for Colombian citizens living in other countries in the plesbicite, El Avispero realised something was missing in the way people wanted to stand up for the peace process.

As one of their members, Ángela Serrano, told Insight on Conflict: “We realised there were a lot of people who wanted to make changes, though they did not know how to do it. We decided to offer tools and instruments so people can find their own place to actively participate, so that all the changes we need in our country can occur”.

El Avispero is a remarkable example of how technology and connectivity is transforming the way people are taking action and assuming the role of peacebuilders. The organisation emerged as part of a civic engagement lab called El Movilizatorio. Its main objectives were to identify, strengthen and implement best practices to improve citizen participation through strategic communication, technology and knowledge management. El Avispero works as a digital platform that brings people leading social change together through campaigns and initiatives that promote social development and sustainable peace.

From enthusiastic followers to activists 

By linking leaders together, their ideas and actions have been strengthened. When a group of young people decided to occupy the central square of Bogota Plaza de Bolivar after the plebiscite to demand a fast review and approval of the peace agreements, El Avispero arranged all kinds of donations and support that regular citizens wanted to provide to the camp.

As soon as students arranged different protests supporting a peace deal after the rejection of peace agreements at the plebiscite, El Avispero helped to bring together other initiatives and organisations at national and international level so the scale of protests became historical.

Finally, when government translated the endorsement and the implementation of new peace agreements to the parliament, El Avispero supported another small citizen initiative focused on making congressmen accountable as a mechanism to ensure a fast analysis and approval of the new agreement.

After just five months, El Avispero has been recognised with two awards
Again, a small campaign of just a few citizens became a big initiative. Many people got involved as volunteers and the exercise even had a strong media impact. They also helped a crowdfunding initiative driven by the organisation Agua y Vida por la Guajira. The main objective of this was to deliver water trucks to indigenous communities from the Guajira department, where water scarcity has become the main hazard. They managed to raise enough money for six water trucks, the same day the campaign was launched. 

After just five months of implementation, El Avispero has been recognised with two awards. They were recognised by the Colombian Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies at the National Award for Digital Civil Mobilization, and they won the Turner Award of Social transformation given at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates that took place in February this year.

How does El Avispero work?

The real innovation behind this peacebuilding initiative is the way it is confronting the assumption that normal people, unrelated to politics, do not have the power to enact change.
But how did they make it? Through two Facebook and WhatsApp, El Avispero social leaders and influencers can mobilise initiatives and projects: through a WhatsApp group with more than 220 members, while supporters and followers are connected through its platform called elavisperomov.org with 32,000 members.  

Beyond this, the real innovation behind this peacebuilding initiative is the way it is confronting the assumption that normal people, unrelated to politics, do not have the power to enact change. Through this initiative civil society has now a space to support and share ideas, and take action to promote development and sustainable peace.

Another positive aspect about El Avispero is its organic nature. According to Nadya Hernández, project manager at El Movilizatorio, El Avispero is a diverse network. Everyone can be part of this movement regardless of their political views and preferences. Connections between people are what drive the work.  

The future of citizen mobilisation and peacebuilders

Despite this remarkable success, organisers of this peacebuilding initiative are aware of the challenges that lie ahead. El Avispero has grown in number and outreach in a short time, focusing on initiatives implemented by local communities. El Avispero must work on a trial and error basis, building strong alliances with relevant actors and taking account not just of specific results, but also the learning process.

The Turner Award of Social transformation is a milestone in the short life of El Avispero. Now recognised as a real initiative promoting sustainable peace, they have prioritised three major topics in which they will work according to the interests of the citizens involved in the movement. Addressing corruption, promoting the sustainable development goals and pursuing peacebuilding have been identified as the strategic issues they will support through different campaigns and projects.

For El Avispero, working on peacebuilding means demonstrating that it is possible to build a collective feeling around social transformation and being part of something. This is one of the missing spaces of citizen mobilisation that El Avispero tries to fulfil, the space where the dreamers and the doers may find their home to change the world.

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