Among the more difficult debates in Congress is how to spend its finite foreign aid dollars to avert crises before they become intractable, expensive violent conflicts. I know the debate from personal experience.  Starting in 2003, I had the privilege of working for Rep. Sam FarrSamuel (Sam) Sharon FarrMedical marijuana supporters hopeful about government funding bill Marijuana advocates to give away free joints on Capitol Hill DEA decision against reclassifying marijuana ignores public opinion MORE (D-Calif.) who, along with then Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE (D-Del.), fought to improve the government’s civilian response to conflict.   In addition to fighting for a stronger State Department, these members and other champions of conflict prevention also fought for a rapid-response fund that could break through red tape and long budget-planning cycles that make responding to crisis in a timely fashion nearly impossible.  Through these bipartisan efforts was born the “Complex Crises Fund” (CCF), which supports community-led peacebuilding programs.  

Today, we can say with confidence that community-led conflict prevention programs are working and Congress’ strategic foresight enabled these successes. How do we know? Mercy Corps, the global organization I now work for, implemented a CCF-funded program that documented powerful proof of how to mitigate violence. 


In January 2014, during a worrying wave of violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), CCF funds were used to halt atrocities against civilians and contain the spread of violence. With these funds, Mercy Corps launched a unique humanitarian program in CAR’s two most socio-economically vital cities, Bangui and Bouar. The program – designed to stem retaliatory violence and rebuild social cohesion within communities – cost $1.7 million, which directly supported community-led programs.

By August 2015, the results of the program were stunning, even to us.

We surveyed community members about their perceptions that conflicts were being resolved without violence. Within 18 months, this measurement of conflict resolution soared 532 percent. We also surveyed community members on whether they trusted members of the opposition group – and found an 86 percent increase.

In addition, 220 fighters from the “anti-Balaka” group, one of the parties to the conflict, voluntarily disarmed in order to join community leaders and peace committees to advocate for an end to the war. And in Bouar, 26 youth and 26 community leaders – representing more than 39,200 people from minority groups – signed a reconciliation pact affirming their commitment to resolve future conflicts in their communities by peaceful means. This treaty continues to forestall discrimination against other religious or ethnic groups, safeguard minorities, and facilitate the integration of Muslim traders into the economy.

Now, more than two years since the height of violence in the Central African Republic (and the start of our program) peace is holding in Bouar and the parts of Bangui where USAID conflict-mitigation funds were deployed. The crisis in CAR is far from over, but the investments made in community-level conflict mitigation continue to demonstrate a tangible return on investment to the American taxpayer. Communities are sustainably resolving disputes peacefully without further U.S. support, youth are mobilizing to engage peaceful transition and the communities are actively repelling atrocities against their neighbors.

This is the model for effective conflict reduction:  strategic investments to help communities manage conflicts non-violently that act as a bulwark against future conflict and atrocities. 

We believe components of this model can be replicated to address other forms of violence, including violent extremism. As in CAR, we’re seeing situations across the world in which armed groups are exploiting community grievances of marginalization to stoke violence. Proven peacebuilding tools can be tailored to help these communities resolve their differences peacefully.

What can Congress do now to further support these efforts?

First, authorize and appropriately fund the Complex Crises Fund. One promising legislative vehicle is the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (S. 2551), introduced by Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinNew Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight Pressure building on Pelosi over articles of impeachment Senate confirms Trump pick for small business chief MORE (D-Md.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), which authorizes the CCF.  Appropriators in the FY 2017 cycle should fund the CCF at $100 million so that requests from USAID Missions for rapid conflict mitigation funding can be met.

Second, encourage the administration to commit to tangible aid reforms for conflict reduction during the first World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. As our evidence from CAR demonstrates, addressing conflict earlier in crises can improve humanitarian outcomes and hasten the transition to early recovery. We need to maximize the opportunity of this first-ever global summit on humanitarian reform to move beyond temporary fixes and address underlying causes of displacement and violence.

Third, the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act should include a new authority to allow funds to be transferred from the Department of Defense to USAID for community-led conflict prevention activities. Addressing grievances that drive youth and others to violence and extremism  is beyond the mandate of the U.S. military, but within the knowledge base and experience of civilian agencies like USAID. Giving DOD the flexibility to transfer funds to USAID to manage, reduce and prevent violence serves our broader national security interests and ensures that the most appropriate agency is tackling these challenges.

We know what works to help communities solve their problems effectively, sustainably and without violence. It’s up to Congress to utilize this knowledge to prevent future costly interventions.

Vaughan is director of Policy & Advocacy at Mercy Corps.