Interview with Rhea Mahanta – Winner of the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize 2023

Time is running out! Ten days left to apply for the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize 2023!

Need some inspiration? Meet Rhea Mahanta, winner of the second edition of the YCPP and current Youth Ambassador to the Peace Palace. Read about her initiative, the Peacebuilding Project, and her experience applying for and winning the Prize in 2021.

Can you tell us about your initiative, The Peacebuilding Project?

The Peacebuilding Project is an international volunteer-led initiative dedicated to conflict resolution and peacemaking through inclusive dialogue, academic research, and community engagement. We aim to bring diplomacy to the people by educating and empowering communities about peace processes and strategies of peace, oftentimes coupled with humanitarian interventions on the ground. Some of our past programs include

  • Rohingya Literacy Program- where PBP volunteers taught basic English, Mathematics, Hindi language, and computer skills to Rohingya refugee children in India
  • A UNDP-funded skill-building project whereby we built the capacity of Afghan refugee women in India to produce reusable and eco-friendly sanitary napkins
  • We also have Dialogue Forums, Letter Campaigns, and an Academic Blog ‘Simply Peace’ that cultivates a healthy dialogue on topics of peace and security.

What motivated you to apply to the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize 2021?

As a youth-led organization, the primary resources we relied on were volunteers who were passionate about contributing in some way to the global community. But without any funding or recognition, it can be quite difficult to find entry points into the international system. We thought that the Carnegie Youth Peace Prize was a way to bring the work that the Peacebuilding Project was doing on the ground onto the global stage, from where our call for peace and our initiatives to promote dialogue across borders would be better heard. It was sort of a signal, that we, a group of young volunteers, are open to engaging with the world and building possible partnerships.

What do you consider to be the relevance and impact of the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize?

The CYPP can be important for different reasons to different kinds of organizations or individuals. For me, it was important because I saw this as a channel for young voices from the global south to participate in networks where systemic policy decisions are made. So it was a way to represent the voices of peacebuilders from the global south on an international platform.
It can also be a channel for young people to engage with policymakers and advocate to design policies that are inclusive, and that contribute to advancing the YPS Agenda, such as incorporating it into National action plans/ security frameworks.
But the rationale behind the prize itself is to highlight best practices from young peace activists- so it’s an opportunity to learn from each other, not only from each other’s challenges but also from the successes of different projects.

What has been the best thing about being the youth ambassador to the Peace Palace? 

The learning opportunity, to come to the Hague and see firsthand how organizations work for international peace-

  • First, you have the courts- from the ICJ and PCA, ICC, Kosovo Specialist Chambers,
  • Then you have engagements with governments through the Municipality of the Hague as well as Embassy visits,
  • Then you have to think tanks and international institutes such as the Asser Institute, Clingendael,
  • as well as NGOs like Humanity Hub, Just Peace, and Youth Peace Initiative.
    The Hague truly is a unique ecosystem and a hub of different approaches to peace and justice. So seeing how the international system works and being in that space is a real privilege. It helps us visualize where we are situated in the system and where we can build partnerships. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

What is the role of the Youth Ambassador to the Peace Palace? 

I think the answer to that question will evolve. The YCPP has only been awarded twice in the history of the Peace Palace, and I am the second recipient. So shaping the role of the Ambassador is an ongoing process that largely depends on the background and field of expertise of the winner. The positive aspect is that there is a lot of room for the recipient of the award to shape what they want out of this opportunity. For example, I specialize in peace and security, so my goal as Youth Ambassador for this two-year term was to:

  • Highlight the YPS Agenda and the inclusion of youth in peacebuilding- it means engaging with stakeholders in a way that emphasizes the equal stake that youth have to shape policies, which could have very different consequences for youth in the future if they are not involved in the discussions now.
  • It’s also about raising awareness about the work of the institutions inhabited within the Peace Palace- the ICJ, the PCA, the Peace Palace Library, and the Hague Academy of Int Law
  • But the Peace Palace is more than just the sum of its parts. It was built with a mission, to promote peace through law. So with the role of the Ambassador comes the responsibility to uphold the ideals of peace and justice, for which the Palace was built.
  • The Ambassadorship is also uniquely positioned to network with institutions in the Hague, from courts of law to think tanks and NGOs, to look for opportunities for exchange or entryways for youth to participate in the fields of peace and justice.

Do you have any advice or tips for this year’s participants?

First of all, I encourage you to think about what ways you are contributing to civic engagement, and how it contributes to peace and education. Young people have a lot to offer but get discouraged because it can be difficult to find meaningful entryways into the fields of peace and security. My advice would be to take the initiative. Structural barriers are not going to change by themselves, but change is brought about with continued engagement- whether at the municipal or international level. The Carnegie Youth Peace Prize offers that bridge by highlighting the work that you do and are interested to do in the future. So take the opportunity and apply.

  • If you are between the ages of 18-29 and working in the field of peace and education, or in multidisciplinary intersections of these fields, you are encouraged to apply.
  • One of the qualities I think is important to make the most out of this Peace Prize is to recognize the link between the local and global, and how the work one does on the ground translates into the international realm and vice versa, and it is a continuous feedback process.
  • The prize is also meant to inspire young leaders to share their work and inspire others as well, so I encourage viewers to look at your contributions as a possible inspiration for others and apply.

You can be an individual peacebuilder or a representative participating on behalf of an organization. Participants have to be 18-29 years old and submit a 3-minute video showing how their initiative contributes to peace, and how it can inspire others to become active agents of positive change. The video can be in English, or any other language providing English subtitles, and has to be submitted before the deadline of 18 August. I wish you all the best for the Carnegie Youth Peace Prize 2023.

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