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Horizons Project

At this moment of multiple intersecting social, political, and economic crises in the US and globally, marked by toxic levels of polarization, we need powerful, transformational approaches to address deeply-rooted injustices, heal the country, and be able to move forward together within a pluralistic, peaceful democracy. The Horizons Project, a collaboration between the PartnersGlobal Institute and Humanity United, is committed to strengthening relationships between the social justice, peacebuilding, human rights, and democracy communities in the US, while drawing on international perspectives and experiences to inform our work.

We believe in the power of bridging cross-disciplinary research with practice and have established an advisory Braintrust, comprised of scholars and practitioners, to inform the work of the project and to build relationships across sectors. We are compiling and amplifying cutting-edge research and convening conversations to grapple with practical challenges faced by activists, peacebuilders, and those working to build an inclusive democracy in the US. Our goal is to establish the Horizons Project as a robust community where activists, movement leaders, peacebuilders, and democracy advocates from a wide diversity of perspectives feel welcomed and empowered to break down siloes and find common cause.

The Horizons Project is currently focusing on five main research “buckets” using an iterative process, to synthesize the most cutting-edge research to be more digestible and actionable.

1. Power Dynamics in Movements and Peacebuilding: addressing how power dynamics and disparities influence relationships within and between social justice and peacebuilding groups and communities.

2. Restorative Resistance: challenging injustices, building power, and disrupting harmful systems in ways that promote healing, belonging, and societal transformation.

3. Healthy vs. Toxic polarization: mobilizing for change in ways that embrace nuance and power and avoid dehumanization, extreme othering and harmful zero-sum thinking.

4. Calling out vs. Calling in: holding individuals and institutions accountable for harm while centering human dignity and embracing individuals’ capacity to change.

5. Healing Traumas: centering individual and societal healing approaches as foundations for our social justice, peacebuilding and democracy work.

6. Sacred Values and Narratives: identifying the north star for inclusive democracy in the US and weaving together narratives for peace, belonging, and the sense of a shared future.

Horizons Project Events

We are convening regular events and dialogues focused on these topics and challenges faced by activists and peacebuilders in the US and globally. The purpose of these convenings is to strengthen relationships and problem-solving between the social justice, peacebuilding, human rights and democracy communities.

The research and sustained dialogue will inform the development of a practical “playbook” for activists and peacebuilders focused on restorative approaches to social justice and democracy-building work. This playbook will be shared not only with civil society organizations and nonprofits, but with creatives, entertainment industry leaders, advertisers, and business leaders who drive culture change.

At its heart, the Horizons Project is about strengthening an ecosystem where different approaches to building a more just, inclusive, and peaceful society – that include dialogue, trauma healing, and nonviolent direct action – can be mutually reinforcing. We encourage you to be an active participant in this journey by joining the Horizons Project community.

Learn more about our team

Horizons Project Senior Advisor- Maria J. Stephan

Maria J. Stephan’s career has bridged the academic, policy, and non-profit sectors, with a focus on the role of civil resistance and nonviolent movements in advancing human rights, democratic freedoms, and sustainable peace in the US and globally. She most recently directed the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace, overseeing cutting-edge research and programming focused on the nexus of nonviolent action and peacebuilding.

Stephan is the co-author (with Erica Chenoweth) of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, which was awarded the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Prize by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in political science, and the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. She is the co-author of Bolstering Democracy: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (Atlantic Council, 2018); the co-editor of Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? (Atlantic Council, 2015); and the editor of Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave, 2009).

From 2009-14, Stephan was lead foreign affairs officer in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, receiving two Meritorious Service Awards for her work in Afghanistan and Turkey. She later co-directed the Future of Authoritarianism initiative at the Atlantic Council. Stephan has taught at Georgetown University and American University. She received her BA in political science from Boston College and her MA and PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Stephan, a native Vermonter, is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Healing Resistance: A Conversation with Author Kazu Haga
Nonviolence is a cornerstone of activism and radical change, but less attention has been given to the restorative power of nonviolent resistance. In this recent Horizons Project event, Senior Advisor Maria J. Stephan interviewed author and Kingian nonviolence practitioner Kazu Haga on his book, Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm. Healing Resistance: A Conversation with Author Kazu Haga
Good vs. Toxic Polarization: Insights from Activists and Peacebuilders
Polarizing narratives are key tools of nonviolent mobilization and social justice activism. But today, deep-seated polarization, exacerbated by a growing faction that rejects basic democratic norms and practices, threatens the foundations of our democracy. Differentiating between healthy and toxic polarization is vital among activists and peacebuilders to inform and align our strategies. What aspects of polarization are healthy and normal in a democratic society, and when can this polarization tip over into toxic conditions? Good vs. Toxic Polarization: Insights from Activists and Peacebuilders
Healing U.S. Democracy Starts with Understanding Our Values, Norms, and Narratives
What are the common values that underpin US democracy? What is the “big story” we all share about how society should work and how we fit together as citizens? Healing US democracy starts with understanding our values, norms, and narratives