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Rachel Locke Joins the Kroc IPJ as Director of the Impact:Peace Initiative

Monday, June 17, 2019

begin quoteOne of the components of Impact:Peace that is very appealing is the opportunity to shape something from the ground up.

In April 2019, the Kroc School’s Institute for Peace and Justice (Kroc IPJ) announced the Impact:Peace Initiative, a new program which seeks to decrease violent conflict by leveraging evidence to accelerate the most important change processes in the peacebuilding field. Impact:Peace held a successful launch convening in May, which brought together world-class experts to provide answers to questions like: What are the current policy and advocacy processes that have the potential to reduce violence worldwide? What evidence do policymakers, practitioners, advocates and other influencers need most to drive those processes forward? How might we build an innovative platform at USD to provide the evidence needed to those driving these processes forward and create real impact?

Rachel Locke, the newly appointed Director of the Impact:Peace Initiative, joined the launch event, and then sat down with us to share more about her background and her plans to lead this important program.

How would you describe yourself, personally and professionally?

Someone very close to me recently said that I have a restless spirit, and I think that’s pretty accurate in both my personal and professional aspects.

The way my restlessness expresses itself professionally is that I’m constantly striving to do better and position myself to be in spaces with other people who want to do the same. At the same time, it’s important to balance this striving with consistency or the work can lose focus. Finding that balance of striving and steadfastness is my goal.

In my personal life, the way that a restless spirit manifests itself is that I’m just constantly busy — I’m doing things all the time and always up for trying new things (within reason!). I tend to get a little bored with the same old same old.

What are the highlights of your career that led you to the Kroc School?

All of my professional experiences have shaped the way that I think about peace-related issues to this day. I’m very much grounded in the takeaways from my first post-graduate professional job with the International Rescue Committee based in Northern Uganda. The reality of so many policies, programs, and people trying to do life-saving, critical work in the face of devastating violence is just complicated — nothing is simple, and nothing lends itself to the black-and-white that people often like to put language around (“good guys, bad guys”). The reality is also that this work must be human-centered — once we lose the focus on humanity our solutions lose viability. That grounding is essential.

I was with USAID from 2008-2016 in the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, which we described as the agency’s think tank on issues of conflict and fragility. It’s a really small office, and I came in and pretty quickly became the head of the Africa team, and then became the head of the policy team. I was able to be both very much grounded in program practice, but also dive into analysis, helping to design and use conflict assessments, and then bring all that into policy debates. Having the luxury of engaging deeply at the intersection of practice, analysis and policy was a true professional highlight. There should be a symbiotic relationship between those, but because there are often different people doing different pieces of work this symbiosis often fails. I felt lucky to be at a nexus point.

When I left USAID, I went to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I worked on taking some of the practices and knowledge from the violence, conflict, and fragility space to the problem of urban violence, working directly with cities. There, I challenged myself to work with different groups of actors, including police departments, local community organizations, social service providers, mayor’s offices and others. I created an international portfolio to test whether the evidence-based principles that had made the work in the United States so effective could be adapted internationally.

Most recently, I’ve been supporting the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies, which is based out of New York University’s Centre on International Cooperation, where I’ve headed up research and design for a grand challenge on sustainable development goal 16.1, which seeks to reduce all forms of violence everywhere by 2030. Our work is coalescing a movement to halve global violence in the next 10 years. This will be hard, but if we know how to stop people dying violently and we do nothing we are complicit in those deaths. We simply must do better.

In your recent article, “Reducing Violence to Advance Peace and Sustain Development”, you said preventing destruction requires acknowledging we have the tools and evidence to save lives. Can you share more about what you meant by that?

Across all different domains of violence, to greater or lesser degrees, there is a lot of evidence about what works and what doesn't work. If you’re talking about the urban violence space, there’s a significant amount of knowledge about what types of policing, for example, are best suited to prevent serious violence and what types of policing can actually contribute to furthering violence. Much of this research comes from the United States and Western Europe, unfortunately, but there are valuable investments being made to expand this research base and what we do have provides a useful starting point.

We have a ton of knowledge. We’ve seen cities such as Oakland, Calif., which had been entrenched in violence, bring their levels of serious violence down by over 30 percent, and there is documentation about how they did that through improved policing and a lot of investment in the community and services. We also have places like the Gambia, which had a contested election recently, yet avoided having that spiral into violence, when many people predicted that it would after decades of a single powerful leader. The violence against children community has come up with a list of the top seven strategies that most directly prevent violence against children. The torture prevention community has a list of concrete, clear steps that can be taken by law enforcement institutions to prevent torture in those institutional contexts.

There’s a ton of knowledge out there. It is not being used as much as it should, including by those who are desperate for information but don’t have access. Of course, there are also actors with incentives that may contribute to increasing violence. Often they get away with this because of a lack of effective advocacy campaigns to counter their actions. So, while we need to keep investing in the research, we also need to take stronger action with what we have. We are collectively negligent in people dying violent deaths because we know how to prevent many of them and we’re not doing that, and that’s something we should all be paying more attention to.

What attracted you to the role of Director of Impact:Peace?

Part of my restlessness is that I really like to create new things. One of the components of Impact:Peace that is very appealing is the opportunity to shape something from the ground up. There’s a unique opportunity that Impact:Peace has to look at peace from a broad perspective without already being pigeonholed into a particular way of coming at the question of how to pursue greater peace.

Many existing organizations and institutions are focused either regionally, on one specific type of violence, or have particular partnerships that they work with and through. That all makes sense. But because Impact:Peace is starting new we have an opportunity to look across the horizon of all of those different partnerships and look at what violence and conflict looks like today and will look like tomorrow, and form a new path forward. I think Impact:Peace has the chance to be agenda-setting in a powerful way.

I also have to say I really like that it’s slightly removed from the swirl of non-stop policy debate and discussion that tends to happen in New York, Washington D.C., Geneva and Brussels. Our location in San Diego gives time for reflection and deep think. The hope and the plan is for Impact:Peace to create a really collaborative space, and by being slightly removed, we are set up to be really good partners to others, and be supportive and complementary to their efforts.

What do you hope to accomplish in your first year with the Kroc School?

After finding a home for myself and my dog, the biggest goal for year one is developing a clear strategy for defining: What are the biggest opportunities for impact? What are the most important relationships we need in order to leverage those opportunities? How do we set ourselves up so that we can do that in a partnership-oriented way? And how do we build in flexibility to enable adaptation in a constantly shifting landscape? The world is dynamic — we should be too!

So, developing a strategy that is very clear, directed, and also has a future-oriented vision to it is a big goal for the first year. That might sound like an easy thing, but setting that up right, embedding the right partnerships, and doing that in such a way that is connected to all of the research, evidence and the knowledge base will take a bit of time.

We also have great partnerships built in, including The Stanley Foundation and the +Peace Coalition, so figuring out those partnerships, how we can be supportive of their work, and how we can all be supportive of our mutual commitments in this space will be important.

You’ve been a lifelong East Coaster until now. What are a few things you’re excited to do as you settle into San Diego?

Taking my dog to the beach on a regular basis. And taking myself (and my dog when it’s not too hot!) on as many hikes as possible. It’s just such a beautiful area with such amazing hiking opportunities.  

I have family in California, so this will give me an opportunity to give me a bit more time to spend with them.

Exploring this part of the country is something I’ve never done. I love New York and where I’m from in Western Massachusetts, but it’s definitely true that there are perspectives that dominate those areas, and you don’t generally hear a lot of other perspectives. I think it’s always good to have your world opened up and hear how other people think about things, so I’m looking forward to that in San Diego. I might not agree with all of it, but I look forward to learning what’s out there.

And finally, in New York, you’re able to move and position and agenda-set, and that’s exciting, but it’s also relentless. Having a little space and time to be reflective as a person, and as a professional, is something that I’m really looking forward to.

Interested in getting involved with Impact:Peace? Learn more.


Justin Prugh
(619) 260-7573

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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