The Peacebuilding & Development Institute (PDI) began in 2000, with the conviction that the fields of peacebuilding, conflict resolution and development are deeply interdependent and must be weighed in tandem for lasting peace and coexistence in conflict-affected environments. While giving a training in Vermont in 2001, School of International Service Professor Abu Nimer and his research assistant Saji Prelis realized the need and opportunity for a peacebuilding and development training institute that capitalized on DC’s central international location. With the support of Betty Sitka of the Center for Global Peace, the IPCR program, and the SIS Dean’s office, PDI and the Summer Institute was born in 2001. Rather than provide research or put together conferences, as did other academic institutes, PDI sought to create dialogue around peacebuilding and development, to create a training program that would offer students practical skill development and practitioners intellectual and theoretical foundations to compliment their daily work. The Summer Institute provided a space for an exchange of theory and experience, and served as a learning-retreat for practitioners working in difficult conditions.
As the only program within SIS that brought students and practitioners together under the guidance of a non-AU trainer, PDI’s Summer Institute blends a training institute with an academic credit-providing program. The Summer Institute was PDI’s sole focus as an AU pilot program until 2004/05, when Saji Prelis became a full time staff person to build the Institute beyond a summer program.
In 2006 PDI expanded beyond the Summer Institute by launching a series of two-day trainings programs for professionals in the Washington, DC metro area. Some of the topics included Religion, Health, and Humanitarian Practice. The Humanitarian Practice Training Program, for example, stretched from 2007 - 2008 as a 10 part series of two-day trainings to deepen practitioner’s skills when responding to complex humanitarian disasters. Grants were added to PDI’s repertoire, with exchange programs bringing people from conflict states, such as Georgia and Abkhazia, and Iraq. The Georgia-Abkhazia exchange program brought individuals from both sides of the conflict working in government, NGOs and in media together to learn more about the US democratic system in February of 2006. Inspired by PDI’s expertise in managing the summer training program, an internationally recognized regionally-focused training, research and capacity building Institute was founded in Sri Lanka in 2007 by Prof. Mohammed Abu-Nimer and Saji Prelis. In 2007, a second full time position was added to support these projects. This foundation is a great way to build on the success so far by exploring new initiatives in research, training and larger multi-year grant funded projects.