Peace Building for the Future

Media for Change’s Alice Ackermann brings a rich background in international relations and conflict mediation

by Isabella Vaccaro

Alice Ackermann
Dr. Alice Ackermann

Media for Change’s Director of Development Alice Ackermann might just have one of the most fulfilling careers known to man: researching and implementing peacebuilding in a world that is more divided than ever. Originally from Germany, Ackermann emigrated to the United States in her 20s and began teaching courses in international politics and conflict management at the University of Miami, where she met Media for Change founder Sanjeev Chatterjee.

At the time, Ackermann said she was working on a book about how to prevent violent conflict in the Republic of Macedonia and got to talking with Chatterjee about a possible collaboration. “Sanjeev and I had the idea that we wanted to know a bit more on the prevention of violent conflict,” said Ackermann. “And we thought it would be great to make a documentary on people preventing conflict , because, as you know, usually conflict sells rather than preventing it.

After its premiere in 1998, their documentary, “From the Shadow of History” went on to win numerous accolades and was aired on PBS and the History Channel. Ackermann’s book on the same topic was published in 1999. And though the project fostered a friendship between Ackermann and Chatterjee, after a few years at the U, Ackermann moved to England and then Austria, where she served for ten years at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), eventually working her way up to a role as Senior Operational Advisor for the prevention of conflict through mediation. In 2017, after her ten-year term limit was up, Ackermann went to the United Nations (UN) in Mogadishu, Somalia and served as the advisor to the Secretary General for two years, advising the Somalian government on national reconciliation strategies.

Alice Ackermann in Somalia
Alice Ackermann on UN mission in Somalia
UN tanks in Somalia

Now Ackermann is back in Berlin, but she says, by working with Chatterjee and the Media for Change team, it almost feels like she is back in Miami. Ackermann says she has always been interested in fundraising, and that is exactly what she will do as Director of Development.

“I’m there to research and write proposals to get funding for the various angles of research that we all have,” said Ackermann. “And we’re all coming together under the major heading of equity, diversity, and communication and the importance of communication in global affairs.”

For Ackermann,  one of the key issues Media for Change is engaged in is to combat the problem of disinformation and misinformation in today’s media. And while she is working to secure opportunities for the whole MfC team, Ackermann hopes to use her background in international politics to help further push this initiative, as well as related issues, like that of conflict sensitive journalism.

“Journalists can be preventive agents, but they can also be agents that cause conflict by the way they report, particularly with regard to communal conflicts and communal violence,” Ackermann said.

Ackermann says she is intrigued by some of the work other MfC board members are doing, including Nina Furstenau’s work on food history and Chatterjee’s efforts in solving global health issues. But, perhaps one of the most pertinent issues Ackermann wishes to look at is diversity and examining and respecting the various cultures that make up immigrant countries like the United States.

“I think that Media for Change is on the right track by looking at the pluralism of the American society and the diversity in that society, and what also different groups have brought in,” Ackermann said.

All of Ackerman’s work, not only with Media for Change, but throughout her career in international relations, has led her to an overarching goal of peace building. Whether it is bringing communities, political groups or even countries together through dialogue and reconciliation, Ackermann explains, peace building goes hand in hand with communication and responsible reporting in journalism.

“But most of all peacebuilding—if I want to go back to Media for Change and what we do—also involves that you have investigative journalism, conflict-sensitive journalism, you have trained journalists, and you make sure that you somehow prevent misinformation from happening,” Ackermann said.

Ackermann says  that her present interest is looking at peace building through the lens of pandemics, climate change and how these issues affect fragile countries, because at the end of the day, Ackermann notes, “we are all working towards having peaceful, non-divided societies and communities.”

Isabella Vaccaro