We are pleased to release this five-year plan, which outlines the United States Institute of Peace’s vision, mission, strategy, and priorities through 2019. We believe it is a substantial step forward in better positioning the Institute to prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflict around the world and serve the interests of the United States and societies worldwide. The plan is the culmination of a year-long effort and the hard work of many individuals. We express deep appreciation to them all (a complete list is in printed version of this plan, which is available to your right). We now turn to implementation, without which plans are meaningless. In so doing we welcome the engagement of colleagues and partners around the world to help us achieve our shared mission of preventing, mitigating, and resolving violent conflict.

"Don't Give Up" Graffiti on a wall in Misurata, Libya
Graffiti on a wall in Misurata, Libya. USIP/Christina Murtaugh


The United States Institute of Peace has an extraordinary mission at a time when peacebuilding is more urgent than ever: we are facing historic levels of displacement due to violent conflict, new and more virulent forms of violent extremism, unresolved civil wars intensified by complex regional and international interests, increasing resource scarcity and turbulence throughout fragile states and regions in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In the face of these urgent challenges, we have updated USIP’s 2014-2019 strategic plan outlining our vision, mission, strategy and priorities through 2019. This plan continues to provide the basis for the Institute to provide people, organizations and governments around the world with tools, knowledge and training to prevent conflicts from turning violent and into wars, and to resolve conflict when it does. It also includes an added theory of change that guides our work and an updated set of four organizational goals and key initiatives.

We express deep appreciation to the many who helped to guide and inform our original strategic plan as well as those who contributed to this review. This updated 2014-2019 Strategic Plan will provide the critical framework that guides the Institute’s annual planning efforts and informs organizational priorities each coming year.

We have an extraordinary team and set of capabilities that we are able to deploy against these global challenges. When we bring together our field programs, research, publications, training, convening and policy engagement, we are unmatched in our ability to inform, support and amplify the efforts of peacebuilders around the world.

We are enormously proud of the work that USIP does, and we are confident that by using this strategic plan as a roadmap we can make meaningful strides towards realizing our shared vison of a world without violent conflict.

I. Overview

Peace is our Commitment: USIP represents the American people’s shared values and commitment to peace around the world. USIP’s charter established it as a “living institution embodying…the concerns of the American people for peace” and declared it “an appropriate investment by the people of this Nation to advance the history, science, art and practice of international peace and the resolution of conflicts among nations without the use of violence.”

Peace is Security: USIP advances U.S. and international security by helping to prevent, manage and mitigate violent conflict. All people should be able to live their lives without the constant threat or reality of violent conflict and its resulting devastation. The absence of violence and the presence of justice can help peoples and nations establish legitimate, inclusive and effective governance systems that benefit the well-being of all.

Peace is Practical: USIP’s work is a cost-effective way to prevent conflicts from turning violent and escalating into wars, which reduces the loss of lives and resources. USIP’s work reduces the costs of conflicts to American taxpayers by providing U.S. Government departments with real-time support, training and innovative tools that soldiers, development specialists and diplomats can use to manage conflicts around the world. USIP’s work can similarly reduce the costs of conflicts to other nations and their citizens by reducing violence and promoting nonviolent and less costly strategies to achieve peace.

Peace is Possible: USIP’s methods of work make resolving conflicts possible and help build sustainable peace in communities and nations around the world. Peacebuilding can be learned. USIP works all over the world to provide community leaders and organizations, local and national governments and international organizations with the research, training and tools necessary to effectively prevent or resolve violent conflict, rebuild communities following a conflict and sustain peace. USIP is able to convene not only the different parties in a conflict, but also a diverse network of experts, from diplomats to NGOs and military leaders to community partners, in the search for solutions to a conflict.

Over three decades since its creation, USIP has lived up to the vision of our founders. We have catalyzed the growth of an entire field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution and have supported the seminal work of leading thinkers. We have produced cutting-edge research on the causes of conflict and developed practical tools used by those working to reduce violence. We have trained thousands of peacebuilders in the U.S. government and armed forces, and civil society actors at home and abroad, especially in conflict zones around the world, and have equipped these individuals with the skills and building blocks for peace: conflict mediation, reconciliation, interfaith dialogue, constitution-making and access to justice.

USIP’s multidisciplinary approach to conflict prevention, management and resolution focuses not only on the techniques needed to deal with conflict but also on developing a deep understanding of the socio-cultural, historical and geographic drivers of conflict. This approach, paired with our 32-year history and network of field offices, partners and experts, distinguishes the Institute as a global leader in the theory and practice of peacebuilding. USIP enables people to learn peacebuilding locally so it can be practiced globally.

Yet sustainable peace remains elusive in far too many countries. We rededicate ourselves to our mission and strive to help those who risk their lives for peace in conflict zones worldwide. We recommit ourselves to prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflicts around the globe and become even more effective at investing the taxpayer dollars that support our work.

This strategic plan updates the previous 2014-2019 plan and articulates how USIP will embrace our mission and serve the country in the coming three years. Recognizing that a strategic plan is only as good as its execution, the updated plan provides guidance for our annual planning process.

About USIP

The United States Institute of Peace is a Congressionally-created, independent, nonpartisan institution charged with increasing the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence. Federally chartered and head-quartered on the National Mall, USIP advances U.S. strategic interests while helping to protect those vulnerable from conflicts that devastate lives and livelihoods and threaten values we share with just societies worldwide. Left unaddressed, violent conflicts imperil America’s economic and physical security.

The campaign to establish a national peace academy began in the 1970s with legislation by Senators Vance Hartke and Mark Hatfield. President Carter appointed a commission, chaired by Senator Spark Matsunaga, to study the idea further. Based on the commission’s recommendations, Senators Hatfield and Matsunaga, along with Senator Jennings Randolph and Congressman Dan Glickman, sponsored bills that ultimately established the Institute.

The United States Institute of Peace Act, signed by President Reagan in 1984 as part of Title XVII of the Defense Authorization Act of 1985, created the Institute to “promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence.” The USIP Act responded to “the deep public need for the Nation to develop a full range of effective options, in addition to armed capacity, that can leash international violence and manage international conflict.”

The Institute is governed by a 15-person Board made up of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense or their designees, the President of the National Defense University, and 12 others appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. No more than eight Board members may come from the same political party.

The Institute’s primary funding comes from an annual Congressional appropriation and is supplemented by funds from U.S. government partners. USIP has a staff of more than 350, many of whom work in some of the world’s most volatile regions. In 2011, USIP moved to its permanent home on the National Mall.

II. Organizational Goals

To further our mission of preventing and resolving violent conflict, USIP will pursue four major goals over the next three years:

1.) Reduce violent conflict in specific conflict zones through the focused application of USIP expertise, resources and approaches.
USIP will focus our efforts in countries where the Institute can make a meaningful difference in preventing, mitigating and resolving violent conflict. Conflict is rampant, and USIP’s resources are limited. Not all conflicts would benefit from USIP involvement. Not all conflicts feature appropriate local partners. The challenge for USIP is therefore to assess when and where we can make a difference and then marshal the collective resources of our own institution and those of partners to effect change. This requires us to develop a nuanced understanding of conflict dynamics, networks of appropriate partners and an acute sense of what USIP can contribute – and what it can’t. It requires USIP to set priorities and to allocate resources to support those priorities. It requires a sustained presence in conflict zones and the institutional commitment necessary to support that presence. It also requires the discipline to end efforts that are not working or recognize where the environment is no longer conducive for effective peacebuilding. We work on some of the world’s most pernicious problems and recognize that at least some failure is inevitable.

Key Priority

  • USIP is addressing select conflicts within fragile countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We are focused on conflicts likely to remain critical to U.S. security interests where indications of fragility are high, violence and extremism are significant threats and positive gains could easily be reversed. We have prioritized countries where we have the ability to support peace initiatives both from the top down and the bottom up, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma in Asia; South Sudan and Nigeria in Africa; and Iraq in the Middle East where we have a decade of experience. We will consolidate a regional hub in Tunis for the MENA region, both to serve as an anchor for the region and, importantly, to enable activities in Tunisia as it continues on its pathway to peace.

2.) Become a leading resource for governments, organizations and individuals seeking to understand and promote strategies to prevent, manage and resolve violent conflict.
To have the greatest impact at a time of rising conflict, USIP is committed to providing analytical, educational and financial resources to a global network of practitioners and of civil society, institutional and governmental partners working to prevent or resolve violent conflict. We will adapt these resources as new challenges and opportunities emerge. Already an established leader in this field, USIP will increase the scope and effectiveness of our partnerships and seek to strengthen and expand the resources we offer.

Key Priorities

  • Establish a new Center for Applied Conflict Transformation (ACT) that advances thought leadership and aligns global practice and education activities for the Institute: As USIP’s hub for thematic work, ACT will focus on four key thematic areas critical for building peace in today’s world: preventing electoral violence, addressing violent extremism, promoting inclusive peace processes and assessing the implications of resource scarcity. The Center will continue its cutting-edge thought leadership and practice in core areas for preventing and resolving violent conflict through justice, security, rule of law and inclusive societies. It will continue to test, support and develop new approaches for effective dialogue, negotiation, mediation, nonviolent movements and reconciliation. Through this work, ACT will build links between USIP’s core capabilities – research, grantmaking, fellowships, publishing, skills development and field practice – for greatest impact.
  • Within ACT, strengthen the USIP Academy as the home for the Institute’s education and training expertise: The Academy will become the go-to global center of excellence for education and training, shaping the peacebuilding field. Resources developed and amplified by the Academy will enable practitioners to leverage proven tools and approaches to prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflict. Serving U.S. and foreign audiences from our headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Academy will expand its offerings and deepen the impact of its training and education programs. Further development of the Global Campus – USIP’s online education portal – will significantly expand the high-quality course content accessible to peacebuilding practitioners, policymakers and students worldwide. Greater collaboration and partnerships will enable USIP to expand professional education for U.S. government personnel, colleagues in multilateral organizations and civil society globally.

3.) Demonstrate America’s commitment to peace. USIP’s founders sought to demonstrate to the world America’s commitment to peace, freedom and global prosperity. After more than a decade of war, the importance of this commitment endures. It is particularly vital to ensure that rising generations of young people understand America’s enduring commitment to the principles of reducing violence and defending human dignity. In addition to affirming this commitment, it is important to provide practical guidance. As outlined in USIP’s founding legislation, USIP will “provide, promote, and support peace education and research programs.” USIP will be a living monument to peace and will embody America’s commitment to peace in everything it does at our headquarters in Washington, D.C., internationally and in conflict zones around the world.

Key Priorities

  • Strengthen USIP’s public engagement: USIP will communicate our activities and priorities more effectively through an improved website, more compelling print and web-based materials, translation of tools and materials into critical world languages and enhanced use of social media. USIP will also expand access to high-quality educational materials that teach young people how conflicts are resolved, how peace is achieved and how they can make a difference.
  • Consider a new public engagement space in the USIP headquarters: USIP will investigate whether to create a public education center in the space intended for this purpose when our headquarters was designed. Building on USIP’s existing educational outreach, this center would demonstrate that there are established practices that can make peace more likely and historical examples that show reducing violent conflicts is feasible. Located on the National Mall in the heart of the nation’s capital, this educational center would provide an important complement to the many memorials to Americans’ service in war and fulfill the vision presented in USIP’s founding act.
  • Enhance the Institute’s role as a forum for peace: USIP has long provided a public forum for global figures working for peace and a private forum for behind-the-scenes dialogues that facilitate peace such as those hosted by USIP during wars in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. By hosting an increasing number of such events, we seek to promote dialogue about tough issues confronting the United States and our partners worldwide. USIP’s architecturally stunning headquarters facility, located across Constitution Avenue from the Lincoln Memorial and within sight of our nation’s Capitol Building and Arlington National Cemetery, provides an ideal setting for important messages and dialogues about peace.

4.) Create an organizational culture of shared responsibility for USIP’s mission, values and the well-being of its people.
Individually and collectively, we will challenge ourselves to model continuously the values and behaviors that enable peace and conflict resolution. In order to achieve this goal we will recruit, retain, develop and deploy the most talented individuals with the skills and passion to fulfill our mission. We will both support and challenge our people – ensuring that they are ready physically, intellectually and emotionally to do the challenging work of peacebuilding. We will strengthen the leadership capability and culture in order to unleash the energy and potential of USIP staff.

Key Priorities

  • Build a culture based on our values that will bring out the best in each individual and result in a high-performing organization.
  • Develop new methods to identify, attract and retain employees in ways that allow rapid adaptation to changing demands.
  • Enhance the performance management system to cultivate and reward the capabilities and results we most need and value.

III. USIP Theory of Change

Progress toward USIP’s vision and mission is possible if…

  • A sound social compact exists between state and society that promotes security and well-being for all and enables interactions between societal groups and the state that are viewed as legitimate.
  • The institutions governing the relationship between state and society are inclusive, accountable and effective.
  • An international system exists that is willing and able to help prevent, manage and resolve violent conflict.

To achieve these outcomes, USIP will advance the following peacebuilding objectives:

  • Promote Inclusion: Increased participation in social and political processes, particularly by marginalized groups, and increased tolerance of diversity and support for pluralism.
  • Strengthen Community Security: Individuals safe, secure and free from violence and abuse.
  • Advance Justice: Rights protected, individuals held accountable for wrongs and grievances addressed in a fair manner.
  • Bridge Divides: Enhanced willingness and capacity of disparate groups to solve problems jointly and resolve conflicts without violence.
  • Engage Globally: Strengthened global systems and norms that ensure international actors contribute positively to domestic efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.

To achieve these objectives, USIP will apply the following approaches based on a deep understanding of the conflict dynamics in a given context to prevent, manage and resolve violent conflict around the world:

  • Supporting dialogue, mediation and negotiation efforts designed to prevent, resolve or mitigate violent conflict and build peace.
  • Learning and sharing lessons from applied research and pilot projects to improve peacebuilding policy and practice.
  • Supporting capacity, knowledge and skills for individuals, organizations and networks to pursue successful local solutions around the world.
  • Partnering with actors in the US and internationally to develop and implement more effective strategies to prevent, manage and resolve violent conflict around the world.
  • Convening policymakers and other key actors to build knowledge and consensus on effective strategies to address violent conflict.
  • Maintaining a presence in targeted global conflict zones, giving us direct and regular contact with the people who are best positioned to achieve sustainable peace.

IV. Core Strengths

Presence in Conflict Zones

USIP maintains a presence in specific conflict zones around the world. In some countries, this presence includes a USIP office or full time staff members who work closely with USIP partners. In others, USIP teams visit regularly to support our partners. The extent and nature of our engagement is guided by political and security considerations, resources and opportunities for USIP to support activities, directly or indirectly, that prevent and resolve conflicts.

In all cases, USIP prefers a “light footprint” – empowering others to prevent and mitigate violence in their societies rather than imposing solutions. This approach is both efficient and cost-effective. USIP’s unobtrusive presence in conflict zones is essential to our work. Sustained engagement enables USIP to maintain long-standing relationships that are built on trust and last for years. Since USIP staff can move outside national capitals and fortified embassy compounds, our presence gives USIP staff the ability to interact more frequently and easily with a range of local actors in different regions, which contributes to a deeper understanding of conflict dynamics in the countries in which we work. It also allows us to engage new voices and emerging constituencies for peace.

While we aspire to end violent conflict, our nearer-term goal is to build the capacity of others to manage conflicts in their own countries as conflicts emerge and sometimes reemerge. USIP does not aim to remain engaged until sustainable peace is achieved in all conflict zones. Rather, we identify conflicts where USIP can make a difference and then reduce our involvement as the ability to manage conflicts peacefully by local institutions rises.


USIP’s staff has a combination of expertise that is both powerful and distinctive. Our experts have extensive understanding of the countries and regions in which they work and bring with them extensive knowledge and experience in the complex politics, economics and security environments present in most conflict zones. Our experts know the cultures and speak the relevant languages. They also have deep subject matter expertise on issues such as conflict dynamics; the role of religion in conflict resolution; justice, security and rule of law reform; and overcoming sectarian divides. The Institute’s work reflects a crosscutting awareness of the integral role that women must play in building sustainable peace and the importance of engaging men in the support of women’s active participation in transforming society. USIP staff members are experts in the practices of conflict resolution such as organizing and empowering civil society, mediation, negotiation, developing educational curricula and dialogue. This expertise is built through in-depth research and on-the-ground engagement in conflict zones and is shared widely through publications, training, public commentary and private consultations. It benefits our partners, those affected by conflict, and the U.S. policymakers and legislators whose work we inform. Overall, USIP’s expertise is highly specialized. It is a national asset that requires a sustained investment.


USIP’s approach relies on an extensive network of partners in conflict zones and around the world. This network allows us to tap the best and most relevant expertise to address unique conflict dynamics, connect disparate communities and bridge divides. USIP’s approach puts local partners at the center of our conflict resolution efforts, which we believe is more effective and less expensive than a more intrusive foreign intervention. It also builds the local institutions and capabilities necessary to prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts without violence over the long term. USIP’s network is truly global. It includes international organizations such as the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank and global NGOs. It includes local organizations and government ministries that operate within specific conflict zones. It includes peacebuilding and educational institutions that operate in the United States and around the world. Importantly, it also includes USIP partners in the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Defense. Often USIP’s role is to connect these communities, for instance by publishing jointly developed guidelines to inform how these organizations can interact effectively in conflict zones.

Independent but Close to Government

USIP is a nonpartisan independent agency created by the U.S. Congress with a bipartisan Board appointed by the President of the United States. This status – formally independent but with a special link to the U.S. government – allows USIP to play a distinctive role in addressing violent conflicts. Because USIP is independent, we are free to focus on the long, hard task of conflict resolution regardless of what occupies news headlines and government inboxes. We are freer to engage civil society organizations, militaries and governments in conflict zones, unburdened by diplomatic formalities and well positioned to listen. Because USIP’s sole task is to reduce violent conflict and promote peace, we are often welcomed more warmly than other government agencies with more complex agendas to manage. USIP’s close relationship to the U.S. government carries significant benefits. Because of USIP’s special status, USIP is a trusted connector between foreign civil societies and U.S. government officials. We are a valued partner to U.S. government agencies, supporting conflict resolution efforts in conflict zones, providing policy input, developing training programs and conducting informed on-the-ground assessments of conflict dynamics. USIP’s efforts both complement and support other U.S. government efforts, providing a unique asset to both U.S. government agencies and other partners globally.

V. Cross-cutting Initiatives

  1. Continue partnership with PeaceTech Lab: USIP created PeaceTech Lab in 2014 as a separate 501c3 entity to identify and develop practical technological solutions to real peacebuilding challenges. In partnership, the Lab continues USIP’s long history of ongoing work with technology and media tools for peacebuilding. The Lab brings together engineers, technologists and data scientists from industry and academia, along with experts in peacebuilding from USIP, other government agencies, NGOs and conflict zones. These experts collaborate to design, develop and deploy new and existing technology tools for conflict management and peacebuilding. These technological solutions are specific to the conflict zones in which they will be used, which in some cases means adapting and disseminating widely available and relatively low-tech applications. We will continue to partner with PeaceTech Lab to advance the mission of USIP.
  2. Continue to support and expand the network of peace funders: USIP will work with funders to highlight and vet worthy peacebuilding initiatives in conflict zones that lack sufficient funding. USIP has more than 30 years of grantmaking experience and knows how to leverage grant funding to help prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflict. USIP also has deep regional expertise and strong networks of local organizations that are doing important and effective work in conflict zones. For these reasons, USIP is a valuable partner to funders with less experience working in the peacebuilding space, less reach into conflict-affected areas or simply a desire for more impact. USIP will work with grant recipients when necessary to ensure they are ready to receive funding and implement projects successfully. Together, the funders network will advance the shared objective of building sustainable peace more effectively than any one of our members could alone.
  3. Strengthen evaluation and learning: As part of our commitment to excellence, USIP will continue to focus on improved practices and development of evidence-based approaches for the peacebuilding field. We have elevated the overall function of policy, learning and strategy to the Vice President level and created a unit tasked with supporting best practices in program development and operations. We will develop rigorous practices for maintaining high standards within our country based programs, integrating learning and evaluation into every phase of our activities, while also providing learning platforms through our IMPACT initiative to a broad community of peacebuilders working in difficult and complex environments.
  4. Engage in global policy: The Institute will engage and collaborate in global policy dialogues and activities critical for peacebuilding. The Institute’s strengthened policy engagement will more effectively inform global policy discussions on critical issues, anticipate emerging conflict trends, and partner to create better peacebuilding strategies.
  5. Increase resources: USIP will develop plans and programs to increase USIP’s annual revenue from the Congressional appropriation, Academy tuition receipts, facilities rental and sponsorships and interagency agreements with U.S. government partners. Greater resources are both appropriate and necessary to achieve a mission of USIP’s breadth and importance.
  6. Complete renovations of USIP properties to create an enhanced USIP campus: The U.S. Congress granted USIP jurisdiction over two buildings in the Potomac Annex that require renovation before occupancy.

VI. Conclusion

USIP has served the nation and pursued our mission of preventing, mitigating and resolving violent conflicts for more than three decades. Our goal is enduring peace in all the world’s regions. While we aspire to a world without violent conflict, we know peace will not come easily. We therefore devote ourselves even more diligently to our cause and to our partners who share it. We must find even more effective ways to achieve our mission. We must persist together in making peace possible.