Karuna Center adds peacebuilding experts to team




Staff Writer

Published: 03-25-2024 5:00 PM

Modified: 03-29-2024 4:43 PM

With two new members on its board of directors, the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding is looking to continue its international work, while also expanding on its mission right here in the valley.

In recent weeks, the international and domestic peacebuilding nonprofit has welcomed Jordan Ryan, a former United Nations official and vice president of Peace Programs at the Carter Center, and Rachel Locke, director of the Violence, Inequality and Power Lab at the University of San Diego, to its board of directors, as the organization prepares to build off its work in Africa and in western Massachusetts.

Karuna Center Executive Director Polly Byers said the two new board members’ vast amount of peacebuilding experience is “just extremely valuable for Karuna,” especially with the growing domestic initiatives, which is focused on working with local school districts, including Amherst-Pelham, Frontier and Mohawk regional school districts, to implement restorative justice practices.

“That’s been very exciting for us, actually having a real program here in the U.S. and now we’re figuring out what’s next because there’s clearly needs,” Byers said, adding another main objective across both their international and domestic projects is “capacity building.”

In a statement, Ryan said he is excited to offer his background to the organization.

“I am honored to join the Karuna Center board and contribute to its mission of empowering people divided by conflict,” Ryan said. “I look forward to working with the team to expand our impact and reach even to more communities suffering from violence and divisions.”

For Locke, joining the organization’s board of directors is sort of a full-circle moment, as the longtime violence-prevention expert who now works in San Diego, California, grew up in Northampton, where she said her family helped influence what has become her life’s work.

“I can only blame my parents and my grandparents,” Locke said in an interview. “My grandparents were all very social-justice motivated and oriented and at a young age it was sort of drilled into me that part of living is to give back and to be conscious of your place in the world, and be conscious of the suffering of others and, it sounds cliche, how to leave the world a better place.”

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After heading to Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University, Locke worked at a variety of agencies before spending eight years with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2008 to 2016.

While working for USAID, Locke met Karuna Center founder Paula Green and, eventually, Byers, which further solidified the connection to the Pioneer Valley and finally led her to this month, when she officially joined the board.

“It’s just been a place that since I was 19 or 20 have continued to reconnect with,” Locke said. “Being on the board is a lovely way to solidify all those connections and give back a little bit.”

On the board, Locke said she can leverage her wide network of connections to support the center’s work, especially when it comes to capacity building. Creating a coalition of organizations, she noted, is the key to building peace.

“There is a real network of organizations and actors doing important work in the space and Karuna is among that network,” Locke said. “The more we can weave a tapestry of organizations holding together our social bonds, the more we will be better served.”

Byers echoed the idea, adding the Karuna Center’s work has always been focused on building connections and support on the local level.

“Our model has always been as a small organization working in partnership with other small organizations,” Byers said. “There’s just a huge need for this kind of work, for sure, as we all know the levels of divisiveness and polarization that we’re all working with.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.