My Washington: Nancy Lindborg

by Catherine Trifiletti

Portrait by Luis Aragon

Nancy Lindborg has spent most of her career on the front lines of global conflict, first at Mercy Corps, then at USAID and now as president of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) — a Congressionally funded organization, formed in 1984, dedicated to preventing and resolving violent conflict in “hot spots” around the world. The bipartisan institute operates under the premise that turmoil addressed in its early stages is a win for both victims of violence and the global economy as a whole. Faced with potential budget cuts from the Trump administration, Lindborg is more motivated than ever to get USIP’s valuable work in the spotlight.

Who or what is the single biggest threat to peace in the world today?

Fragile, poorly governed countries. Recent estimates put the global cost of conflict at $14 trillion annually, and despite rising concern for the new potential for great power conflict, fragile states are the source of the increased wave of civil wars, virulent new forms of terrorism, historic levels of refugees fleeing violence and pandemics, as we saw with Ebola.

What is a recent example highlighting the work USIP has done?

Over the past year, as ISIL is defeated in Iraqi cities, we have gone into communities, with a network of Iraqi mediators we have trained and supported, to broker tribal peace agreements that prevent new cycles of inter-tribal revenge and violence.This has enabled hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families to return to their homes.We’re now extending this work to additional Iraqi cities and into parts of Syria, where we hope to expand in the near future.

Explain the “top down, bottom up” approach to reducing conflict?

We live in a fragmented world, so preventing violent conflict requires understanding and working at the local level with civil society, tribal or religious leaders for example— as well as the national level. For example, in Afghanistan we have supported the resolution of local land conflicts that has now become a national initiative. Left unaddressed, these land disputes are the kind of grievances that can fuel conflict.

Are there misconceptions about the work you do and solving world issues generally? How do you address them at USIP?

Yes! I seize every chance to let people know our building on the Mall serves as a hub for our global team that applies the best scholarship and practical solutions for preventing and resolving violent conflicts in tough places.We were founded by Congress to be independent from foreign funders so we would be aligned with U.S. national security interests.We have a strictly bipartisan board and staff from all walks of life – academia, diplomacy, military and NGOs.

What is USIP doing to address the looming threat that Trump will cut its budget?

We’re out there telling our story and doubling down on having cost-effective impact in places where U.S. national security interests are at stake. No one else does what we do, bringing together policy, research and on-the-ground practical solutions to prevent conflict around the world. Prevention is many magnitudes less expensive than responding once a crisis has erupted.

In your time serving as president of the institute, what has been your proudest accomplishment?

I had the chance to take 30 young leaders from war zones to spend four days with the Dalai Lama at his compound in India.These were young adults who have lived through great violence, including being pulled off a bus by Boko Haram or being bombed in a Ugandan sports stadium by Al- Shabaab. And in every case, their reaction was to dedicate their lives to building peace in their communities.They represent a more peaceful future for these countries. It was an extraordinary four days, electric with hope and deeply inspiring for all of us there.


Dumbarton Oaks where I love exploring the gardens in every season to get an instant nature hit that restores the soul.

The garden of Iron Gate restaurant where my now-husband and I had our first lunch together one beautiful April day.

USIP’s terrace where the team gathers for a spectacular view of the Fourth of July fireworks.

Mezcalero Cucino which has the best margaritas and Mexican food in town, served with heart – if you can get in!

This article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Washington Life Magazine.

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