From practitioner to scholar: sowing the seeds for peace in Mindanao


Primitivo III “Prime” Cabanes Ragandang has always held a lifelong passion for peacebuilding and sustainability in the Philippines. Studying a Doctorate in Philosophy, International, Political and Strategic Studies at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at The Australian National University aligned with this passion and fast-tracked Prime’s journey to support young peoples’ integral role in peacebuilding.

Now a Coral Bell School alumnus, Prime founded and currently leads the Seeds for Mindanao’s Advocacy on Youth Leadership (SMAYL), funded by the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Seeds for the Future Program. YSEALI is sponsored by the US Department of State and funded by the US Mission to ASEAN.

SMAYL helps young peacebuilders in the Mindanao region create sustainable change. But while young people have captured the spotlight among practitioners, funders, and scholars internationally, there is prevalent unsustainability in their initiatives. Prime’s work aims to remedy this through developing locally-grown support systems for young peacebuilders.

Prime’s passion for conflict resolution and peacebuilding stems from growing up in a social context characterised by social conflict, cultural biases and prejudices. “I come from a culturally diverse community in Northern Mindanao, which is said to be the home of one of the world’s oldest conflicts.”

“Cultural biases and prejudices amongst the Moro, Christian and Luman (indigenous peoples) communities in the area aggravate these century-old conflicts surrounding the quest for self-determination of the 13 Moro tribes living in Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan islands.”

Prime also attributes his passion for youth-based peacebuilding initiatives to his undergraduate studies at Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology.

Learning from my Moro classmates’ stories, I stared to get involved with interreligious peacebuilding initiatives. Our university offered a space where young students from diverse cultural backgrounds could co-exist and learn from each other’s differences.

After completing his Bachelor’s degree in 2009, Prime spent over half a decade working in not-for-profit organisations, and co-founded a youth-based peacebuilding organisation that used art as a tool to address violence in schools and communities. Despite these efforts, two of Prime’s initiatives ultimately failed, causing him to question the sustainability of these projects.

Prime discovered the YSEALI grant opportunity one day while writing his PhD thesis: “I applied and proposed a program on how we can sustain youth peacebuilding initiatives. Out of 600 applicants from across Southeast Asia, our application was selected.”

During his time working in not-for-profits and continuing his Masters and Doctorate research into youth and peacebuilding sustainability, Prime recognised the value of combining his skills developed through academia with practical fieldwork.

“I found it helpful being an academic in Mindanao with a practitioner background. The university encouraged its faculty members to engage in extension programs actively and religiously reminded us to always think of the community we served,” Prime said.

Prime’s thesis at the ANU explores the intersect of collective memory and resilience in a hybrid political order. “I specifically looked into the youth interaction in the adult-dominated political structure of the Bangsamoro region, the autonomous region created for the Moros,” Prime added.

The Coral Bell School’s world-leading teaching faculty, research and expertise in the Asia-Pacific was a highlight for Prime’s PhD experience.

“I feel very honoured to have received such remarkable support from my primary supervisor, Professor Bina D’Costa, along with the guidance and inspiration of my panel: Dr Nicolas Lemay-HébertAssociate Professor Sinclair DinnenDr Eva Nisa, and Professor Marilou Siton-Nanaman (Mindanao State University-Iligan).”

The SMAYL program is now calling for book chapter proposals on any topic related to youth, peacebuilding, and sustainability – click here to apply. Contributions from young peacebuilders, scholars, activists, and youth-supporting individuals are particularly encouraged.