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March 7, 2013

Rotary – Recruiting the Next Generation of Peacemakers

The Rotary Peace Fellowship offers full funding for a master’s degree or professional certificate in peace study at one of six Rotary Peace Centers around the world.

“Rotary believes, as I believe, that it is possible to have a world without war,” said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. “By educating future peace-builders and working to ease the conditions that breed violence and conflict, Rotary is demonstrating to the rest of the world that peace is attainable.”

Rotary – Voices for Peace

Voices For Peace from Rotary International on Vimeo.

Since 2002, Rotary has sponsored 50 fellows every year, each of whom embark on one to two years of master’s-level study at leading Rotary Peace Centers around the world including:

  • Uppsala University, Sweden
  • University of Bradford, UK
  • University of Queensland, Australia
  • International Christian University, Japan
  • Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

Additionally, in 2004 Rotary added the Professional Development Certificate program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.  Each year, the Rotary Peace Center in Thailand trains up to 50 mid-level professionals from peace-related fields such as public health, education, international law, economic development, journalism, and social justice.

Now Accepting Applications

Applications for the 2014-15 class are due by 1 July 2013.  In order to apply applicants must contact their local Rotary club or district to gain endorsement.  Use the Club Locator to find your nearest club.

“When I talk about peace, I tell people that you must do more than simply ‘care’ about peace — you have to take action to achieve it,” said Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, who won her prize in 1997 for helping ban antipersonnel landmines. “That’s what I admire about Rotary members—they lead by example, both at the community level and through their support of the Rotary Peace Centers.”

Rotary Peace Center alumna Izabela da Costa Pereira, now a director and project analyst for the United Nations Development Program, says the need for trained peace-makers has never been greater.  “With the plethora of conflicts in so many regions, more specialists are needed, particularly coming from conflict zones,” she said.  “One of Rotary’s greatest contributions is the promotion of peace through specialized education.”

Other Rotary Peace Center alumni of note:

Brigitta von Messling, Germany, earned her master’s degree at the Rotary Peace Center at the University of Bradford in 2006. She is the senior advisor for training and organizational development for the Center for International Peace Operations in Berlin, Germany.

Robert Opira, Uganda, earned his master’s degree at Rotary Peace Center at University of Queensland in 2007. Robert is a peace and conflict consultant providing technical support to humanitarian agencies helping internally displaced persons in Northern Uganda. He is also the director of the Great Lakes Center for Conflict Resolution in Uganda.

Rajaa Natour, Israel, earned her master’s degree at Rotary Peace Center at University of Bradford in 2011. Today she is a program manager of the Gemini Project in Jafaa, Israel. The project promotes constructive dialogue between groups of Jewish and Palestinian students across ten campuses and cities.

Jason Hutson, Japan, earned his master’s degree at Rotary Peace Center at International Christian University in 2009. He is the founder and CEO for What Sport Creative, a Tokyo-based organization that uses sports as a catalyst for youth development and cultural exchange.

Cameron Chisholm, USA, earned his master’s degree at the Rotary Peace Center at University of Bradford in 2008. He is the president of the International Peace & Security Institute and teaches peace studies courses at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Rotary is a global humanitarian organization with more than 1.2 million members in 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Rotary members are men and women who are business, professional and community leaders with a shared commitment to make the world a better place through humanitarian service.

February 18, 2013

Frederick Douglass – Father of America’s Civil Rights Movement

Frederick Douglass was a man who continually reinvented himself and would, in time, create the modern American civil rights movement and reshape American politics.

young-Frederick_DouglassThe son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, “Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey” was born in February of 1818 on Maryland’s eastern shore. He spent his early years with his grandparents and with an aunt, seeing his mother only four or five times before her death when he was seven. While growing up, he was witnessed the degradations of slavery, seeing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much time cold and hungry. At the age of eight he was sent to Baltimore to live with a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. It was there he learned to read and first heard the words abolition and abolitionists. “Going to live at Baltimore,” Douglass would later recall, “laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity.”

Douglass enjoyed seven relatively comfortable years in Baltimore before being sent back to the country, where he was hired out to a farm run by a notoriously brutal “slavebreaker” named Edward Covey. And the treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was “broken in body, soul, and spirit.”  These events were to propel him to become an activist against slavery.

Frederick Douglass – Mini Bio

On January 1, 1836, he resolved that he would be free by the end of the year. He planned an escape. But early in April he was jailed after his plan was discovered. Two years later, while living in Baltimore and working at a shipyard, Douglass would finally realize his dream: he fled the city on September 3, 1838. Traveling by train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New York City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, living with his newlywed bride (whom he met in Baltimore and married in New York) under his new name, Frederick Douglass.

William-Lloyd-GarrisonDouglass continued to educate himself and was an avid reader. In New Bedford, he attended Abolitionists’ meetings and subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly journal, the Liberator. After meeting Garrison in 1841, Douglass was mentioned in the Liberator and a few days later gave a speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in Nantucket. It was reported that, “Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence.” Douglass became a lecturer for the Society for three years and his career as a speaker was launched.

Douglass was also an author and publisher.  In 1945, despite fears that the information might endanger his freedom, he published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself.  Three years later, after a speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland, Douglass published the first issue of the North Star, a four-page weekly, out of Rochester, New York.


Frederick Douglass' House

During the Civil War, he conferred with Abraham Lincoln and helped the Union Army recruit northern blacks to fight in the conflict.  Later he would go on to serve as U.S. minister to Haiti.

During his long life, he fought for the right not only of African Americans, but women and other oppressed minorities.  Through his writing, speaking and political activities, he helped establish the modern American civil rights movement. He had an enduring vision of America achieving justice and equal rights for all its citizens.  But first and foremost, he had a continually evolving vision of himself as someone who, despite his early years as a slave, deserved the freedom, dignity and respect he fought so diligently to obtain for others.

February 5, 2013

Reconciler-in-Chief – A New Role for Religious Institutions

Most people today understand the distinction between spirituality and religion, and many make it frequently when attempting to identify their own position.  An increasing number of people want to be associated with the positive attributes of spirituality but not with the negative connotations of the major institutions of religion.  One reason why is that major religions are responsible for some of the greatest atrocities in history and continue to be cultural wedges between people around the world.  Spirituality, on the other hand, improves one’s personal well-being, enhances a feeling of connectedness to others and to the divine, and helps us understand ourselves better.  Spirituality emphasizes the similarities and connectedness between all people, while religion emphasizes the differences.  Spirituality pursues harmony while religion pursues conflict.  At least that is what many people feel about the major religious institutions.

Dead Sea ScrollAll of the world’s major religions are based on ancient texts which are, for the most part, static.  Many of these ancient texts included highly divisive beliefs and prejudices against certain groups and initially demanded extreme punishments for what today is considered acceptable behavior in many places.  This poses a dilemma for religion because it prevents these text-based religions from adapting to the cultural environment and evolving with society.  Instead, they remain static while society evolves.  This creates a tension between the doctrine of the texts and the laws of society, thereby requiring believers in the doctrine to choose between expressing the tenets of their religion and conforming to the laws of civil society.  As society continues to evolve toward greater equality and social justice for all, believers in ancient doctrines are further alienated.  If they adhere to the laws of civil society they are further alienated from their religion, and if they adhere to the beliefs of their religion they are alienated from civil society.

The institutions of the major religions are in a position to either exacerbate this conflict or ameliorate it.  If they exacerbate it, we will see increased division in society likely leading to civil unrest and tragedy.  If they choose to ameliorate it we will see increased harmony.  I predict that the survival of religious institutions rests on their choice of the latter.

I believe the survival of the major religions requires that they move away from a literal and dogmatic reading of their ancient texts to an interpretative approach where the institutions of religion can teach their beliefs in a way which embraces modern cultural norms.  This new approach would have at its core a much higher element of tolerance for those who do not follow the same beliefs.  Stoning homosexuals and burning witches are no longer acceptable ideas to preach in any religion. Any religion which still embraces such ideas is doomed to be crushed by the revolution of equality that is occurring before our eyes.

Without enlightened leadership in today’s religious institutions, people will read the words off the page and are likely to accept a literal meaning of the ancient texts.  Only enlightened leadership can bridge the gap between the ancient texts and modern society.  If that leadership does not emerge, this gap will widen increasing stress on individuals and society and forcing choices. These decision points can be dangerous and violent.  Individuals and groups who commit atrocities in the name of religion are examples of the danger in ignoring the “disconnect” between outdated religious dogma and the realities of modern society.

The new purpose of religious institutions needs to be as Mediator or Reconciler-in-Chief, interpreting religious doctrine in a way which fosters acceptance, tolerance and respect for others who may differ with a particular religion’s basic tenets.  This can only happen if institutions of religion bring their interpretations up-to-date for life as it exists for people in the 21st Century and beyond.

cathedralInstitutions of religion are facing a crisis of faith among believers largely due to scandals that for centuries went unexposed. The recent scandals and cover-ups have weakened the religious institutions to the point of irrelevance.  As some people leave the institutions of religion, those who stay behind are at greater risk, without enlightened leadership, of interpreting dangerously outdated ancient texts literally.  It is not in the best interest of anyone to see the complete demise of institutions of religion.  Instead, what we must support is a move toward adapting core beliefs to the present day with a commitment to tolerance.

If the institutions of religion can produce leaders who are enlightened and committed to adapting the ancient and sacred texts to today’s world, infusing those texts with spirituality and building community around beliefs, we will take a huge step toward world peace and harmony.  Now is the time for them to make this change.  To make religious institutions relevant again, they must offer believers hope and faith not only in spiritual beliefs, but in the value and purpose of civil society.  The value of every single person’s life must be exalted, even those of other faiths or of no faith at all.  When we as human beings manage to achieve that within our institutions of religion and as individuals with no particular affiliation other than to the human family, global peace is well within our grasp.

December 7, 2012

Culture’s Role in the Art of Peace-Building and Reconciliation

Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum From 22 to 24 October 2012, International Christian University (ICU) hosted the “2012 Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum” on its verdant campus in Tokyo, Japan. The Forum was cosponsored by ICU, the Aspen Institute and the Japan ICU Foundation (JICUF) and formed part of ICU’s 60th Anniversary Project. The three-day event, the first ever of its type on the ICU campus, centered on discussion among over ninety specialists and intellectuals from twenty-two countries worldwide. The Forum dealt with the role culture plays in “the Art of Peace-Building and Reconciliation,” which served as the central theme of the three day event. The format was designed specifically to encourage participation of the diverse participants through candid discussions of difficult issues in the field of cultural diplomacy, particularly within the Asia-Pacific region.

Sadako OgataEntering its 5th year, the Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum has been established as the world’s premier cultural diplomacy event. It is convened by the Aspen Institute Global Initiative on Culture and Society in collaboration with partners who contribute to its scope and mission. The inaugural Forum was hosted in Paris in 2008 by the Aspen Institute and the Arts Arena of the American University of Paris under the dual themes of “Culture in Conflict” and “Culture on the Move”. The 2011 reiteration of the Forum—the Creative Arts World Summit— was co-hosted in Oman by the Aspen Institute and the Royal Opera House Muscat to explore various artistic and cultural trends.

Among the participants of the Forum at ICU, two in particular were especially highly-esteemed. Madame Sadako Ogata, special advisor to the President, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), spoke about her extensive experiences regarding the development of the concept of Human Security as the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and president of JICA. She also focused on Japan’s future and its relationship with such neighboring nations as China and South Korea. She expressed her hope that students would work to be more actively involved in the world outside Japan and step up to take important roles in society and politics. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, spoke about his country’s transition from a colonial state to independence and recalled his own role in the transition’s subsequent civil wars, democratization and stabilization.

The Forum also involved discussion on ways to strengthen peace-building work through reducing propaganda and widely accepted cultural prejudices, removing negative labels attached to regions and races, and looking not for differences but commonalities among humans. Each day of the Forum brought large numbers of students hoping to become involved in peace-building and diplomacy, including a number of the Rotary International Peace Fellows on campus. Both Japanese and international, graduate and undergraduate students alike were able to meet the participants and integrate themselves fully into the three day Forum. With such a significant Cultural Diplomacy Forum on the ICU campus, especially dealing with such a variety of contemporary issues in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, the seeds for a more peaceful future were sown.

December 2, 2012

Gaining Freedom from Fear in Myanmar

Aung_San_Suu_KyiMyanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, has been gaining an increasing amount of international attention this year. There is great hope that this once stagnant country will navigate the brisk transformation that is currently transpiring. This rapid change is due in part to the Obama administration’s decision to ease the ban on investments in Myanmar. Equally important, however, is the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and once one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners.

Freedom from Fear Book CoverSuu Kyi is the only daughter of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, considered by many to be the “father of modern-day Burma” and one of the heroes of the nation’s independence in 1948. Inspired by her father and influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratization.  One of her most famous speeches was Freedom From Fear, which began: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Her outspoken protest again the country’s military rule and widespread repression led to her detention in 1989 and she was held under house arrest for nearly two decades until her release in November of 2010.

Suu Kyi’s release was followed by significant change in her country. President U Thein Sein became president in early 2011 and has moved the country swiftly toward democratization, freeing a number of political prisoners and taking steps to liberalize the state-controlled economy. His government also reached out to Suu Kyi. In response, she returned to political life and was elected to Parliament in April 2012. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won nearly every seat in the elections. Following this landslide victory, Suu Kyi stated, “What is important is not how many seats we have won — although of course we are extremely gratified that we have won so many — but the fact that the people are so enthusiastic about participating in the democratic process.”

On the heels of Suu Kyi’s victory the European Union and Australia suspended their sanctions against Myanmar followed by the United States’ suspension of the enforcement of most American sanctions. In September 2012, President Thein Sein publicly praised Suu Kyi, stating, “As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy.” In another first, Mr. Thein Sein’s speech was broadcast live in Myanmar, allowing the country’s citizens an opportunity to witness the president’s outspoken tribute to Suu Kyi.  President Obama paid an historic visit to Myanmar in November to push the country’s leaders to continue their democratic reforms, and announce new trade initiatives between the two nations.

That one woman’s strength in the face of so much repression and suffering can effect so much change in a country in desperate need of hope is a testament to the power of peace.

November 22, 2012

Can Gaza and Israel Make the Tough Choice for Peace?

swords-into-plowsharesFor now, no more missiles fly from Gaza to Israel – nor from Israel to Gaza.  The last several days of mutual-retaliation is now at its end.

I will not re-post here what can be read widely in the news:

  • Both sides are announcing victories.
  • Both sides are proclaiming their military superiority in offensive & defensive measures.
  • Both sides are celebrating in some way.

Egypt has itself been reshaped politically in the past few years and played a key role in brokering the current cease fire.  But the text of the agreement does nothing more than stop current acts of violence.  It brokers no real agreement of possible hope!

The fear I posit for the region, though, is the reality that no peace has been won.

  • Both sides agreeing to cease current hostilities in active campaigns of violence does not bring no peace – only the cessation of current conflict.
  • Both sides are burying the dead in their midst, with the high probability that the loss of life will only fuel future hostility.


  • NOW is the time for new conversations to emerge.
  • NOW is the time for abiding hostilities from combatants and enemies to seek out the possibilities of abundant hospitality from communities seeking equity.
  • NOW is the time for nations and powers – not just Israel and Gaza but from every region of the world – to provide support for vibrant life and thriving cities – not escalating armaments for the next conflict.

As an American, my sense is that this current contest will quickly fade into the background as just “one more time” when “those people” “over there” didn’t get along.

It is Thanksgiving as I write.  Americans are concerned about Football, Turkey and Shopping.  The next weeks will focus on the trivial issues of the latest technology “needed” under the Christmas tree and whether or not we’ve stock-piled enough Hostess Twinkies before that company’s bankruptcy.

It is too bad.  It is tragic.

Israeli men dance after ceasefire agreement Nov 22People, emboldened by the current ceasefire, could invest differently in the world – in politics and peacemaking, and in efforts at genuine conversation so the ideologies of war could be reshaped from Jerusalem in the near future.

  • If only people would find a way to talk genuinely and realize practically the need to turn our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning-hooks!  If we could stop building weapons and instead increase our fruitfulness!
  • If only people would find ways to build cities where old women and aged men could sit near the streets and watch as young girls & young boys play together in city parks.
  • If only we had the possibility the announcement, that today, in the region of Gaza-Israel – a message of good news for all people has come – to those currently wrapped in the cloth of war in some hospital room.
  • If only we believed that vibrant life is possible for all people in a world that could be saved.

Now is not the time to stalemate toward the next, inevitable future conflict.  Now is the time to strategize toward and implement a vibrant, life-giving, fruitful peace.

Reprinted here by permission from the author, Marty Alan Michelson.