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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 26, 2013

Telling Stories that Matter – The Art of the Folklorist


Folklore is the foundation of a culture.  It is the sum total of the stories, experiences, art and beliefs of the people living in that culture.  But much of it is hidden, and it is the task of the folklorist to discover a people’s heritage and communicate it to others.  In  a world frequently torn by ethnic and sectarian conflict, the role of the folklorist has expanded to that of peacemaker.  The artistic, human and material expressions of culture unearthed by the folklorist offer a way forward for validating all the cultural traditions that comprise our modern societies.

Kiran Sinkiran singh sirahgh Sirah is a modern day folklorist.  He began his career as an artist and teacher. This led him to establish a number of award winning peace and conflict resolution programs in museums and cultural centers in the UK, focused on sectarian, ethnic and religious conflict, poverty, and gang violence.

He went on to develop arts-led projects exploring modern slavery violations, war, and issues facing socially marginalized peoples. He is now a Rotary Peace Fellow and a folklorist interested in the power of human creativity, arts and social justice to build a truly multicultural society, based on understanding and peace.

Kiran’s new toolkit, Telling Stories That Matter, is a “How To” for prospective folklorists.  He created this easy to use guide with support for its production by the Partners for Democratic Change, Laina Reynolds Levy, Editor.


Download the free toolkit here and find specific guidance from storytelling to theater production to slam poetry.

Additional folklorist resources:

Photo credits for this post and the video include:


January 26, 2013

Measuring the Erosion of Empathy – Deconstructing the Science of Evil

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

Science of Evil - book coverEvil exists in the world. It seems almost impossible to read the daily news without coming across stories of great injustice and malevolence brought about by human cruelty.  Rather than dismissing these acts of evil as mere acts of insanity, however, it can be highly valuable to investigate what causes people to act so destructively. Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, does just this. Baron-Cohen, a psychologist specializing in autism, suggests that “evil” is more properly defined as a complete lack of empathy, the ability to understand and respond emotionally to others.

As he explains in the book’s opening chapter, Baron-Cohen has long been intrigued by the nature of cruelty. At age seven his father told him of the Nazi atrocities and the images of the suffering of the Jews never left him.

“Today, almost a half century after my father’s revelations to me about the extremes of human behavior, my mind is still exercised by the same, single question: How can we understand human cruelty? What greater reason for writing a book than the persistence of a single question that can gnaw at one’s mind all of one’s conscious life?”

Simon Baron CohenThe Science of Evil argues that empathy is distributed throughout the population as a bell curve. Some have a tremendous amount of empathy while others, those often labeled as psychopaths or other psychiatric diagnoses, reside on the low end of the bell curve. Baron-Cohen explains that the roots of empathy are derived from both nature and nurture. Those with little or no empathy may have different brain structure and functionality or may have suffered environmental factors such as childhood neglect or abuse.

By substituting the word “evil” with the term “empathy erosion”, where people turn other people into objects, Baron-Cohen takes on a more scientific approach to understanding why people become capable of malevolence. He provides examples of empathy erosion, or extreme human cruelty, around the planet as well as a highly scientific exploration of the causes of this lack of empathy.

The erosion of empathy: Simon Baron Cohen at TEDxHousesofParliament

The Science of Evil may be a difficult book to read. Baron-Cohen does not shy away from detailing and exploring case after case of almost unimaginable brutality and cruelty.  However, by revealing the origins of cruelty and illustrating a new way to think about the nature of evil, Baron-Cohen has laid the foundation for a superior understanding of this human condition.  And hopefully, this understanding will bring about a better way of combating, or perhaps even preventing, future injustices in our world.


December 9, 2012

Finding a Measure of Peace

Can we measure the peacefulness of the world?  And beyond that, estimate the impact of conflict on the global economy?  On first consideration, these seem like impossible tasks.  After all, the drivers of human conflict are varied and complex.  But one organization–using a tool called the Global Peace Index–has set about to do both.

The Global Peace Index (GPI) is an attempt to measure the relative position of nations’ and regions’ peacefulness. It is the product of Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and developed in consultation with an international panel of peace experts from peace institutes and think tanks with data collected and collated by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The list was launched first in May 2007, and has been published each spring since that time. The study attempts to rank countries around the world according to their peacefulness. The index currently ranks 158 countries, up from 121 in 2007. The study is the creation of Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea and is endorsed by individuals such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, economist Jeffrey Sachs, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former US president Jimmy Carter.

About the Global Peace Index – from Visions for Humanity

The Global Peace Index takes into account 23 factors.  Factors examined by the authors of the index include both internal factors–such as levels of violence and crime within the country–and external factors–such as a country’s  military expenditure, its relations with neighboring countries and the level of respect for human rights. The index is showcased each year at events in London, Washington DC, Brussels and the United Nations in New York.

2012-Global_Peace_IndexAn article in The Guardian compared the 2012 Global Peace Index with 2011 and found the following:

  • Somalia is the least peaceful country at 158th position and with a score of 3.392. Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo make up the bottom five
  • There has been change for the the indicators as well. The top three largest improvements have been for the Political Terror Scale, terrorist acts and military expenditure as a % of GDP
  • Iceland has remained at the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world, after dropping in the rankings in 2009 and 2010 because of violent demonstrations linked to the collapse of its financial system
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is no longer the least peaceful region in the world, for the first time since the GPI began
  • The US moved from 82 to 88

One of the most interesting aspects of the Global Peace Index, is its estimate of the “peace dividend” – the added economic value if we had lived in a world totally at peace in 2011.  This year’s estimate: $9 trillion.  In addition to the human suffering that a world in conflict

You can explore the Global Peace Index yourself, by downloading the spreadsheet containing the GPI information, or using the interactive map on the Vision of Humanity website.

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.

November 15, 2012

Remembrance Sunday: Thoughts on Peace

One of my first jobs after finishing University was a temporary post at the Royal British Legion in 1997. I was one of the few non-military people in the building, and this soon grew to be the basis of much of the ribald banter between myself and my colleagues, who were all recently retired from the three services.

I liked them, a lot, and still remember them more vividly than more recent work places. Partly because of the fantastically filthy jokes and terms they had for civvies, but mainly because they were some of the most genuine and warm people I have ever spent time with.

Peace and Harry-Patch-at-The-RoyalI remember Ron, whose hands still shook from the stress he suffered half a century before, aboard a submarine which had suddenly gone into an uncontrolled dive in the East Asian Sea during the Korean conflict. Had Ron and his colleagues not managed to get the vessel out of the dive at the last minute the pressure of the depths would have crushed it instantaneously. It had been very close.

I remember Ben, who had served on the cold war’s first front-line in Germany in the years immediately following 1945. Tensions were high between the former allies and the prospect of war erupting over what Stalin regarded as the intolerable capitalist presence in West Berlin, deep in his territory of East Germany, was very real.  Ben learned a few words of Russian and, being an enterprising man, soon had an illicit cigarette business going with his erstwhile enemies. All the while he knew that if conflict did come to pass, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

Both Ben and Ron had lived in the Twentieth Century’s first half which was obliterated by global conflict and economic depression, and a second half which existed for the most part under the constant shadow of nuclear annihilation. Understandably they thought that conflict was just one of life’s constants, and you had to make the best of it. The Poppy Appeal, held every year as a means of raising money for the Legion and a way for the nation to mark its respects to the fallen, was a practical affair which didn’t change that underlying truism about the nature of our world.

Perhaps Ben and Ron were right. Looking around today we see easily where the spotlight happens to shine, such as on Syria. But in the shadows there are far larger human tragedies unfolding daily such as in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Along with other national remembrance days, there is now an International Day of Peace, marked by the United Nations every September 21st. The emphasis is less about honoring the memory of war dead, and more on what needs to be done to promote genuine peace. One of the ideas behind the day is to promote a global truce in all armed conflicts to mark the day, which is promoted by the PR campaign behind Peace One Day.

Peaceful former warriorsBut wouldn’t it be better if we were aiming just a bit higher than a single day? And how about dealing effectively with the causes of each conflict rather than its symptoms, which is basically what a truce is about? You wonder sometimes about how limited the human imagination can be when faced with its biggest challenges.

Remembrance Sunday is about symbolism and it feels right that we honor those who gave their todays for our tomorrows, but I wonder if in future we could combine a mark of respect for the fallen with a mark of hope for a better world to come, and a determination to think big to achieve it. After all, the alternative, as the last British Tommy Harry Patch once said, “…is organized murder and nothing else.”

Ron and Ben would roll their eyes, laugh out loud and scoff at that idea, but secretly, I bet they’d agree.