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September 14, 2012

Rotary – Creating the Next Generation of Peacemakers

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world:
Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

The idea of education as a way to foster peace is an old one.  But putting it into practice on a global scale through a private organization is groundbreaking.  The Rotary Foundation has been a pioneer in creating an effective curriculum of peace.

Rotary_Peace_Fellows in the fieldRotary began as an idea more than 100 years ago. Today, the organization flourishes worldwide with 1.2 million members in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.  The Rotary Foundation was created in 1917 and its mission is to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty. In 1987-88, the foundation held its first peace forums, leading to the establishment of it’s peace and conflict studies programs.

Today, the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International has partnered with leading universities around the world to provide a unique fellowship opportunity for students to receive a master’s degree in international relations, sustainable development, peace studies, conflict resolution, or a professional development certificate in peace and conflict studies. Rotary Peace Fellows go on to become leaders promoting national and international cooperation, peace, and the successful resolution of conflict throughout their lives, in their careers, and through service activities.

Voices For Peace from Rotary International on Vimeo.

Rotary Peace Center partner universities include:

Alumni of the program work in a variety of areas, including grassroots and local nongovernmental organizations, national governments, the military, law enforcement, and bilateral and international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, International Organization for Migration, and Organization of American States. Alumni also benefit from the support of a worldwide network of close to 700 alumni committed to building peace.

  • Fellowship funding includes
  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Round-trip transportation
  • Internship (master’s degree) or field study expenses (professional development certificate)

A sustainable foundation for peace starts with a proven process for teaching each generation the skills of peace-making and conflict resolution.  The Rotary Peace Fellows program is showing us how to make this a reality.

For information about how to become a Rotary Peace Fellow, please visit the Rotary website at www.rotary.org/rotarycenters.

June 23, 2012

Ethical Wills – Your Legacy in Your Words

In the Western world, talking directly about the reality of death—our own or that of a loved one—is generally frowned upon. It is almost always uncomfortable, as evidenced by our avoidance of the word itself and its grammatical variations: dead; die; died; dying; death. Instead we substitute: passing away; passed; gone; and even ‘no longer with us.’ Softening the language helps us deal with feeling the loss of control that seems to come along with dying.

legacy for multiple generationsAt some point in our lives we begin to think about what we have done with the time already behind us and how we would like to be remembered. Our sense of being at the end of life may be that we aren’t even close…and anyway, we’ll be (forgive me) dead so who cares how we are remembered by family and friends? Well, my fellow citizen of the world, think about that again—you have a chance to leave a gift to those closest to you which they can weave into the fabric of their lives and all who they encounter going forth.

In case you are thinking, “Oh brother—some off-shoot of the ‘New Age’ just when I was feeling good about escaping Yoga, Meditation, and tofurkey,” stay calm. This idea has been around at least 3,500 years or so. Maybe you have heard of it, maybe not. It is called the Ethical Will.

An Ethical Will is not about dividing up tangible items after your death, but instead it is about leaving a clear description of the values you believe in as they support the ethical standards (including moral standards) you have and still do live by. It is about passing that clear description on for your survivors to build upon, and for the world to add to a kind of global ethical mindfulness resource bank we all contribute to in the ways we choose to live each day.

Here is an excellent site full of wonderful examples of Ethical Wills, sometimes called Legacy Letters, and showing us that how you choose to relate the content of your own can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish.


I have had the privilege of being a hospice volunteer for a large medical provider in the Pacific Northwest for the last 20+ years. As a member of the Ethical Wills training for hospice volunteers, I found myself assigned to write my own version before the training continued on the next weekend. I struggled right up until the Friday before Saturday’s resumption of training…that contemplative part of the creative process for me generally needs to be more open-ended than a week-long interim deadline provides. Finally, though, I “got it.”

My Ethical Will took the form of a well-remembered story when I was 6 or 7 years old about going with my grandmother to find a very poor family she had sheltered in some ramshackle former farm buildings on my grandfather’s farm in Illinois. The big picnic basket I thought was going to be ours for lunch turned out to contain a week’s worth of food for this desperate woman and her four children who had been abandoned by her husband.

My grandparents were also poor, but they had more than this young family, and the lesson of love and generosity toward our fellow human beings was simply demonstrated by my grandmother as she invited me, her eyes sparkling, to help her carry the big basket to the door where mother and children awaited. She knew that I was awash with the empathy that would inform my character for the rest of my life. I learned that day that sympathy alone does not join hearts like empathy does, knowing that this life is a balance—a give and take as needed—always based on love.

One of the best things about working on your version of an Ethical Will is recalling all the examples you can of the wisdom that was passed along to you in big and small ways. You may want to create an Oscar-worthy production, or you may want to tell just one story, but you will realize that you are creating something of yourself—just you—that will live on in support of the best we humans can be.

Share your experience of writing an ethical will or legacy letter (or helping someone to else do that) in the comment area below.

Other excellent resources:





June 11, 2012

Discovering a New Way to Be Human and “Polish the World”

We don’t often stop to think about how the way we choose to manifest our unique humanity impacts ourselves and the world around us.  We are not conscious of the limitations we place on ourselves by old ways of being.  Yet we live in a world that needs our courage, creativity and imagination.

A New Way To Be HumanIn his best selling book, A New Way to Be Human, nationally recognized speaker and author Robert V. Taylor explores the question of how we can each leave a footprint of compassion in the world by tapping into our personal spirituality and innate values.  We had the opportunity to talk with him recently about his ideas for more fully realizing our human potential.

DTPF:  What motivated you to write A New Way to Be Human?

RT:  To invite readers to be happy and change the world. The sense of helplessness and disengagement that so many people feel about the world – “My voice doesn’t matter; my actions don’t really count” – leads you to clutch at life. There is another way! To live into the fullness of being human; to discover your magnificence and the truth that the world needs your active engagement as much as you do. The book invites readers into a more fulsome, happy and engaged new way to be human.

DTPF:  You speak in your book about connecting with stories – our own and those of others. How do we know which stories are the most important to share?

RT:  Listen for the ones that make you feel alive, along with those that scare you. Pay attention! When you know your story and can be compassionate about every part of it – the wonder, regret, shame and joy – you tell it knowing that eternal wisdom and truth is revealed through your story. You then find yourself listening compassionately to the stories of others, attentive to the eternal truths and wisdom being revealed. Not every story is safe to share with just anyone but you will know that intuitively. Sharing your story you discover common ground with the most unexpected people. As you share who you are – not just what you do – your stories remind you that we need one another in order to be human. It’s a life-changing way of living each day and claiming your voice in the world.

DTPF:  One of the ideas you discuss in A New Way to Be Human is the limitations – enclosures – that we allow ourselves and others to place around us. What is the best way to recognize the enclosures we experience in our lives so that we can address them?

RT:  Become aware of the things that you resist doing or think you’re not good enough or loved enough for. Beware of choices that are driven not by your passion and desire but by the needs of others or the habit of pleasing them. Each of those things constrains you, holding you back from your magnificence. They squelch your voice and cramp your compassion. You serve no one’s good by hiding behind whatever encloses you from being fully alive, happy and engaged. The book offers practical tools for stepping beyond what encloses you from your fullest self.

Robert V. Taylor – Repairing the World

DTPF:  You talk in your book about reflecting the imagination of the Holy and “polishing the world?” What exactly to you mean by that?

RT:  Our greatest failures come from a lack of imagination. When you chose to embrace your imagination life is different. Instead of looking at the world and accepting it the way it is you imagine the way it can be. That’s engaging and enlivening! Every seemingly small action that you do to make something better in the lives of others, in your community, school or in world helps to change and polish the world. What you do matters! Your actions allow the humanity of others to flourish. Lives and communities have a new shine to them!

DTPF:  One memorable story in your book has to do with your friend Joe who had stopped following the news because it ultimately made him feel helpless. This is something that many people experience today. Can you tell us how Joe was able to turn that deeply felt negativity around in his life?

RT:  Joe heard the challenge of a good friend to stop being disengaged and to see in the news an invitation to be part of changing the story line from bad to good news! Of course there are lots of terrible things in the world. But when we sit back we give them power. We are hard wired for love and compassion and we know it when discover life-giving energy by choosing to do something. As Joe responded to his friend’s challenge he found that he was drawn to stories about girls and young women denied education in many parts of the world. The bad news of those stories led him to learn about people and organizations doing something to give women access to education. It is probably one of the most transformative changes imaginable for the human family. So Joe got involved in an organization working in partnership with local organizations to provide that access. It’s changed his life. He’s no longer a helpless victim of life. He’s become an active participant in change and says he’s more fully alive because of it.

DTPF:  Many of us grow up being told that to think of others is virtuous, but that thinking of one’s self is not. How can your book help us better understand the difference between looking inward with love to learn who we are versus just being egotistical?

RT:  Loving yourself is the greatest lesson and gift you will ever receive! You develop tenderness for yourself – warts and all. When you love yourself without conditions you want your own well-being. That’s where you discover happiness and how to be happy. With each step you take you become more compassionate about yourself. But none of this is a personal treasure to hoard. You discover that other people are loveable too – with all of their quirks. You can’t help but yearn for their well-being too. You desire happiness for all people. Loving yourself is the exact opposite of being egotistical! It makes you more fully human and alive because you realize that we need one another, that we’re inter-connected. Self-love becomes a generous outpouring of love for others.

DTPF:  You share a great quote in your book related to “limitless imagination.” You shared the story of a woman, Zelda who, because of the demands of her corporate career, was denying the “invitation to let go of the pause button” on her imagination. How can each of us learn to let go of the pause button on our own imagination?

RT:  Listen to the tweets that your passions send you! There may be just one thing that you’re passionate about, that makes you feel alive. Pay attention – it’s the Universe inviting you to live life fully with whatever your gift is. That’s where you discover limitless imagination. When you choose to not listen to your passions and imagination you hit the pause button on your life. Imagine if any of your heroes had paused their imagination – the environmental, civil rights, gender equality, LGBT and other movements exist because of imagination that is alive and engaged! The world needs your imagination at work every day as much as you do – it’s how change happens.

DTPF:  How would you describe being “at home in your heart” to a group of young people today?

RT:  Listen to your heart! Science reminds us that our heart and brain are connected and when we only live in our head space we miss out on our heart pointing us to happiness, purpose and meaning. Celebrate the people and places who make your heart space alive and detach from the toxic people whose energy limits your ability to be at home in your heart. Allow your heart to feed your intuitive response to the people, places and causes that make you at home by filling you with life-giving energy.

DTPF:  What is the most important idea your book can offer a young person who wants to better their lives and those around them?

RT:  Love yourself and share that love! Be kind to someone today, speak out on something you care about, take an action to make the world a more just place. Love – it’s in your DNA. Love like it’s the best day of your life.

April 16, 2012

The Explosive Echo of Past Wars – Removing the Scourge of Landmines

landmineOne of the most brutal weapons of war is also one of the simplest: the landmine.  Modern landmines initially appeared during the first World War, but they had already existed in various forms for centuries before that time.   They are easy to set up, difficult and time consuming to detect and disarm, and inflict injuries on civilians and combatants alike, resulting in a medical and economic burden to the communities where they are used that extends well beyond a war’s end.  Landmines continue to haunt nations once torn by conflict long after the wars have ended and begun to fade into memory.

worldwide-landmine-distributionWorldwide Landmine Distribution
Source: Landmine & Cluster Munitions Monitor

The statistics on injuries from landmines are sobering.

  • Around every 22 minutes 1 person somewhere in the world is killed or injured by a landmine.
  • One hundred million uncleared landmines lie in the fields and alongside the roads and footpaths of one-third of the countries in the developing world.  Claiming over 500 victims a week, landmines are weapons of mass destruction in slow motion.
  • Half of all people die from a landmine injury, either immediately from the explosion – as is the case with most children – or from blood loss and exposure.

Fortunately, the annual death and injury toll from landmines has been dropping steadily, due in large part to the Mine Ban Treaty which was signed in Ottawa in 1997.  Today, 157 countries have signed the treaty.  There are still 39 countries, including the U.S., which have not signed the treaty.  Though it has not used landmines since 1991, nor produced them since 1997, the U.S. still has a stockpile of 10 million landmines.  The U.S. remains a holdout due to language in the treaty it finds objectionable.  Still it is doing more than any other country to remove landmines and prevent their further spread.  And the Obama administration has initiated a comprehensive review of its landmine policy.

Aki Ra

Aki Ra

There have been dramatic success stories.  For example, Cambodia is a country with one of the highest total number of landmines. Over the last twenty years, it has de-mined a little over half (270 square miles) of contaminated land.  With new technology and more funding, the nation should be free of landmines in another 10 years.  One of the heroes of this effort is a soldier, Aki Ra, who, as a boy was forced to lay landmines for the Khmer Rouge.  He has dedicated his life to removing these landmines and to date has de-mined over 50,000 devices.

Similar to the eradication of once prevalent diseases like Smallpox, the world may yet see the day when the last landmine has been removed and no more are being produced or laid.


March 12, 2012

charity:water – Leading the World to Cleaner Water

ethiopian_women_carry_waterAccess to clean, safe drinking water is a big problem for over 1 billion people in the developing world.  These individuals must spend a great deal of time and energy simply collecting water that is often contaminated.  This represents a huge opportunity cost for those struggling to better themselves economically.  For example, in Africa over 40 billion hours a year are spent just hauling water from ponds, rivers or springs to villages where it is used.

Globally, diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.  Over 30,000 people die each week from diseases due to unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions.  Tragically, 90% of these are children under the age of five.  The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

One group that has done more than almost any other is charity:water, founded in 2006 by Scott Harrison, whose first gig was playing in a rock band.  Dissatisfied with his life, Scott signed on as a photo journalist for Mercy Ships, a group of hospital ships operating along the western coast of Africa.  During his time there, he saw firsthand the devastation wrought by diseases caused by unclean drinking water.

Water Changes Everything – charity:water

scott harrison

Scott Harrison

Determined to do something about it, he returned to New York and set about designing a new kind of charity focused on bringing clean drinking water to people throughout the developing world. The organization he founded, charity:water, has raised over $50,000,000 and invested in over 4,000 water projects serving over 2 million people worldwide.   The approach taken by charity:water  to accomplish this informs us about the new generation of social entrepreneurs.

Proof – Scott was disappointed to learn that many of his peers didn’t donate to charities because they weren’t sure how the money would be used.  So he designed transparency and accountability into every water project undertaken by his organization. Charity:water provides GPS tracking and video cameras for every project so donors can see exactly how their money is being spent. Funding for the operation of the organization is raised separately – e.g., from grants and corporate sponsors.

Sustainability – The organization designed in sustainability to each project, so that it could be run by local water committees which oversee the management and maintenance of new wells.

Marketing – charity:water has been aggressive about teaming up with corporate partners and using a variety of publicity / marketing tools to recruit donors and volunteers.  Go to their website and you’ll see merchandise and e-gift cards used to make it fun and easy to donate to water projects.  The website is elegant and inviting, and packed with videos (versus walls of text).  charity:water has also been very adept at using social media to promote its cause and engage donors.

Crowdsourcing – The organization has set up mycharity:water which provides a way for individuals to help it raise money through events.

Branding – charity:water has branded itself in a very intentional manner so that donors will associate it with the values and approach it has painstakingly developed since its founding to achieve its mission.

charity:water has ambitious goals.  According to Scott Harrison, it wants to bring clean drinking water to 100,000,000 people by 2020.  That is a goal we can all drink to.


February 7, 2012

Girl Up! – Closing the Gender Gap in Education

girls-in-schoolPicture this: your name is Fatuma, and you are a fourteen year old girl living in Todee, Liberia. Your brother is allowed to go to school and you aren’t, even though you desperately want to go to university and become a doctor. While American girls like me have the same dreams as Fatuma does, she simply does not have the resources to pursue her goals.

Even though Fatuma is a hypothetical example, her situation is very real.  In the world today there are four million fewer girls attending primary school than boys.1 Though the global community has made significant strides to eliminate the gender gap in education, much more progress is needed to achieve educational equality.

According to the World Bank, 35 million girls do not attend primary school.  Most of these girls live in developing countries.¹ Laws that discriminate against women and girls often play a role in the educational gender gap. In many developing countries, laws dictate that a larger portion of the family inheritance go to the male children, giving families like Fatuma’s a clear incentive to educate the boys rather than the girls.2

Additionally, Fatuma’s family is reluctant to spend money on her education, as they know that once she is married, she will live with her husband’s family. Any income that Fatuma’s education generates after her marriage will be enjoyed by her husband’s family.  Thus, Fatuma’s family believes that because their son-in-law’s family will receive the return on their investment in Fatuma’s education, her schooling is not worth the expense.

Girls Without Voices: Invest In Me

Even if Fatuma’s family was willing to send her to school, it could be so costly that they could not afford it. School fees can consume up to 30% of a family’s income and do not include costs for parent-teacher associations and teacher salary supplements. Fatuma’s family also must provide uniforms and transportation to and from school. Lastly, if Fatuma went to school, she would not have enough time to work to help support her family, denying her family a valuable source of income. In many areas, girls and women are expected to perform the majority of domestic tasks so if Fatuma went to school, there would be no one to help cook, clean, and take care of siblings.3

Girl Up logoFortunately for Fatuma and girls like her around the world, many wonderful organizations are striving to provide equal opportunities for education. I am a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign that supports UN programs that benefit girls in developing countries. With the support of Girl Up, girls receive school supplies or scholarships to decrease the economic burden on their families. They are given a second chance to go to school in cases where they were forced to drop out or never attended in the first place. Most importantly, they receive leadership training that teaches them to speak up for themselves and for all girls everywhere. Thanks to Girl Up, girls around the world are given the chance to achieve their dreams. Other organizations making a difference through emphasizing education for girls education include She’s the First, the Girl Effect, CARE, and SHARE.

With the help of these amazing organizations and campaigns, girls are able to not only help themselves, but also their families and communities. Educated girls and women typically make 10-25% more in wages, and they reinvest 90% of that money back into their families. Educated women generally get married later and have fewer children.4 These children will often be healthier and more educated themselves than children of uneducated mothers. By educating girls, we are not only able to solve today’s problems, but we are able to inspire the next generation of leaders who will solve the problems of tomorrow.


  1. Education – Girls’ Education.” The World Bank. The World Bank Group, 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
  2. Roudi-Fahimi, Farzaneh, and Valentine Moghadam. “Empowering Women, Developing Society
  3. Society: Female Education in the Middle East and North Africa.” Population Reference Bureau. Population Reference Bureau, Nov. 2003. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
  4. United States. Dept. of State. Educating Girls: What Works. IIP Digital. U.S. Dept. of State, 1 July 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
  5. Girleffect.org. The Girl Effect. the Girl Effect, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2012.