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January 14, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Manish Kumar

Meet Manish Kumar, our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class 12.  He is based at The Rotary Peace Center which is anchored by the Joint Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Program.   The Duke/UNC-CH joint program gives Peace Fellows application options for either institution.  As a Peace Fellow at UNC, Manish is associated with the Gillings School of Global Public Health, specifically in the Department of Public Health Leadership.

Having lived, studied, and worked in the Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand, Manish witnessed different types of conflict and gained an understanding of the role of agriculture, health, and nutrition plays in the lives of rural poor. He strongly believes that livelihood opportunities, education, and access to quality healthcare services are critical to promoting peace and development. He is of the opinion that strengthening leadership and political systems is essential to improve governance along with the accountability of governments.

Studies in agriculture, development communication, and management of agricultural knowledge systems taught Manish about various developmental pathways. His extensive background includes work with academic, national, and international organizations in India.  As a Peace Fellow, he is carrying forth a focus on knowledge management, research and advocacy, information and communication technologies for health, organizational development, and partnership management. His work on advocacy includes interviews, both face-to-face and electronically, with prominent personalities including politicians, UN agency representatives, leaders of bilateral donors, bureaucrats, and civil society leaders.

Extensive travel within and outside of India shape the thought processes Manish applies in his personal and professional life.  He is passionate about social services and mentoring young professionals. Manish led the National Cadet Corps unit at his undergraduate college.  The Corps supports building character, discipline, leadership skills, and the idea of selfless service among youth. As a founding member and Asia representative of the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development, Manish was instrumental in strengthening YPARD’s knowledge network which champions the cause of young agricultural professionals.  As a Rotary Peace Fellow, he is currently pursuing the Masters of Public Health in Public Health Leadership at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are the answers Manish gave us:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

Armed conflicts, unfortunately, have shown a relatively longer life expectancy than people around the world might have expected. However, in my opinion, armed conflicts have only another fifty years, at most, to survive. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Not to believe in the possibility of permanent peace is to disbelieve in the Godliness of human nature.”

In my own view, I think that Gandhi’s thoughts have assumed greater significance in today’s world. Leaders with vested interests in the economics of conflict are preoccupied with the goal of accumulating wealth and keeping control over the access and distribution of resources.  To attain their goal, they incite conflicts within and among nations.

The balance of power is now tilted around the world in favor of these leaders who intentionally limit involvement in political, governmental, and civil society by those people at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. It is no coincidence that we see examples around the world of countries led by the winners in the economics of conflict who have the resources to promote their own agenda, excluding all others.  The leaders with these agendas very often happen to represent the interest of a particular region, religion, ethnicity, political ideology, or socioeconomic class.

2. What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

Strengthening leadership and improving governance is critical for fostering peace within and among nations. In a country where millions of people live in absolute poverty, their political representatives accumulate enough illegal wealth to acquire assets like coal mines in other countries. Such examples are common in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and cast a dark shadow on the quality of leadership and governance in some of those regions.

Furthermore, these examples reiterate the urgent need for revamping or reorganizing political institutions which is another important factor to nurture peace. Now the inter-linkages between local and national political institutions is weak with poor accountability.  This inadequate and ineffective “feudal” system is kept alive by a fiefdom of “high and mighty groups.”

But the 21st Century is here offering tremendous opportunities to design appropriate and innovative new uses for traditional communication pathways, as well as to develop entirely new information and communication technologies that can promote peace across geographical and political boundaries.  Seizing these fantastic opportunities will not only re-invigorate involvement of citizens at all levels of society, but give them, at last, the certainty of knowing that each and every one of them is a stakeholder in their political system.

When all members of society are known to be fully engaged, at every level, in the business of running their country, the credibility of that country’s leadership, both internally and externally, is greatly enhanced.  A society that is fully engaged in embracing 21st Century technologies will include those citizens who were once marginalized in remote locations.  They will be integrated into the larger society by virtue of communication technologies that reach into formerly overlooked places.  It follows, then, that equality of access to public delivery systems for every need identified within the society will be a reality.

In my opinion, cultivating peace within and among countries calls for a fully  integrated approach that tackles issues concerning leadership, governance, political systems, and public service delivery.  Depending upon the existing political climate at any given time, a country may choose to embrace all major elements of change at once, including socio-economic issues, overall management issues, and issues concerning developmental capacity.  The other option would be to address all of those elements in a “phased in” plan.  Either way, the bell of change is heard now daily in some part of the world.  And there is a very powerful truth about change being announced with the ringing of a bell.  Once the bell is rung, it cannot be “un-rung.”

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