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September 25, 2012

A Culture of Peace

The Constitution of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), signed on November 16, 1945, declares, “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” This sentiment is especially relevant considering the strife evident throughout the Middle East this past week.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonIt seems appropriate that on September 14th this past week, a United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace took place in the UN General Assembly Hall. This day-long, first-ever General Assembly High Level Forum was intended to be “an open public opportunity for the UN member states, UN system entities, civil society including NGOs, media, private sector and all others interested in discussing on the ways and means to promote the Culture of Peace.”

During the opening session, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “To fundamentally tackle the roots of conflict, we need to promote an understanding of our common humanity. We need a culture that upholds human dignity and human life.”

Chris StevensHopefully these words will be a cause for change in the world. The death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans, who were killed during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, demonstrates just how fragile human life can be. As President Obama said in his remarks concerning the tragedy, “With their memory to guide us, we will carry forward the work of making our country stronger, our citizens safer, and the world a better and more hopeful place.”


September 25, 2012

An Unexpected Source of Innovation

Over the past six years I have collected thousands of drawings from children around the world. Each child drew a picture of their dream – several thousand dreams that came in more colors and shapes than I could ever imagine.

Last year, I was supervising a workshop at an orphanage in Tokyo. All the kids started drawing pictures of their dreams, except one 10-year-old boy who didn’t know what his dream was. When most kids finished drawing their dreams, the boy decided that it would be “really cool” to be the owner of a dog-grooming salon. On a large sheet of paper he drew a tiny picture of his salon right in the middle, leaving a lot of blank space around it. “I’m done,” he said. One of the supervisors asked the boy: “Where should this shop be? What’s around it?”

After thinking silently for a while, the boy picked up his marker and started drawing again. A few minutes later, the picture was complete: a dog-grooming salon with a Formula One racing track around it.

The boy’s dream probably wouldn’t come true in the way he pictured it. A dog-grooming salon surrounded by a Formula One racing track would find few customers. But new ideas often come from people with unrealistic dreams.

The workshop at the Tokyo orphanage is one of many We Have A Dream workshops that I have organized. We Have A Dream is a nonprofit organization that I founded in 2006, after spending three months in South Africa.

In South Africa, I worked at Nkosi’s Haven, a care center for HIV-positive mothers and their children in Johannesburg. Nkosi’s Haven was started by Gail Johnson, the adoptive mother of the late Nkosi Johnson, an extraordinary child who gave voice to a generation of HIV-positive orphans. Nkosi’s dream was to create a home for HIV-positive mothers and their children. His dream became reality because it inspired others who had the energy and resources to make it come true. By sharing his dream, he gave other kids opportunities he never had himself. Working at Nkosi’s Haven, I felt Nkosi’s presence, his legacy, everywhere. It made me wonder what the children who lived there were dreaming about, and how we could help them take the first step to make their dreams come true. In close collaboration with two social workers and a psychologist, we organized a workshop in which children drew pictures of their dreams and talked about them. At the end of the workshop I collected the drawings, which were later exhibited in Norway, my home country, alongside other drawings of dreams by Norwegian kids.

From the kids at Nkosi’s haven to the boy at the Tokyo orphanage, all the children that I met were dreamers who knew few boundaries in their imagination. Their ability to dream is a potential source of innovation that moves all of us forward. I listen to children’s voices not just because they could be the voices of tomorrow’s leaders. I believe that children’s voices and dreams can actually change the world we live in today.


September 25, 2012

Love Your Mother, But Don’t Hate Another Person’s Mother

“He who loves the world as his own body may be entrusted with the empire.”
– Lao Tzu

Presently people across the globe are getting impatient, intolerant, and agitated without any concern for others. It seems there is less respect toward others’ religions, regions, races, languages, ethnicities, cultures, and communities. In addition, the aspirations and expectations from all stakeholders are rising rapidly. For instance, children demand more from parents; students demand more from teachers; subordinates demand more from superiors; employees demand more from employers; followers demand more from leaders; and people demand more from the government. In fact, people are becoming more rights-oriented rather than duty-oriented. They must remember John F. Kennedy’s clarion call: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

There must be a shift in the mindset of the people. There must be a need for tolerance and respect toward others. People must be duty-oriented rather than rights-oriented. Empathy is the answer for these challenges. Empathy is the ability to step into the shoes of others, and look at the issues from others’ perspective. However, presently people hardly empathize with others. When we empathize with others most of the global challenges and conflicts will be resolved easily. Through empathy, we can put an end to intolerance, impatience, and instability. Through empathy, we can resolve several global challenges amicably. In fact, empathy is essential for global peace, prosperity, and stability.

Some people resort to violence to settle their scores. And some countries wage wars to settle their long-pending issues. In fact, violence is not the solution to several global issues. Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly remarked, “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” People should shed their violent attitude and must respect others through empathy and understanding.

Love your mother but don’t hate another person’s mother. As your mother is precious to you, another person’s mother is equally precious to them. As your race, religion, region, language, ethnicity, culture, and community are precious to you, they are equally precious to others.

William J. Clinton said, “The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” People must learn to empathize with others to make a difference in the lives of others. We need empathic leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Dalai Lama to name a few to maintain global peace, security and stability. Remember what Mother Teresa said when asked what you can do to promote world peace: “Go home and love your family.” As charity begins at home, let us start promoting global peace by loving our family and empathizing with others first.

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September 19, 2012

Social Media Diplomacy – 21st Century Statecraft

Did you know that the United States State Department has a specially designated position for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Digital Strategy or that they have 10 official Twitter feeds (English, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, etc.)? This U.S. focus on digital networks and technologies to serve foreign policy goals has been called 21st Century Statecraft.

To meet these 21st century challenges, we need to use the tools, the new 21st century statecraft. …we find ourselves living at a moment in human history when we have the potential to engage in these new and innovative forms of diplomacy and to also use them to help individuals be empowered for their own development.
~ Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

anne-marie-slaughterAs the world continues to become increasingly interdependent and globalization swells, foreign relations and diplomacy mechanisms are changing in response. According to Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, the key to successful foreign policy in today’s world is networked diplomacy: “Managing international crises requires mobilizing international networks of public and private actors.” And this interconnected world is relying to an increasing degree on social media.

One example of the effectiveness of social media in diplomacy was reported in the Japan Times. In the summer of 2010, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) became India’s first government department to start using Twitter. As the security situation in Libya continued to deteriorate, India became increasingly alarmed about the welfare of its citizens living there. MEA ultimately decided to use Twitter to communicate information concerning the evacuation schedule. The communication soon became two-way, with MEA receiving tweets about hundreds of Indians stranded at the port of Misratah, which was temporarily closed and thus beyond the reach of organized evacuation attempts. Thanks to this effective use of social media – where people and the government successfully connected in a highly time-sensitive situation – the Indians trapped in Misratah were ultimately evacuated.

ALEC_ROSSAmbassadors and diplomats throughout the world are rapidly adopting Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools. Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior adviser on innovation, tells the many ambassadors who take a course on statecraft, “You only have one mouth but you have two ears, so use this as a way not just of communicating with the citizens of the country where you are serving, but also understanding the point of view of people who may not be sitting at a mahogany table inside the embassy.”

The Power of Social Media

Not too long ago, Twitter was thought of as a mere celebrity gossip tool and Facebook just a means for college kids to exchange party photos. It’s heartening to see the influence that social media is now having throughout the world. It is leveling the playing field, giving voice to so many who were previously silenced, providing real-time communications in often precarious circumstances, and allowing diplomats and citizens from around the world to exchange critical information.


September 16, 2012

Occupy the Elders

elephant_attacking_rhinoThe presence of an elder can be very powerful, and not only in human interactions. About 20 years ago there was a group of elephants that conservationists wanted to move. They didn’t have the ability to move the larger, older adults. The people in charge of moving the animals made a tough dissension. They thought their best option was to kill the parents and other family of the small young elephants. These little ones were traumatized by witnessing their parents being killed and then moved to a new location with no family.

These elephants grew up to be very aggressive. Park rangers noticed that elephants were killing rhinos. In the height of the violence they killed 36 rhino in one year. It is not unheard of for elephants to kill rhinos every once in a while, but these numbers were astounding! For many years people were very confused about how to stop the killings.

It turns out the solution was very simple.When older bull elephants were introduced, the violence stopped. It seems the bulls’ presence gave the younger elephants a model and an understanding of where they fit in.  The behavior patterns of young elephants returned to normal under their influence.

Modern culture often seems to ignore or discount the benefits of cross generational interaction.  As this example of the elephants indicates, the presence and perspective of elders may be one way to help create a more peaceful planet.

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.