The pilots of Peace

Chair of the Rotary Action Group for Peace, District Governor Alison Sutherland, says it is a privilege to see the group grow as it strives to advance peace in an ever-changing world.

he Rotary Action Group for Peace was founded approximately 12 years ago, making slow and steady progress towards its mission of ‘engagement, education, empower’.

The past year has been very exciting, following the launch of the Peacebuilder Club initiative.

The idea is that each Rotary club has at least two Rotarians sitting on a peace committee in the club, just like Foundation or Membership.

These Rotarians are then members of the Rotary Action Group for Peace (RAGFP). They help the club to see the areas of peace it is already doing, and educate themselves, as well as fellow Rotarians within their club and district, around the area of peace.

To this end, they can access training on the Peace Academy, check out the ‘eight pillars of peace’ – as posted on the Institute for Economics and Peace website – and take part in training.

The year started with around 50 Peacebuilder clubs, with numbers now exceeding 200. One of the surprising, and perhaps few, positives to have come out of the pandemic has been the growth of Peacebuilder clubs, probably as a result of the surge of online and virtual events.

As chair of RAGFP, Alison has been hosting ‘Chat with the Chair’ four nights per week, which has attracted Rotarians, Peacebuilder clubs and fledgling RAGFP chapters. The chats have inspired, encouraged, and helped Rotarians to share ideas and projects.

The latest initiative, country-based chapters, stem from a conversation Alison had with Walter Gyger at the Rotary International Convention in Hamburg 18 months ago.

Country-based chapters can be likened to a holding company with regional offices, which are culturally relevant to their area and, most importantly, they represent the unique issues of that area. They work together to formulate a strategic plan, while simultaneously adhering to the mission and strategic plan of the holding company.

To date, there are four chapters piloting this concept in Switzerland, Serbia, Germany and Hong Kong. Each chapter has achieved much to date.

Hong Kong has brought in over 70 new members to RAGFP and 30 new Peacebuilder clubs. Some 65 Rotarians have taken the Peace Academy training. They hosted a Multi District Conference with Peter Kyle and Alison as keynote speakers, and they are currently undertaking a series of training sessions.

A striking outcome for the Switzerland Chapter is the Geneva Project Incubator. This brings together over 50 Peace Fellows, 100 Rotarians and other organisations, each working together on the various aspects of peace projects. At the end of the event, it is anticipated there will be 40 global grants ready for sponsorship and implementation.

Not only have the chapters achieved much, but other participants have made great strides for peace.

Some Rotarians are working with Karim Wasfi, a renowned cellist and conductor from Iraq.

They produced a video of Karim and the orchestras which he has set up in the war-torn areas of Iraq for World Peace Day.

Rotarians from Turkey came on the chat for advice with how to put on a conference around Gallipoli and ANZAC Day this past November. RAGFP connected them with Peace Fellows, speakers and panellists.

“It has been a privilege to see this group grow in stature. They have a global grant for peace as the outcome of their conference,” Alison said.

RAGFP has also recognised the changed status of Rotaract, hosting an online meeting of Rotaractors from over 20 countries. Rotaractors decided they wanted to put on a virtual Global Peace Conference. This they did in October, with Rotary International President Holger Knaack as keynote speaker.

Another conference was held in December for Europe and Africa, and a third conference is under consideration for Oceania/Australasia Rotaractors.

RAGFP reduced its membership fees for Rotaractors during September and October. Rotarians sponsored groups of 20 Rotaractors. Now, over 350 Rotaractors have been brought into RAGFP.

Much support has been offered to clubs, with many speaking engagements.

Reem Ghunaim, RAGFP’s executive director, has been holding ‘Together for Peace’ talks with a varied and distinguished list of guests.

What about the future? RAGFP exists to conduct its mission to ‘engage, educate and empower’ Rotarians and others in the area of peace.

“We may not have all of the answers, or all the resources, but we know where to get them and how we can connect,” Alison said.

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*This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Rotary magazine for Great Britain & Ireland.