Peace building conversations that can lead to connecting communities

By Scott R. Martin, 2017 Rotary Peace Fellow and Founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders International

As my Rotary Peace Fellowship came to a close in Bangkok, I was already planning my next steps but I had no idea how quickly the plan would unfold. I took three major lessons from my peace education:

  1. The importance of connected, resilient local communities in the landscape of global peace;
  2. The power of dialogue to connect fractured communities and safely share diverse ideas, fears, values and vision;
  3. The unique role and opportunity Rotarians hold as leaders in building sustainable peace around the world.

I was excited to be stepping into one of the world’s largest extended families – a family who shares weekly meals with one another in nearly every major city around the world. As a newly minted peace fellow with a background in dialogue and conflict resolution, I see it as my calling to work with fellow Rotarians to first increase our ability to communicate with each other in a robust and honest way and then to build our capacity to reach out and re-connect the communities in which we live.

For the past ten years, I have also belonged to the Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) family. The Founder of MBBI, Ken Cloke, first introduced me to community dialogue and transformative mediation and I credit Ken for my professional success. It will not surprise you that many of my mentors at MBBI are also Rotarians, so connecting my two extended families happened naturally.

MBBI has already collaborated with many clubs throughout the world to carry out global grants for training women peacebuilders. The International Training Institutes (ITI) link Rotarians and peace fellows to women peace builders struggling to help their communities heal and prevent future conflict. I wondered if something similar could be done to build fellow Rotarians’ skills in community dialogue and conflict resolution?

Last fall, five months after graduating from Chulalongkorn, the Peace Dialogue Project was launched. I am fortunate my host District 5280 is a Peacebuilder District, so enjoy overwhelming support from both PDG Dr. Vicki Radel and DG Cozette Vergari as well as a full Rotarian Peace Committee and several peace fellows.

Phase one of the project is Peace Conversation Facilitation and focuses helping clubs to have conversations about difficult subjects. So far, with the help of co-facilitators from MBBI, we’ve delivered two rounds of trainings to nearly 40 Peace Chairs and representatives from District 5280’s 63 clubs. Each training is two days (14 hours). We used Human Trafficking as the difficult topic to build conversations around. Trainings culminate with each participant receiving a certificate in Peace Conversation Facilitation.

Our trainees have already started facilitating challenging conversations with their clubs and even holding their own Peace Conversations! The response has been overwhelmingly positive. 80% of surveyed Rotarians stated they learned something new about how other members feel and how they themselves feel on the subject and over 90% say they look forward to engaging in the same format with future topics.

The next phase, after the trainees have facilitated several conversations, is to deliver an advanced training in Peace Dialogue. The phase will put clubs at the center of their larger community as a hub to convene and hold dialogues on many of the same difficult topics.  There will be opportunities to partner with other community leaders and like-minded services organizations to multiply our impact and create sustaining positive peace throughout our communities around the world.

We have already begun plans to replicate this model with other districts and my goal is to involve many peace fellows in the process. I’m committed to helping Rotary International as a leader in peace for the global community and sincerely believe that dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution are key vehicles for realizing that vision.  I am inspired by the helpers and collaborators I’ve already met and I look forward to working with whomever feels called to assist in the effort. Contact me for more information for yourself or to get your district involved.

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