Editor’s Note: The following report was published at LinkedIn on January 23, 2016
By John Bernaden, Past president of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee,
More than 1,000 Rotarians from 40 countries, including myself, attended the Rotary World Peace Conference on January 15-16th in Ontario, CA. As the first in a series of global Presidential Conferences hosted by Rotary InternationalPresident “Ravi” Ravindran and Foundation Chair Ray Klinginsmith, attendees learned from leaders and experts about solutions to major issues occurring in our personal lives, homes, schools, businesses, communities as well as our nations.
A dozen tracks presented ways – big and small – that Rotarians can bring more peace to our world such as eliminating conflict in our homes, creating peace in schools, making businesses safer places for employees to do their best work, embracing civil rights, creating collaboration among major religions, and connecting economies needed to sustain peace.
Actress and humanitarian Sharon Stone told attendees in her keynote speech that “Rotary is an incredibly cool organization. ‘Service above Self.’ I tell my kids that life is a service job!”
Father Greg Boyle, executive director of Homeboy Industries, talked about his journey creating a nationally acclaimed gang intervention program.
Several other major speakers inspired Rotarians like Claes Nobel, a senior member of the famed Nobel family, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, son of a highly-decorated Nazi tank commander who became a medical officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, Bazzel Baz, a former CIA black ops officer who now clandestinely rescues missing kids for free, and Barbara Winton, daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton who rescued hundreds of Jewish children in 1939 from certain death in concentration camps.
However, sobering speakers like Steve Killelea, founder of the world’s largest measure of peacefulness today, the Global Peace Index, as well as Gillian Sorensen, former Assistant Secretary-General for the United National, stressed concerns that there is more conflict today than at any point in recent history. Killelea’s Institute for Economics and Peace also established the first Global Terrorism Index that shows an alarming 80 percent jump in the number of deaths worldwide from acts of terrorism in just the last year’s statistics.
RI President “Ravi” kicked off the conference by sharing an emotional story about his daughter nearly dying from a suicide bomber’s explosion during the 1991 war in Sri Lanka. He also described how guerillas threatened to kill him if he didn’t pay bribes from Rotary grant funds being used to rebuild new schools after the war. He bravely said “No!” Members may have read Ravi’s story in his November Presidential message.
But the 156 speakers in 12 breakout tracks during the two days provided the most meaningful examples of how Rotarians can achieve world peace – in ways big and small. Dr. Dan Shanit, a Rotarian and deputy director of the Peres Center for Peace, believes in a “bottoms up” approach like his grass roots successes in getting Israeli and Palestinian physicians to work together to save lives. Or Mac Millar, the Australian nine-year-old-son of a Rotarian, who was inspired to send 4,000 soccer balls to kids in need in 22 countries, including Afghanistan and North Korea. And Rotarian Jiro Kawastuma who serves “Green Legacy Hiroshima” by spreading seeds and saplings worldwide from the atomic-bomb survivor trees…
In the “Creating understanding among the Major Religions” sessions, I even met some Rotarians who had also participated in the Parliament of World Religions in October where I gave a speech about creating faith-friendly workplaces. Rotary peace fellows as well as diverse panels of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other religious leaders emphasized the critical importance of interfaith communication and ideally collaboration. Father Alexis Smith who served as President of the inter-religious Council of Southern California — quoted the Dali Lama’s profound belief that “When there’s peace among religions, there will be peace in the world.”