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The programmes, or ‘initiatives’, of the global network of Initiatives of Change (IofC) often start with a few people, sometimes just one individual. They may be sparked by a decision to repair a broken relationship or take up an issue of conscience. Or the initiative may grow from a response to a spiritual impulse. ‘The inner voice’, as Gandhi called it.
Such initiatives are both of change (prompted by a personal change within people) and for change (affecting an ever-widening environment). Often, they bring people together into a positive action for transformation and healing, sometimes touching on a significant global issue.
For instance, in northern Nigeria two militia leaders – one a Muslim imam, the other a Christian pastor – were caught up in ethnic and religious violence which cost thousands of lives in the early 1990s. Brought face to face with their raw hatred of each other’s communities, and with the core dictates for love and mercy in their own faiths, they began a process of reconciliation with each other which gave birth to an initiative to heal their warring communities. When they spoke at Caux, the world centre for Initiatives of Change in Switzerland, the British-based IofC production unit, FLTfilms, asked to film their story. The subsequent documentary, The Imam and the Pastor, was launched at the United Nations in New York and is being translated into many languages. Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye were invited to speak in countries as diverse as Australia and Kenya. A powerful message for healing and trust-building has been presented in communities around the world facing inter-ethnic divides. The Arabic version of the film is being widely disseminated across the Middle East after a high-profile launch in Lebanon in March 2009.
Such initiatives, ‘highlights’ of which are noted in this annual review of Initiatives of Change’s action during the last year, reach from ‘the intimate to the global’, as French philosopher Gabriel Marcel put it. They become examples of ‘thinking globally, acting locally’.
Through the international centres, such as at Caux in Switzerland and Panchgani in India, alliances are formed to focus strategic actions and, thus a grassroots networks seeks to impact some of the vital issues of our day.
At the core of IofC’s approach to peace building is a quest for personal integrity and moral courage with a special sensitivity to religious and spiritual dimensions. The following are some of the activities conducted by IofC during the year.
In the Solomon Islands, 28 ex-combatants from the bloody tensions of 1998-2003 participated in a course on peace and community building in June 2008, supported by the Ministry of Reconciliation. Realizing they were both victims and perpetrators, the men pledged to work for healing in their communities and being part of the reconciliation process in the country. This process took a further step towards reality when Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to Honiara to launch the government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After Tutu spoke at an IofC-hosted Winds of Change conference, the founder of one of the militias said he was ‘now a changed man and ready to forgive’ those who killed his father. Days later, 25 victims met with ex-combatants in the next of a series of IofC-facilitated workshops. Six from different militia factions were featured in the national newspaper – hands locked together – committing to work together for a lasting reconciliation.
Kenya’s post-election tribal violence in early 2008 led to over 1,000 deaths and up to 600,000 being displaced. The local IofC team responded with various initiatives. Women’s Peace Circles workshops were organized. Young Kikuyus travelled to an area where many of their tribe had been killed by Kalenjins, to introduce their Kenya I Care campaign, combating corruption and tribalism. IofC Kenya also supported the intervention by Nigerian peace-makers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, who were invited by the Centre for Human Rights (Eldoret) to bring healing to the divided communities of the Burnt Forest area. This intervention, which was documented by FLTfilms, climaxed with a peace march through the divided communities and the opening of a ‘Sorry Book’, giving those who had engaged in violence a chance to confess their wrongs.
In Sierra Leone members of parliament and paramount chiefs addressed political divisions in a series of eight regional dialogues across the country from October to December 2008. Supported by UNDP, the dialogues addressed issues of identity, conflict resolution, corruption and the need for personal moral change. IofC International has continued to support the Burundi peace process with the help of funding by the Swiss government.
Social ills such as racism, corruption, family breakdown and selfish materialism may seem so deeply engrained that the individual cannot make a difference. But by bringing people together in ‘honest conversations’, IofC programmes empower individuals and teams to help shape the societies and cultures they are part of.
In Ghana, IofC conducted a 'Clean Elections Campaign’ in the run-up to the December plebiscite, with support from the Methodist Church and the Ghana Journalists’ Association. 80,000 copies of an educational pamphlet, on what to look for in a good leader and warning about corruption, were distributed by churches, along with a form inviting voters to pledge to act with integrity and refrain from violence. Radio discussions, a dialogue for Christian and Muslim youth and a peace walk also featured.
In France, more than 1,500 school children have benefited from an Education for Peace programme of IofC, giving them the skills to resolve conflicts without violence.
Since 1993 the Foundations for Freedom programme, now based in Ukraine, has been running programmes to enable young adults and leaders to bring change to their societies grounded in values-centred decision making. Twelve courses and workshops took place over the year giving rise to various new initiatives, such as a leadership development programme for school students in Moldova, including some from the break-away Transnistria region.
In the USA, IofC’s Hope in the Cities programme partnered with the American Civil War Center in Richmond, Virginia, to enable students to learn about the Civil War and explore its continuing effects today.
In the UK in June, IofC partnered with Liverpool Hope University to bring trust-builders from Lebanon, from Kashmir and Nagaland, India, and Nigeria to speak at a global youth congress, with 600 young people from 55 countries.
From the earliest days of IofC, people from all sides of economic life – workers, management, farmers and financiers – have found common cause in working together to meet the needs of humanity. New energies and creative teamwork emerge when people look beyond their own self-interest, or the narrow interests of their group.
In July the first Caux Forum for Human Security took place in Caux, Switzerland, with funding assistance from the Swiss Government, bringing together some 300 peace-makers, environmentalists and campaigners representing both government and grassroots organizations from 52 countries. The conference aimed to shift thinking on security away from a narrow focus on international conflict to a more holistic approach. Human security was examined from the aspects of climate change and environmental degradation, social and economic conditions, armed conflicts, good governance and the rule of law. Creative networks were formed to grapple with these complex issues.
The previous week a Caux conference, Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy, heard US anti-corruption campaigner Raymond Baker outline proposals to close the legal loopholes through which $500-800 billions of dirty money flow each year from poor countries. At the same time, a meeting of corporate leaders surveying the looming financial crisis called for a number of measures to restore trust, including full transparency in accounting and reining in excessive pay for top executives.
In October a conference on food brought together farmers, consumers and scientists from 11 European countries in Bologna, Italy, organized by IofC in partnership with Pace Adesso and CEFA (European Committee for Training and Agriculture). The current world food system was described as ‘rotten’ because it produces both surpluses and hunger. Access to adequate, healthy food is a moral issue, the conference was told. Farmers’ Dialogues have taken place since the 1990s, building solidarity between farmers around a shared vocation to feed the world. In December, one was organized around ‘peace and reconciliation’ in Kenya.
In India, at Asia Plateau, the IofC centre in Panchgani, a series of conferences on Ethics in Public Governance for officers from the elite Indian Administrative Services has led to real measures to tackle corruption. A chief development officer, responsible for hundreds of villages, overcame his fear of assassination and put five corrupt local officers behind bars. Another senior manager has begun to put some of his 40,000 employees through IofC programmes after finding his own change led to better and more transparent relationships.
Change requires people with a passion for a cause, resilience to keep going when things seem impossible, and moral qualities to inspire others to give their best. IofC training programmes aim to nurture a visionary, inclusive and humble leadership.
The fourth Action for Life programme took 32 people from 16 countries on a seven-month journey through Asia, beginning with a month’s intensive training at the IofC centre in Panchgani, India, in October. Meeting change-makers in various sectors and sharing their own experiences of transformation, the inter-generational group aimed to develop a new generation of change-makers following Gandhi’s motto: Be the change you want to see in the world.
In South Africa 19 participants from seven African countries took part in a ‘Harambee’ training programme (a Swahili word meaning ‘working together for a common purpose’) in September and October. After initial training the group set out on a six-week outreach programme ‘to share our various stories of change and hope for the great continent of Africa’.
Among the many training programmes at Asia Plateau, the IofC centre in India, was a programme for 108 young Tibetans, in March, hosted by Empowering the Vision, a Delhi-based NGO. Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, chief administrator of the Tibetan Government in Exile, challenged them to live out their tradition, even when it seemed threatened by modernity.
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'