A brief history
Initiatives of Change (IofC) is an active network of people from many cultures and creeds, across the generations, engaged in the process of 'remaking the world'. It was first known as the Oxford Group, arising from its work among university students in the late 1920s. In 1938, as European nations re-armed for war, its originator, Frank Buchman, called for 'moral and spiritual re-armament' as the way to build a 'hate-free, fear-free, greed-free world'. Following World War II, Moral Re-Armament (MRA), as it became known, launched a programme of moral and spiritual reconstruction to foster change in private and public life, based on a change in motivation and character.
It all began after Frank Buchman, an American Lutheran minister of Swiss ancestry born in 1878, underwent a spiritual experience of release from bitterness in crucial relationships, that altered the course of his life. The strength of this experience convinced Buchman that moral compromise destroys human character and relationships, and that moral clarity is a prerequisite for building a just society. Buchman (see 'Buchman Online') reached out first to university students, and in the 1920s his ideas took root at Oxford and in some American universities, spreading through the 1930s into many sectors and on to other continents. Alcoholics Anonymous was established during the 1930s as a direct result of the liberating experiences which some people had found through their contact with the Oxford Group (download in PDF research article by Jay Stinnett) . As war in Europe loomed in the summer of 1938, Buchman issued a world-wide call for moral and spiritual re-armament, and Moral Re-Armament (MRA) was publicly launched in Europe and North America. His aim was to provide a rallying point for positive forces in every country, and his ideas were increasingly taken up in the public forum. During the war hundreds of Buchman’s team enlisted in the Allied forces, while he and others spent time in the United States contributing to the strengthening of national morale and planning towards the building of peace.
In 1946 MRA opened an international conference centre in Caux, Switzerland, made possible through the generosity and hard work of hundreds of Swiss citizens. Buchman returned to Europe conscious that lasting worldwide peace could only be established on the basis of a change in personal and public relationships. At a time when any contact with the Germans was extremely difficult, Buchman and his colleagues invited Germans to Caux in ever growing numbers, amongst them the new emerging political leadership. Over the next four years more than 3,000 Germans and 2,000 French came to Caux, and their encounters became the basis of a massive development in reconciliation and reconstruction. Buchman was later decorated by both the German and French governments for his contribution to European reconciliation. The story of one them, Resistance leader Madame Irène Laure, is told on video - and is also available as a book. The conferences at Caux, and similar ones at Mackinac Island in the United States, achieved further public recognition through several other major contributions to international developments in the post-war years, notably the part played in the reconciliation of Japan with her South-East Asian neighbours, and in the achievement of independence by several African countries without major bloodshed. By the 1950s, casts of plays presenting MRA’s ideas were travelling all over the world. Centers were established in Latin America, India, Japan and several countries in Africa. When Buchman died in 1961, the former British political journalist Peter Howard assumed the leadership of MRA, but four years later he too died. Without a clearly identified leadership to ensure cohesion, unresolved differences among those taking responsibility began to surface. In some countries a new approach was tried, concentrating on the younger generation, and in others more traditional ways continued. What had started as a difference of emphasis became two different structures, with Up With People, later a global educational program, spinning off from Moral Re-Armament. After a period of uncertainty and dissension, trust has slowly been reestablished, with valuable lessons learned.
The 1970s and 80s were a period of consolidation. With reconciliation a primary need in many parts of the world, some of MRA’s work concentrated on supporting peace-making initiatives in Africa and Asia. Asia Plateau in India developed as a major international center for the training of people from industry, education and other national sectors. In Britain, some of the work focussed on bettering industrial relations at the big car and steel manufacturing plants, important at that time for economic stability, and some on the growing multiculturalism of the country’s large cities. The collapse of Communism triggered new needs and opportunities for the rebuilding of democracy in the post-Soviet world. This became one major focal point in the 90s, alongside new approaches, such as 'Hope in the Cities', which was created to bridge the racial divide in the United States, ‘Clean Election’ campaigns in Taiwan, Brazil and Kenya, and a continuing concern for the creation of a moral and spiritual infrastructure for development in both rich and poorer nations.
With the approach of the new millennium, there was world-wide recognition that the words ‘moral re-armament’ no longer held the same resonance as they had in 1938. In 2001 the new name Initiatives of Change (IofC) was announced to the world’s media by the president of the Caux Foundation, Cornelio Sommaruga (former President of the International Red Cross) and Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma. IofC centers large and small on each continent continue in active operation, while new international programs have been established to respond to particular needs in society. While ways of expressing truth, and methods of co-ordinating the global work, continue to change as succeeding generations take on this particular responsibility for the moral and spiritual renewal of society, the essential philosophy of Initiatives of Change remains the same – that personal change can lead to social, economic and political change. With its emphasis on experience rather than philosophy, it provides a focus where people of different religious and political persuasions can meet without compromising their own beliefs, and be part of a global network committed to working for change in the world.