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New Rotary Peace Center to open in Turkey

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Rotary International is launching a new peace center at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, Turkey.


Next month, Rotary International and administrators at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, Turkey, will begin recruiting fellowship candidates for a new peace center opening at the university. The Otto and Fran Walter Rotary Peace Center will offer experienced peacebuilders based in the Middle East and North Africa the opportunity to complete a one-year professional development certificate program, earning postgraduate diplomas in peace and development studies.

“The center will bring together peacemakers from across the Middle East and North Africa — people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, but who share common goals — and provide them with the resources and experiences needed to work together to promote peace within the region,” says Martha Peak Helman, a trustee of The Rotary Foundation and president of the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation. The Walter Foundation donated US$15.5 million to fund the center’s operations and fellowships for up to 40 students per year in perpetuity.

Rotary International offers emerging leaders in peace and development from around the world the opportunity to learn and grow at its peace centers. The centers are located at universities with well-established programs in peace studies, conflict resolution, and international development.

The curriculum of the newest Rotary Peace Center will address issues that are particularly relevant in the Middle East and North Africa: land disputes, climate change, food insecurity, refugee integration, and economic and community development. Fellows will also attend seminars and workshops offered by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research through CIFAL Istanbul, the UN’s international training center for local leaders and organizations, located at the university. The fellows will then implement a nine-month social change project in the region and present their work at a capstone seminar.

“The university’s unique partnership with the UN Institute for Training and Research, and its focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, will offer Rotary Peace Fellows from the region an opportunity to receive high-level training that is aligned with Rotary’s mission,” says Rotary Peace Centers Manager Laura Descher. “Their fellowship teaches them to use innovative policy and advocacy tools to address issues that drive conflict, and to adapt what they learn to their local contexts.”

The center’s academic director, Esra Albayrakoğlu, says its regional focus will be one of the keys to its success. “As the discipline of conflict management has given way to conflict transformation, bottom-up approaches based on finding local solutions to local problems more effectively address the root causes of conflicts,” she adds.

Bahçeşehir University

Bahçeşehir University, also known as BAU, is a private university with a global presence. One of the leading higher education institutions in Turkey, it has nearly 30,000 students from more than 125 countries. The peace center will be located on the university’s Future Campus , recently built in the suburbs of Istanbul. The peace fellows will live at the campus during the 10-week residential portion of the program and will have access to a spacious library, a study room, medical and fitness facilities, and other services.

“Fellows will have the opportunity to learn about various refugee communities, participate in sustainable development practices, visit areas affected by disasters, interact with nongovernmental organizations, and attend events reflecting the region’s cultural mosaic,” Albayrakoğlu says. “Bahçeşehir University represents the multiculturalism and spirit of hospitality that is so prevalent in Turkey. The university stands out as a microcosm of the Middle East and North Africa, hosting many students from this region and its environs.”

In February 2021, The Rotary Foundation Trustees gratefully accepted a record-breaking US$15.5 million pledge from the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation to establish a new peace center in the Middle East and North Africa region. This gift is allowing the Foundation to make progress toward its longtime goal of expanding the Rotary Peace Centers program to cover key geographic regions. In January 2023, the Trustees approved Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, Turkey, to host the peace center and authorized the Foundation to proceed with a partnership agreement.

Applications for Rotary Peace Fellowships at all centers, including at BAU, will be accepted 1 February through 15 May. The fellows will be selected in November and begin their studies in early 2025. To be eligible for the fellowship at BAU, candidates must either be from the Middle East or North Africa, have worked in the region, work elsewhere with communities or initiatives connected to the region, or demonstrate strong interest in learning about peacebuilding approaches in the region. The fellowships will pay for tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation to the university, and internship and field study expenses.

Rotary members in the region will play a crucial role in supporting the new center by encouraging peacebuilders from their communities to apply for the fellowship. Rotary members in Turkey will welcome peace fellows to the campus and help them become oriented to the Istanbul area.

“With clubs working together around the world to support community projects locally and globally, Rotary’s heart is in creating peace, goodwill, and friendship,” says John F. Germ, a past president of Rotary International and a member of the Rotary Peace Center Search Committee. “Our peace fellows learn to support community development programs that create environments for peace. Rotary’s partnership with Bahçeşehir University will enhance these efforts not only in the Middle East and North Africa but around the world.”

Based at premier universities, Rotary’s peace centers, which now total seven, offer fully funded master’s degree or professional development certificate programs. They have graduated more than 1,700 fellows, who now work in more than 140 countries. Many program alumni serve as leaders in governments, nongovernmental organizations, educational institutions, and international organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank. Each year, The Rotary Foundation awards up to 50 fellowships for master’s degrees and up to 80 for certificate studies.

“This new peace center builds on Rotary’s long history of working for peace,” says Bill Boyd, a past president of Rotary International and the chair of the Rotary Peace Center Search Committee. “We will not solve every problem, but we will make a difference through the many peace fellows who will become catalysts for peace across the region.”

- January 2024