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Why peace equals prosperity

The Institute for Economics and Peace had done the research on how countries could create and sustain peace. But how to put that research into action at the grassroots level? Enter Rotary.



Thirteen years ago, Steve Killelea found himself in Kivu, a war-ravaged region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

A wealthy Australian software entrepreneur turned hands-on global philanthropist, he had traveled to Africa to help women and girls who had suffered some of the worst horrors in the ongoing conflict. 

While there, he remembers, “I asked myself a fantasy question: What is the world’s most peaceful nation? I did an internet search and no answer came up. It made me realize how little we understand about peace.”

That was the genesis of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which Killelea founded in 2008. By analyzing data about peace, the IEP aims to determine the social, political, and economic factors that create and sustain peace. 

“At our core, we are a research organization,” says Michelle Breslauer, the organization’s program director in the Americas. “Nobody before had systematically measured peace.” 

This speaks to one of Killelea’s central principles: “If you can’t measure something,” he says, “you can’t understand it.”

Graphics courtesy of The Institute for Economics and Peace

At the IEP, Breslauer works to boost the organization’s public profile and reach people who have the drive and the resources to make change on the ground. “We want to reach a wider audience, beyond just the academic community,” she says — and a new partnership between the IEP and Rotary is helping do that. At a peace conference the IEP co-sponsored at Stanford University last fall, she recalls, “every time I turned around, there was a Rotarian.” She was thrilled by their enthusiasm.

“Building peace is not something that can be done by governments alone,” Breslauer says. “We need to shift the way people think about building peace in their own communities. The IEP can now galvanize at the grassroots level. Locally, Rotarians can be leaders to push forward peace in the world.”

The cornerstone of the Institute for Economics and Peace is the concept of positive peace, a theory closely associated with Norwegian sociologist and pioneering peace researcher Johan Galtung. In March 1964, in the inaugural issue of his Journal of Peace Research, Galtung differentiated between “negative peace, which is the absence of violence, [the] absence of war ... and positive peace, which is the integration of human society.”

Breslauer breaks down the distinction between negative and positive peace a little more simply. “Peace does not just mean the absence of something,” she says. “After all, an authoritarian regime could have peace. Peace is also the presence of something.” The trick is in determining exactly what that something is. 

Upon returning from Kivu, Killelea set about filling in the large gaps in the data about the metrics of peace. “I’m very good at finding the white spaces on the canvas where no one else has painted,” he says. In May 2007, he published the first Global Peace Index; a new edition of the GPI has followed every year since, along with other indexes. Those include the Positive Peace Report, which analyzes “the factors that sustain peace.” 

The IEP codified those factors — the essential ingredients that foster positive peace — as the Eight Pillars of Positive Peace, which are linked to 24 indicators. The pillars are used to calculate the levels of positive peace in different parts of the world. “This provides a baseline measure of the effectiveness of a country’s capabilities to build and maintain peace,” as the 2018 Positive Peace Report explains. Positive peace also serves as a predictor of “the likelihood of conflict, violence, and instability.”

The simplicity of that explanation belies the complex, real-world interrelationship of the eight pillars. “You have to think through how they interact as a system rather than as individual pillars,” says Breslauer. “For instance, you could have a young, educated population, but without job opportunities, they’re left dissatisfied” — which creates the potential for societal unrest. “So it’s not just one factor or strengthening one pillar. You must bring together the different vectors of society.”

In addition, as the Positive Peace Report acknowledges, the way positive peace and its pillars manifest themselves “will very much be dependent on cultural norms and specific situations. What is appropriate in one country may not be appropriate in another. … Each society will be unique to some degree.”

Killelea appreciates this fact as well as anyone. “The key thing I’ve learned is that there isn’t any silver bullet to creating peace,” he says. “It takes far more effort to improve peace than decrease peace.”

That insight left him wondering about specific ways he might help create peace. “From the IEP’s perspective, we were very keen to operationalize the concepts we had developed through our research,” he says.

Courtesy of The Institute for Economics and Peace

Enter Rotary.

“I grew up in the Rotary environment,” Killelea recalls. “My father was a member for 30 years. Rotary was his form of civic service. There were always exchange students staying with the family when I was growing up.”

The IEP’s connection with Rotary took off in 2015, when Peter Kyle, who was then the chair of Rotary’s Peace Centers Committee (he’s now the dean of the Rotary Representative Network), invited Killelea to address a peace symposium held in conjunction with the Rotary International Convention in São Paulo, Brazil. “Steve is very down-to-earth and a strong supporter of Rotary,” says Kyle, who’s originally from New Zealand and admits to a “friendly rivalry” with the Australian Killelea. “He was eager to establish a stronger link between Rotary and the IEP.”

In fall 2016, the two organizations — along with the International Peace and Security Institute, a Washington, D.C., peacebuilding organization — conducted a three-day positive peace workshop through a Rotary global grant in Kampala that attracted 200 people from across Uganda. Among other things, the workshop introduced a set of training activities for each of the eight pillars and developed several initiatives that the participants took back to their communities. 

One of those participants was Jude Kakuba, a secondary school teacher and a member of the Rotaract Club of Nateete-Kampala. He implemented a literacy training program at a school in Nateete, a neighborhood in Kampala, that incorporated activities focused on each of the eight pillars of peace. Ultimately, the program lifted the school’s scholastic performance from the bottom half of the district to the top third and increased attendance by 40 percent. 

The Eight Pillars of Positive Peace

  • Well-functioning Government: An effective government delivers high-quality public and civil services, engenders trust and participation, demonstrates political stability, and upholds the rule of law.
  • Sound Business Environment: Strong economic conditions as well as the institutions that support the private sector promote business competitiveness and economic productivity — both associated with the most peaceful countries.
  • Equitable Distribution of Resources: Peaceful countries tend to ensure equity in access to resources such as education, health, and, to a lesser extent, equity in income distribution.
  • Acceptance of the Rights of Others: Formal laws that guarantee basic human rights and freedoms, as well as informal social and cultural norms that relate to citizens’ behaviors, are hallmarks of peaceful countries.
  • Good Relations with Neighbors: Countries that have peaceful relations with other countries are more peaceful overall and tend to be more politically stable, have better functioning governments, and have lower levels of organized internal conflict.
  • Free Flow of Information: A free and independent media disseminates information in a way that leads to greater knowledge among citizens and helps individuals, businesses, and governments make better decisions.
  • High Levels of Human Capital: A skilled and educated populace is an indicator of economic productivity, political participation, and social capital.
  • Low Levels of Corruption: In societies with high levels of corruption, resources are inefficiently allocated, often leading to a lack of funding for essential services and civil unrest. Low levels of corruption enhance confidence and trust in institutions.

One aspect of the project concentrated on strengthening the pillar related to good relations with neighbors. As Killelea tells the story, hungry students had been stealing mangoes and other fruit from local farmers, who were understandably angry. The hungry kids would also sneak away at lunchtime to pilfer produce from nearby gardens. By planting fruit trees on school grounds and providing porridge at lunch, the project eased tensions with the school’s neighbors. As a bonus, those new measures helped boost attendance and test scores. 

The success of the Uganda workshop led the IEP to enter into a partnership with Rotary in 2017. Killelea sees it as an opportunity to gather Rotary’s six areas of focus “under one umbrella.” For his part, Kyle anticipates that the IEP’s focus on peace and economics will hold a special appeal for Rotarians. “The business of peace fits right in with Rotary,” he says. As the IEP puts it, positive peace makes it “easier for businesses to sell, entrepreneurs and scientists to innovate, individuals to produce, and governments to effectively regulate.”

Now in its second year, the partnership has already produced results, including the establishment of the Rotary Positive Peace Academy and the IEP Ambassador Program. In 2016, before the partnership with Rotary was officially underway, the ambassador program welcomed 135 Rotary Peace Fellows who made 248 presentations about positive peace in 51 countries. 

One of the significant initiatives to stem from the partnership will be a series of positive peace workshops hosted by Rotary clubs and districts around the world. The community-based workshops will bring together diverse groups of leaders and peacebuilders to discuss the kinds of impactful and measurable investments that can promote positive peace locally. This spring, Rotary and the IEP will host a series of those workshops in Mexico and Colombia that will teach residents how to implement positive peace projects in their communities. 

“We need to find practical ways to advance our peace agenda,” Kyle says. “What can Rotarians do to advance the eight pillars?” Rotary’s partnership with the IEP should help provide an answer to that question.