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Rotary’s Positive Peace Academy teaches sustainable peacebuilding

One of the first graduates of this program, Rotarian Patricia Shafer,
explains how service projects can put the concept of Positive Peace to work.

by Illustration by

Peacemaking is stopping bullets; peacekeeping is negotiating. Peacebuilding, meanwhile, is creating an environment of security and conditions of well-being through access to things like health care, education, and water. That’s what Patricia Shafer, a Rotary Peace Fellow and member of the Rotary Club of Charlotte, North Carolina, teaches to high school and university students as executive director of NewGen Peacebuilders. She is also senior fellow for peace education at the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

Recently, Shafer built on her peace fellowship by becoming one of the first Rotary Positive Peace activators, a role that will connect her with Rotarians who want to build peace through their projects and help their communities do the same. By 2022, 150 Rotary Positive Peace activators will be trained in six regions of the globe through the strategic partnership between Rotary and the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

What is Positive Peace?

Eight Pillars of Positive Peace

  • Well-functioning government
  • Sound business environment
  • Acceptance of the rights of others
  • Good relations with neighbors
  • Free flow of information
  • High levels of human capital
  • Low levels of corruption
  • Equitable distribution of resources

Global Peace Index, June 2020

Dr. Johan Galtung [a Norwegian sociologist who is considered the “father of peace studies”], in his original premise of Positive Peace, promoted the idea that we’re trained to think of peace as reducing or minimizing violence — as taking away the bad. But if you want sustainable peace, you have to work on promoting the good: creating the conditions of well-being for all. The IEP’s Pillars of Positive Peace is a framework of eight factors that research shows work together to make for more peaceful societies. All eight pillars matter — it’s a systemic view — but the IEP advises focusing on which one or two may be the weakest. A focus there can be a basis for the design of a peace project.

What is a Positive Peace activator?

There are 26 Positive Peace activators in North America, and a group of 30 will be trained in Latin America. Many are Rotary Peace Fellows. Some are Rotarians. Some are IEP ambassadors. I’m all three. Positive Peace activators are charged with equipping people with an understanding of Positive Peace and of the IEP’s eight pillars, and with teaching them to put those concepts to work. We do this through presentations at Rotary clubs and conferences, incorporating the Positive Peace framework into other peacebuilding work, and, in my case, co-designing a series of training summits that Rotarians can offer to their local communities in 2021.  

Why did you become a Positive Peace activator?

Rotary has a peacebuilding history that goes back to 1914 and has established a very clear footprint in peace education with the Rotary Peace Fellows program, which has more than 1,300 members in its alumni network. Another big opportunity is for Rotarians to connect with local communities about peacebuilding and to employ a common framework and a common language and way of thinking about peace. 

How can Rotarians get involved?

One thing that’s easy to do is to learn about the IEP’s Positive Peace framework through the free Rotary Positive Peace Academy. Training workshops, whether virtual or in person, can teach you how to apply the eight Pillars of Positive Peace to projects you are already working on. If you’re working on education and literacy or water and sanitation, how do you look at those through the eight pillars? It’s transformative to look at projects that way. It’s how you go from doing good service projects to being activators for Positive Peace.

Over the past few months, every community on this planet has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s put tremendous stress on every community. Now, in the United States, we’re also seeing the impact of discord over issues of racial equity. One premise of the eight Pillars of Positive Peace is that they create a stronger, more resilient community that can face crises when they occur.

Enroll in the Rotary Positive Peace Academy at

• This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Rotary magazine.

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