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Toward a more
lasting peace

With a new peace center at Makerere University in Uganda, a reimagined peace fellowship program, and ambitious plans for the future, Rotary International advances its push for global harmony


Since Rotary inaugurated its peace fellows program in 2002, 810 students have graduated with master’s degrees from one of five Rotary Peace Centers; an additional 514 have completed the certificate program from the peace center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. These fellows have become thought leaders in the world of peace studies, but only a small fraction of them — 148 — are from sub-Saharan Africa.

That’s about to change. In January, Rotary announced a new peace center at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda — the first peace center in Africa — and a complete reimagining of the Rotary Peace Centers professional development certificate program. “This is a real bonus not just for Africa but for Rotary,” says Bryn Styles, chair of the Rotary Peace Centers Committee. “It will increase our credibility in the area of peace.”

The announcement was greeted enthusiastically in Kampala. “It was important for us to expand our expertise and our engagement in the area of conflict and peace,” says Barnabas Nawangwe, vice chancellor at Makerere University. “Partnering with an international organization like Rotary allows us to demonstrate on a global scale what we’ve been doing for 20 years in our local environment. What we’ve learned here we can use to confront strife in populations all over the world.”

Makerere will provide peace fellows with the education and hands-on experience that will allow them to go back to their communities with tools to create positive social change.

Rotary was seeking a program that draws from the regional expertise and experiences of those affected by conflict, says Jill Gunter, manager of the Rotary Peace Centers program. Makerere, which already offered a program in peace and conflict studies, was ideal because of its focus on local peacebuilding and conflict transformation. “The program will attract candidates dedicated to working for peace throughout Africa,” Gunter says. “It helps that Uganda provides lessons in hosting refugees that the whole world can learn from — and Makerere showed a willingness and desire to adapt their programs to Rotary’s needs and requirements.”

Nawangwe expects local Rotarians to also play a big role in the success of the new center. “There are many clubs around Africa engaged in the cause of peace, so there is much they can offer,” he says. “Makerere is located in the heart of the Great Lakes region, which has historically experienced the most strife in Africa. We’ve had frequent experience with conflict, which is why we established our peace program. We have a formidable faculty that understands and can educate others about conflict and peace.” Nawangwe expects that peace fellows will do field studies in areas struggling with the aftermath of conflict, such as South Sudan and Rwanda. “We will talk with the communities there, finding out what happened, what has been done, and what remains to be done,” he says.

Rotarians from the region had been “very keen” to land the new peace center, says Styles. “The new certificate program at Makerere will provide peace fellows with the education and hands-on experience that will allow them to go back to their communities with tools to create positive social change,” he says.

When the first peace fellows begin their studies at Makerere in January 2021, they will be introduced to Rotary’s new yearlong certificate program in peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and development. The peace center at Chulalongkorn University, which has offered the three-month version of the certificate program, will also follow the new model.

“It was important to bring the certificate program into the larger peacebuilding ecosystem of Rotary,” says Surichai Wun’Gaeo, the director of the Chulalongkorn peace center. “We also want to be more aligned with Positive Peace efforts and foster a holistic understanding of the relationship between peace and development. In the past, when we talked about peace, it was separate from development. Peace was considered a separate sector. Now we will move to a comprehensive approach to peacebuilding.”

In the new model, each certificate program will accept a cohort of up to 20 peace fellows twice a year. The online application for the 2021-22 peace fellowship is available beginning this month. Qualified candidates for the certificate program will be professionals with a minimum of five years of experience in peace and development. They must be working on or have an idea for an initiative that promotes peace or social change in their workplace or community.

This is a real bonus not just for Africa but for Rotary. It will increase our credibility in the area of peace.

The program will begin with an online course to provide each of the incoming fellows with baseline knowledge on peace and development studies. It will also offer fellows the opportunity to share ideas about their peace and social change initiatives with one another.

A 10-week session will follow at the peace center, where fellows will work on their peace initiatives and create plans to bring them to fruition. After a review of the fundamentals of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, the curriculum will concentrate on human rights, governance, and the role of media in conflict, among other topics; it will also help fellows develop practical skills, such as in mediation and negotiation. To build on Rotary’s strategic partnership with the Institute for Economics and Peace, a one-week workshop will be devoted to the theory and practice of Positive Peace. Fellows will devote two weeks to field studies, an opportunity to engage in hands-on sessions of experiential learning. (At Makerere, for instance, it’s proposed that fellows visit western Uganda and Kigali, Rwanda, to study ethnic strife and incidents of mass atrocities.) All this will occur within a regionally focused context, which could mean an emphasis on refugees, climate-induced conflict, and peacebuilding in divided societies.

At the end of the 10-week session, fellows will return to their jobs or communities and implement their initiatives over the next nine months. They will be assisted by a mentor chosen from members of the university’s faculty or network of professionals. Fellows will also participate in interactive online learning sessions with other members of their cohort.

As the yearlong program concludes, fellows will return to the peace center for a one-week capstone session, where they will network, hear from prominent experts in the field of peace and development, and reflect and report on their initiatives. To foster a long-term affiliation with one another and with Rotary, the cohort returning for its final week will overlap with a new cohort starting its first on-site session. After the program concludes, graduates will continue to hone their leadership skills and reassemble periodically to provide updates, inspiration, and encouragement to one another, all with an eye toward creating a robust regional hub of peacebuilders.

Other changes still lie ahead for the Rotary peace programs. An enhanced master’s degree program — one that concentrates more broadly on the link between peace and development and that is aligned with each of Rotary’s six areas of focus — will be introduced in 2022, and two more peace centers offering the certificate program are expected to launch by 2030, one in Latin America or the Caribbean and a second in the Middle East or North Africa.

• This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

Image credit: Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda

Four of a kind

Peggy Asseo likes to tell a story that illustrates the kind of generosity Rotary’s peace programs are capable of inspiring. The director of planned and major gifts at Rotary International, Asseo was among a group of people at the 2019 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg discussing the new peace center planned for Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Two of the people — Nigerian businessman Sir Emeka Offor and Howard Jeter, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria — stepped aside for a private conversation. The two men returned to the group, and Jeter said that Offor would like to make a statement.

Asseo picks up the story from there: “Sir Emeka pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check from his foundation for $250,000. He announced that he was making this gift to be used for startup costs relating to the new peace center and to support the recruitment of qualified Nigerian applicants. He concluded by saying,‘I hope my donation serves as an inspiration to other Africans to do the same for their countries.’”

It was an astonishing moment, even from a man known for his generosity. (Over the years, Offor has donated $3 million to Rotary causes.) Yet it would prove not entirely uncommon. In Japan, after District 2760 made a $250,000 donation to the Makerere peace center from District Designated Funds, Seishi Sakamoto of the Rotary Club of Nagoya Meita made a matching gift of $250,000. By supporting the new peace center, he said, “we help to provide an important resource for creating peace and reducing conflict throughout Africa.”

Five thousand miles away, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Joseph P. and Linda Grebmeier, members of the Rotary Club of King City, California, pledged a $1 million life endowment to the new peace center, expressing the hope that their “commitment will help to support Rotary’s peace programs in Africa and in our world.”

From the beginning, Rotarians’ generosity has kept pace with the progress of the peace centers. Since the centers’ establishment in 2002, 7,000 donors have made 15,000 gifts or commitments to the program totaling $172 million. “Rotarians came together to support the peace centers, just as they’ve come together to support global grants and Rotary’s other humanitarian endeavors,” says Asseo. “All of that happens because of donors.”

Asseo is especially gratified that the gifts from Offor, Sakamoto, and the Grebmeiers originated in Africa, Asia, and North America. “These significant donations from three different continents represent a worldwide recognition of the value of Rotary having a peace center in Africa,” she says.