Celebrating Peace and Conflict Resolution Month


For more information about Rotary District 7080's Peace initiatives, please visit our Peace Committee page here.


Peace has been one of Rotary’s top goals almost since the day Paul Harris founded it in 1905. In 1914, the convention adopted a resolution proposed by the Rotary Club of Hamilton, Ontario, that the International Association of Rotary Clubs “lend its influence to the maintenance of peace among the nations of the world.” In 1921, with memories of World War I fresh in their minds, delegates to the Rotary International Convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, incorporated into Rotary’s constitution the goal ”to aid in the advancement of international peace and goodwill through a fellowship of business and professional men of all nations united in the Rotary ideal of service.” 

Rotary’s proactive stance toward peacemaking did not go unnoticed. Arch Klumph quoted U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt as saying, “I thoroughly believe in the idea of meetings such as Rotary International is holding. . . No alliance is necessary between governments whose people understand and sympathize with each other. Contact between men such as compose Rotary International will certainly contribute towards mutual understanding.”

Arch Klumph called Rotary “a force that has taken on an impetus that cannot be diminished.” Klumph made that speech to the Atlanta convention the year he was RI President in 1917. His words were to assume prophetic significance in Rotary’s quest for peace, for it was his vision that led to the creation of The Rotary Foundation. From the beginning, the single guiding principle of the Foundation has been to bring peace to the world through education and the relief of suffering, and by helping people to better understand one another – particularly in cross-cultural settings. 

In 1940, The Rotarian published a commentary that came out of the RI Convention in Havana, Cuba. Long before there was a United Nations, before “human rights” was a term most people even understood, the Rotarians meeting in Havana adopted a resolution calling for “freedom, justice, truth, sanctity of the pledged word, and respect for human rights.” It was a major milestone in Rotary history. It threw down the gauntlet and said, in effect, “Rotary has no interest in the religious or political affairs of your country, but if you do not treat your people with the rights any human being deserves, then Rotary cannot operate there.”

Rotarians in Europe looked beyond the bombs that were raining down on cities across the continent and began planning the peace that would ultimately have to come. Their fellow British Rotarians convened a conference to discuss what would happen after the guns of war had been silenced and how they could promote cross-cultural understanding to avoid future conflicts. Again and againthey met, drawing more expatriate leaders into the caucus. When peace had finally dawned, this group evolved into UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Rotary had also played a pivotal part in forming UNESCO’s parent organization, the United Nations. Nearly 50 Rotarians served as delegates, advisers, or consultants at the UN charter conference in San Francisco in 1945, and five Rotarians subsequently served as president of the UN General Assembly: Oswaldo Aranha, Carlos P. Romulo, Lester B. Pearson, Prince Wan Waithayakon, and Sir Leslie Munro. 

The UN developed a program to hire interns from all parts of the world to spend eight weeks studying international relations at the United Nations. The Rotary Foundation provided a grant of $6,000 to help cover the housing, food, and incidental expenses of the UN interns. In its first year, the program had 54 interns from 33 countries. The Foundation even arranged for some of the early Ambassadorial Scholars to serve as interns after they had finished their studies.

When the newly chartered United Nations wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it used the resolution from the Rotary Havana convention as its framework. 

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, almost every Foundation program was designed to improve cross-cultural understanding through people-to-people exchanges or shared projects. Ambassadorial Scholars, Group Study Exchange teams, Matching Grants, Grants for University Teachers – all may have fulfilled different functions, but collectively, they upheld the same principle: when “foreigners” meet and break bread with one another, exchange their family stories, and learn about each other’s cultures and traditions, they come away with the realization that we are more alike as people than we are different.

In the early 1980’s, a growing number of Rotarians called on the organization to do even more to promote peace. In 1982, RI’s World Understanding and Peace Committee discussed the creation of a permanent forum for promoting peace. The New Horizons Committee received many suggestions encouraging Rotary to be a more forceful advocate for peace. In June 1982, the Trustees agreed to “authorize, on a trial basis, for three years, the annual award of six Rotary Foundation scholarships (one from each region of the world) for the study of international relations, world peace, or international behavior.”

On February 28 1988, RI President Charles Keller convened the first Rotary Peace Forum in Evanston, Illinois, bringing together experts on international relations, government officials, and Rotarian leaders to consider the topic “Nongovernmental Organizations and the Search for Peace.” The event was so well attended and the outcome so constructive that additional Rotary Peace Forums were held in various cities around the world.

In November of 1988, at a peace forum in Hiroshima, Japan, RI President Royce Abbey told the participants, “Reconciliation is the very heart of peacemaking. It means to build instead of to destroy; to restore to friendship and harmony.” He emphasized that in the modern age, both the necessity for peace and the opportunities for achieving it have never been clearer.

This raised the question: What if Rotary were to provide a centre for practicing peace-building and conflict resolution? Could it train a cadre of committed, working peacemakers to become effective advocates for peace and conflict resolution on the global stage?

In 1994, the Rotary Club of Oslo-Skayen, Norway, launched the Shalom-Salaam peace project following the Oslo Peace Accords. Perhaps they drew their inspiration from former Canadian Prime Minster and honourary Rotarian Lester B. Person, who said on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1957, “How can there be peace in the world when people do not know each other, and how can they know each other when they have never met?”

In 1996 while in Evanston, Illinois, Past RI President Rajendra K. Saboo of Chandigarh, India was pondering an appropriate way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Paul Harris’s death. He noticed Northwestern University and thought, “They have they Kellogg School of Management, so why not a Rotary school of international peace studies? It would be a place where we could develop people who might later go on to become civil servants, prime ministers, foreign secretaries, and presidents.”

In April 1999, the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation committed $2 Million for the creation and support of the Rotary Centers for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution in seven universities, in what was to be a watershed moment in the Foundation’s history. The idea was to elicit scholarship applications from 10 new Rotary Peace Fellows engaged in peace-building and conflict resolution for a two-year master’s degree program – all paid for by The Rotary Foundation.

There were wars before Rotary existed and wars after; the senseless slaughter of human life did not stop with the signing of the UN charter in 1945. But whereas the United Nations acts as a corporate body to try to resolve conflict, Rotarians have always tried to help peace percolate up from the grassroots. Peacemaking is first a local matter.

Peace has been the focus of RI Presidential Themes as far back as 1981-1982 when Stanley McCaffrey (California, USA) envisioned “World Understanding and Peace through Rotary”. Subsequently Charles Keller in 1987-1988 (Pennsylvania, USA) used “Rotarians – United in Service – Dedicated to Peace”. Herbert Brown (Florida, USA) chose the theme of “Act with Integrity – Serve with Love – Work for Peace” in 1995-1996. And most recently Sakuji Tanaka (Saitama, Japan) offered his theme of “Peace Through Service”.

Following his presidential predecessors, Past RI President Wilf Wilkinson held five presidential peace conferences during his year 2007-08, culminating in one of the largest in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Past RI President Sakuji hosted international global peace forums in three significant locations: Berlin, Germany; Honolulu, Hawaii and Hiroshima, Japan under his banner of Peace Through Service.

In the years since, other presidential peace forums have taken place. The most recent was during President K. R. Ravi Ravindran’s year of “Be a Gift to the World”. A Peace Forum was held in Ontario, California as part of five presidential conferences to highlight Rotary’s Areas of Focus. 

Rotary continues to lead in pursuing peace through its Peace Scholar programs of educating individuals and funding broad-based projects such as Vocational Training Teams based in the Peace and Conflict Resolution/Prevention Area of Focus.

Rotary’s involvement in peace is driven from clubs and districts, and supported by The Rotary Foundation. Under the guidance of a District Peace Committee, it will provide the necessary education and encouragement to further expand Rotary’s role and recognition in continuing to bring peace to the world.


Kathi Dick

Rotary Mississauga, District 7080 Peace Committee Chair