The 6th edition of the Geneva Peace Talks, on 21 September 2018, had the theme of ‘Peace beyond Borders’. In previous years, Initiatives of Change has provided speakers, but this year it was asked to co-moderate the event. Initiatives of Change (IofC) has built up a bit of a reputation in international Geneva for doing events differently by focusing more on personal stories and offering opportunities for interpersonal connection and even (crazy as it may sound) silence.
IofC helped organize a series of online interviews on Facebook Live before the event took place. About 600 people attended the event itself, which took place in room XVIII at the Palais des Nations. Sarah Noble, head and co-creator of the Peace Talks, and I moderated it together.
The Peace Talks have built up a format of eight-minute talks in which peacebuilders tell their personal stories and share their message. We added two new elements. At the beginning we included a chance for everyone to turn to their neighbours and introduce themselves to the ‘other peacebuilders’ in the room, as we are all called to work for peace. At first there was some hesitation about being so informal in such an official space, but after some light nudging people really got into it. It was great to see ambassadors and UN directors leaning over their desks to shake hands with high-school students. The buzz reverberated off the old UN walls that had seen countless hours of rather more official interactions. A first border between people had been crossed.
After that, the peacebuilders told powerful stories from the grassroots and from the heart. Two speakers in particular touched me.
Diana Garcia from Colombia passionately encouraged the participants to embrace uncertainty as a route to peace. She had seen the dangers of certainty and and rigidity in Colombia’s civil war.
Jasminko Halilovic spoke of his innovative War Childhood Museum, the only museum to focus exclusively on the children’s experience of war. It was illuminating to see war and also peace through the eyes of a child. The energy rose as the stories ebbed and flowed, followed by music.
Our second innovation was a couple of minutes of silence at the end, to let everything sink in. We were not sure how silence would work (or sound) in a UN conference room with 600 people. It was moving to see how people took it to heart: a profound silence took hold of this room made for talking. Many commented on how powerful and fitting it was to digest all the powerful messages in this way. I was proud to be a part of this event and to see how IofC can contribute, with others, to promoting peace beyond borders.
Watch the whole event here.
The Geneva Peace Talks are a public event co-organized by the United Nations Office at Geneva, Interpeace and the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform to celebrate the International Day of Peace, the 21 September.
- Report by Rainer Gude, Strategic Partnership Manager for Initiatives of Change Switzerland
- Photos by Antoine Tardy for Interpeace