A Review: The 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, Part 3 – Joanna Bichsel

May 21, 2012

J. Bichsel edit (1)In April 2012, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates from around the world gathered in Chicago for the first ever US-hosted World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates to discuss pressing issues and share wisdom with students, youth and professionals. The Hunger Project sent a delegation of five professionals to the Summit are sharing their experiences here on the blog. This review comes from Hunger Project activist and investor, Joanna Bichsel!

In April, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2012 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago as part of The Hunger Project delegation. It was an incredibly powerful and unforgettable event, and I had the opportunity to meet many of the international peace Laureates such as the 14th Dalai Lama from Tibet, Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, Lech Walesa from Poland, Jody Williams from the United States and many others.

This 12th Nobel Peace World Summit was unique because in addition to focusing on peace, human rights, and individual responsibility, it also had a specific focus on calling youth to action and many students were invited to attend in person. Over the course of three days, I found that a key theme of the Nobel Laureates as they spoke on the panels was one of individual empowerment: Educate Yourself, Take a Stand and Organize Yourself with Others to Make a Difference.

Educate Yourself

A statement I heard by many of the Laureates over the course of the Summit was: “Take the time to educate yourself and to learn about your world, don’t just accept what is fed to you”. I think it’s easy for all of us to get used the way things are and to accept them that way. We need to question whether what is deemed acceptable by our society and our government is really what is just and ethical. For me personally, the Summit gave me a lot of food for thought on topics of our environmental impact and the resulting climate change, the glorification of war and violence in our society, the role of both women and men in forging peace and nuclear weapons. Some interesting facts that I learned were:

  • “Of all the disaster related deaths since 1970, 95% took place in the under developed world.” – Alexandre Liebeskind representing the International Committee of the Red Cross. Even though it is the developed world that creates most of the environmental imbalance, it is the world’s most poor that are suffering our consequences.
  • “The United States spends $7B on taking care of the nuclear weapons they have. Only 10-20% of that money is needed to meet the UN Millennium Goals.” – Dr Shirin Ebadi

For me, the activists and investors in The Hunger Project help to open up my span of awareness on the various issues that contribute to, and work to eliminate global hunger. Within my day to day life, it has also become increasingly important for me to ask questions such as: where does my water come from and where does it go? Where does my garbage end up? Where does my food come from? Who makes the clothes I wear?

Take a Stand

SDGJ - Nobel 2012During one of the panels, former President of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk made a statement that stuck with me: “At the point where my morale compass said I could not go on with this, is what changed it for me.” I can personally relate to this as a similar shift happened to me that ultimately led me to The Hunger Project. When I first became a mother, I really started to question my impact on the world and what my actions will teach my child to ultimately affect his course in life. I realized that while I considered myself a global citizen and spent a nominal amount of time and money investing in “charities”, I was not really committed to using my own individual skills and resources to help others around the world who needed my partnership. I feel grateful that I found The Hunger Project and have gotten the opportunity to meet the great people that support THP’s work.

Taking a stand is the common thread of the Peace Laureates and some of my favorite relevant quotes are:

  • “Polite women don’t change history.” – Jody Williams
  • “I do not act like a Yes man.” – the 14th Dalai Lama, when asked why the Chinese government dislikes him.
  • “We cannot accept the gap between words and deeds.” – Mikhail Gorbachev
  • “If you can’t change the injustice, at least tell everyone about it.” – Jody Williams

I believe the latter quote is especially important: if we don’t discuss issues openly together, nothing will ever start.

Photo: Shirin Ebadi, Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jody Williams at 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates by Sara Wilson

Organize Yourself with Others to Make a Difference

To paraphrase Jody Williams: “What the Laureates have done is not magic. It starts with one individual speaking out. The key is to organize the effort with others.” Many of the Laureates spoke about how well we organize ourselves in for-profit initiatives, but not as much for social needs of the world.

Dr Yunus quoted Martin Luther King and said: “Those who love peace need to learn to organize as well as those that love war.”

It is in thanks to the founders of The Hunger Project for all of the immense passion, focus and effort it took to build this organization that has achieved so much global impact. Chronic hunger continues its decline thanks to the ongoing work of the 350-some THP employees and the 6,000 volunteers worldwide. Together, I truly believe we are making a difference in the lives of our fellow global citizens around the world.

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