Calls for ‘understanding’ as necessary to our shared future
NEW YORK | More than 1,000 people celebrated the 25th anniversary of Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring and cultivating the next generation of global leaders poised to transform conflict. Vice President Joe Biden received the John P. Wallach Peacemaker Award on May 9, 2018, and spoke to the sold-out crowd gathered at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers.
“Seeds of Peace breaks down the impulse to … the desire to dehumanize what’s different, the mindset that frames the opposition of ‘the enemy,'” said Biden. “You can’t hope to get anything done on a negotiating table if you don’t take the time to understand the other person.”
He continued, “It’s all too easy to become disheartened, too easy to give into cynicism. But there’s so much power, so much potential in today’s young people. This new generation is the most talented and tolerant in history. All over the world, the young people you’re bringing together are seizing new ways to lead change. They’re gonna win, mark my words.”
Also speaking were five Seeds (alumni of the Seeds of Peace Camp program) who reflected upon their experiences at Camp and how those lessons carry through into their careers.
“As a journalist … my job is largely focused on telling the story of a war in which about 50 people die every day. My work is not just telling the stories of victims … but it also requires telling the story of the sides that wage that violence—their calculations, their motivations. In that role, my job requires a lot of understanding—a lot listening to voices I don’t agree with, but voices that I need to understand.” — Mujib, attended Camp in 2002 as part of the first Afghan Delegation.
“To get at the root of a conflict, you have to internalize the thousands of different ways in which it filters down into the daily realities of those who live in its shadow … how conflicts write entire chapters not only of a nation’s story, but also of a person’s life. This is an understanding I try to apply to the work I do today.” — Nadav, attended Camp in 2000 as part of the Israeli Delegation.
“I am a better journalist today because I believe in the better natures of men. You see, I’d already met them—the better men and women from all sides of this conflict when I was 15 years old and too young to know what an amazing thing that was.” — Amal, attended Camp in 2001 as part of the Pakistani Delegation.
Other highlights include performances by Mandy Gonzalez, lead in Broadway’s Hamilton, accompanied by five Seed singers, as well as an appearance from Late Night host Seth Meyers.
The event exceeded both attendance and fundraising goals, with monies raised in support of its summer camp, year-round leadership development programs offered in the communities where the Seeds live, and its GATHER initiative aimed at accelerating the social, political, and economic impact of its nearly 6,700 alumni around the world.
“As we mark this milestone, the need for leadership with the skills and empathy that is required to work across lines of conflict has never felt more important,” says Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin. “We are proud of the courage our alumni show in leading change.”
Seeds of Peace began in 1993 as an audacious experiment: 46 Arab and Israeli teens came together at a summer camp in Maine in order to share bunks, meals … and competing historical narratives. For most, it was the first time they sat face-to-face with the opposite side. But soon they began to hear each other. They began to trust each other. And they left Camp committed to no longer accepting the world as it is, but rather working towards what it could be.
A quarter of a century later, this dream has firmly taken root, and the organization boasts a network of nearly 6,700 alumni from 27 countries who are leading change as NGO founders, educators, journalists, business entrepreneurs, artists, and diplomats. These emerging leaders are influencing communities around the world with the lessons they learned through Seeds of Peace’s programs.
A recent alumni survey guided by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business shows that of respondents:
- 76 percent are actively working to create change and transform conflict through their professional work or volunteer efforts.
- For those whose work contributes directly to conflict transformation, alumni reach and impact an average of 1,893 individuals each, with 29 percent reaching 5,000 or more.
- 61 percent contribute to conflict transformation outside of their work, collectively spending up to 1,500 volunteer hours per week.
- 89 percent describe themselves as active supporters of Seeds of Peace, even 10-25 years after attending Camp.