Transcript – Scilla Elworthy – Part 1: The Heart of Peace

Scilla Elworthy

[00:00:11] The higher the level of self-awareness, the better the work is going to be. Put in another way; my level of effectiveness will be calibrated to, will be a direct result of, my authenticity or my level of self-knowledge. I think that’s the deepest service that almost any of us can do in peace-building is to really listen.


Walter Link


[00:00:42] Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV, my name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations, and whole societies. In this television series, I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, on our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications, but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations used to move from inspiration to real change.


[00:01:40] For Parts 1 and 2 of our dialog, I travelled to meet Scilla Elworthy at her home in the English countryside near Oxford. Scilla is one of the pioneers of modern peacemaking, and has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. She founded the Oxford Research Group that conducted ground-breaking research and facilitated innovative dialogues among nuclear weapons experts.

Scilla also founded Peace Direct to fund, promote, and learn from local peace-builders in conflict areas. Her many books include: How Nuclear Weapons Decisions are Made; Tools for Peace; Soul Power; and Making Terrorism History. Scilla and I became friends when she joined the Global Leadership Network that I co-founded with social innovation and leadership experts from around the world. Please join us for Part 1 of our dialogue in which we explore the heart of peace.


Walter Link


[00:02:58] You are one of the world’s elders of peace building. How did that start?


Scilla Elworthy

[00:03:05] I think it started back when I was 11 years old because I had four elder brothers who were very keen on hunting, shooting, and fishing, and they taught me to shoot with a shotgun when I was 11. And I felt tremendously proud and very independent, and I took myself off alone into the woods, and I did something that was absolutely taboo. I took the gun, and I pointed it straight up at a nest high up in a tree and pulled the trigger.


[00:03:36] And down on me rained sticks, pieces of embryo chick, eggshell, and the feathers of a mother bird who was a beautiful blue jay. And I was so horrified by what I had done that I took the gun home and put it away and never touched it again. I think I was really overwhelmed by the extent of the violence that I was capable of. And I still remember that. Clear as a bell. So that, I think, consciously or unconsciously, started me off on a great sensitivity to people fleeing from war, particularly.


[00:04:22] And bearing in mind that I was growing up immediately after the Second World War, and I was very aware of concentration camp survivors and people fleeing across Europe still. And with the result that I actually went to work, when I was only 16, in a holiday home for people who had survived concentration camps. And heard their stories, and it went right into the middle of me.


Walter Link


[00:04:55] So that had a powerful impact on you. And I wonder whether you can say a little bit more about your youth and how working in this context of being so closely confronted with the horror of the Holocaust and other situations that were happening in that epoch were impacting you. And then, out of this impact, action arises.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:05:23] Well, I was 13 in 1956, and sitting in my parents living room watching a grainy old black-and-white TV as the Soviet tanks were rolling into Budapest. And kids a little bit older than me were flinging themselves bodily at the tanks and getting crushed. And I was shocked rigid, and I ran upstairs and started packing my suitcase.


[00:05:47] And my mother came up and said, “What are you doing?”

And I said, “I’m going to Budapest.” I didn’t even know where Budapest was.

And she said, “What on earth for?”

And I said, “There’s something so horrible happening there that I have to go.”

And she said, “Don’t be so silly.”


[00:06:06] And I burst into tears. And she got it, bless her. She understood how deeply this had affected me. And she said, “Look, you’re no use at age 13. You’ll have to get trained, and I’ll help you to get trained if you just unpack your suitcase.” And I did. And she did.


Walter Link


[00:06:25] And what happened? What was the training that brought you then to be able to have impact?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:06:31] Well, she sent me of. Well, I took myself off to Dublin to University at Trinity College there to study social work. It was the closest thing I could find in those days to the kind of training I needed. And then, in all my vacations, I took myself off to work in refugee camps, first of all in camps for Vietnamese refugees in France fleeing from the Vietnam War, and then to orphanages in Algiers just at the end of the Algerian Civil War.


[00:07:03] And I saw what happened, what the debris of war was like for children who had lost both parents, for people who could not get over the trauma of what they had experienced and never would. And I thought, you know, one sniper pulling the trigger on a gun and killing a father or a mother and that ruins countless people’s lives. Let alone a full-scale war that we had just witnessed two of at the world level. And I couldn’t imagine how anybody couldn’t be obsessed by the terrible debris and carnage of war and want to do something about it.


Walter Link


[00:07:59] So you ended up then to work, in particular, also on the atomic threat during the Cold War and afterwards?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:08:11] Mm-hmm.


Walter Link


[00:08:13] Tell us more about, like, what are the core issues there and how did you try to tackle them?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:08:20] Well, I was working for UNESCO when I was about 32, and they asked me to do a study for the first UN Women’s Conference on the role of women in the improvement of international relations and the prevention of war. And so I didn’t know anything about any of that, so I went off to find out about it. And this meant that, in 1982, at the time of the second UN special session on disarmament, I was in New York for this session and it was going to go on for several weeks.


[00:08:57] And at the end of a couple of weeks, nothing had been agreed. And there was a vast demonstration in the streets of New York. A million people came from all over the world, from Japan, from everywhere, and filled Central Park from end to end. The New York Times gave it five double pages. I went into the UN the next morning, Monday morning, and not one thing changed in the UN. No progress was made.


[00:09:24] And I was stuck hanging on a tram on Broadway, and I had one of those flash moments, and I thought, “This isn’t working. You know you can’t get more than a million people to New York to demonstrate and it doesn’t have any effect.” So obviously we’re not talking to the right people. And so who does make the decisions on, in this case, nuclear weapons? And I thought, “Well, we must find out,” because nobody knew at that stage.


[00:09:53] It was sort of secretive, and it was all conducted completely unaccountably. So I chucked up what I was doing, and went home, and started a research group around my kitchen table to find out. And everybody said, “You’re nuts. You’re mad. You can’t possibly find out how the system works.”


[00:10:12] And I said, well I think we can.” And so I said, “Well, I’ll start with what would be the most difficult country, China,” which I did.


[00:10:21] And by a series of complete coincidences and luck, I think – we never touched any classified information, but people started to point out unclassified CIA reports that had diagrams of the way that the different bureaus operated in China. And in those days, of course – this was in 1983, ’84 – there was no Internet, so you couldn’t just Google and see a wiring diagram of a ministry of defense. You had to page through pages and pages and pages of reports and piece things together.


[00:11:04] So we then, after four years’ research, using mainly my own savings, certainly to start with, later we were supported by Quaker trusts. So after six – in 1986 after four years, we published our first book, which was called How Nuclear Weapons Decisions Are Made. And I later saw that book on the shelves of a lot of the people I interviewed in various ministries of defense around the world because they didn’t know how it worked.


Walter Link


[00:11:37] And what’s the impact of knowing that? What helped that in the activism for you?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:11:44] Well, I wanted — I was committed at that stage to dialogue. I was beginning to learn to meditate at that point, and I realized that what happens in a dialogue like you and I are having is a listening, an exchange. It’s not like shouting at you and trying to convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong. And something different happens in a dialogue. And so I thought, if we could pair up members of the public who were deeply concerned about nuclear weapons, concerned enough to go on a demonstration, and get them to really do their homework and then go and talk to one of the individuals who did have that responsibility.


[00:12:31] And here we’re talking about nuclear physicists in weapons labs, we’re talking about military strategist, we’re talking about intelligence gatherers who provide the rationale for weapons. We’re talking about the people who sign the checks, the people who sit on the committees that decide these things and, finally, politicians – finally, politicians. Because these systems are so complex that they take 20, 25 years to gestate and then, by the time the public knows anything about them, it’s too late to change.


Walter Link


[00:13:24] Give us some examples of the dialogues that happened and the impact that these dialogues had, because I think many people think that just having a dialogue is not actually a powerful weapon against nuclear weapons.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:13:43] Yeah, a lot of people would think that dialogue is much too soft. And it’s true that a dialogue is, A, very difficult to arrange and, B, difficult to sustain. So the way that it happened, again by good fortune, was that, when I did my doctorate, I interviewed, in-depth, 13 of these nuclear weapons policymakers. And I drew cognitive maps of how they thought, and I asked them if they’d like to see them afterwards. So we had two or three sessions of in-depth conversation.


[00:14:18] And they got fascinated because the “think,” they call it in cognitive mapping, from which their thoughts all emanated, was the threat, in 12 cases out of 13. They were operating from this deep feeling of feeling threatened. And I was fascinated by that and so were they. So they began to trust me and then, when I wanted to invite them to meet their opposite numbers from China or Russia, whom they didn’t know, or to meet also their critics, their very well-informed critics, people who had been in the business and ought to know.


[00:14:56] Some of them agreed to come. We had to invite about four for every one who agreed to come. And this would be to a two- or three-day meeting at a manor house outside Oxford. And so we would gather them together, and they would arrive feeling very suspicious. “What am I getting into here? Who are these people? I’m going to meet Russians and Chinese I’ve never met before.” So we had to create a very safe container for that to happen.


[00:15:30] We had to be – my team had to be strong enough to hold the anxiety in the room, the suspicion, the nervousness, and the fact that everybody was arriving with their constituency on their shoulder. It wasn’t just them. It was their ministry, their laboratory, their government that was obviously very alive for them. And so we prepared the meetings very, very carefully, and we prepared the agenda with a great deal of agreement before the meeting happened.


[00:16:06] But we did something else, and this was only after I learned the value of meditation. And this was that I had seen how powerful Quaker meetings are when discussion takes place in the midst of a meditative environment. So I asked five experienced meditators to come and sit in the library beneath the first floor room in which the meetings were taking place. And they agreed. And they would sit there and meditate all day.


[00:16:41] And just to give you an example of the fact that this did have a great effect, on the second day of one of the meetings, a guy from the State Department came to me. And he said, “Scilla, this is a very special room.”

And I said, “Yeah. It was built in 1360,” which was true.

And he said, “No, no, no. It’s very special.”

And I said, “Yes, well, people have been meeting here for many years and talking.”

He said, “No, there’s something coming through the floorboards.” And he had sensed this support that was coming through.

So I said, “Would you like to know what that is?”

And he said, “Yes.”


[00:17:21] And I told him. And you would have thought he’d had a cold shower or something. He was completely shocked. So I said, “Well, if you don’t believe me, those older people who serve you your lunch, ask them.” So he did. And he came back smiling because they are such mature and wise people. And all they were doing was sitting there, holding the strength in the building to enable these meetings to be fruitful.


[00:17:54] Which in fact they were, because it was later evident that, by the disintegrating of suspicion and the allowing people to take their masks off and actually talk to each other openly – and it was all totally confidential, there was no press anywhere near. We never wrote reports about it. That’s why you never heard about it. There was nothing in the media because we had to keep it completely confidential. But that built trust and eventually helped to build a basis of two or three treaties. So I’m convinced that that form of mediation, which is very different from negotiation, and dialogue, which is very different from lobbying – shall I paint the difference?


Walter Link


[00:18:47] Please. Yes.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:18:48] Well, when there is a negotiation, you have two people who are – each of them has a constituency and each has to score points. They have to go home and be able to report to their country that they did better than the other guy. So it’s a bit of a zero-sum game. But when you have a mediator who is independent, what his or her job can be is to move people from their positions over here and over here – I’m right and you’re wrong – around here to where we can both see what could be of mutual interest between us.


[00:19:24] That’s the Harvard Negotiation School basic premise, Bill Ury’s great book. So I learned a lot from that. But also I learned the difference, which people didn’t really know then, between lobbying and dialogue. Nobody really used the word dialogue then in the ’80s. Now everybody does. But I think I would like to claim – and I think it’s true – that we pretty much started that in Oxford Research Group which was our nongovernmental organization. And the difference is that, in lobbying, I’m coming in to see you. You’re my member of Parliament or whatever, and I’m coming in to see you to convince you.


[00:20:08] So I’m going to buffet you with facts. I’m going to belabor you with my opinions, and you’re going to sit there, and you’re going to go more and more back in your chair because I don’t listen to you. I’m not interested in what your point of view is and why you’re doing what you’re doing. So a dialogue means that I listen to you, which I’m not doing now, as much as you listen to me.


Walter Link


[00:20:55] So obviously in what you’re describing, the human dimension plays a very key role. So we think of powerful decision-makers in the nuclear or other weapons and military or policymaking areas as a very rational and strong and interest-oriented people. But what you are discovering in those dialogues and in those meetings is really the human dimension. And that addressing that human dimension, in addition to the rational arguments, did have an important impact.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:21:36] Yes. I’m convinced it does because – well you know this so well. You wouldn’t do what you do if you didn’t know this very well. Is that, when somebody is really interested in your point of view, your whole body loosens, your everything changes, because you are being heard. You’re being listened to properly. The other person isn’t just sitting there making up a good repost. They are actually listening.


[00:22:08] They are curious about how it is that you got to that way of thinking. And I think that’s the deepest service that almost any of us can do in peace-building is to really listen. I’ve really found this in the Balkans War when I found myself in East Mostar during the siege of Sarajevo trying to get two buses full of women down to Sarajevo. And we had to go into East Mostar to get permits from the – it was called the presidency of one of the armies that was surrounding Sarajevo.


[00:22:51] And as we walked down these ruined streets of East Mostar, people rushed out of their homes where they had been eating grass all winter. I mean they were starving. And we were the first outsiders they had ever seen, and they were pulling at us and pulling at us, and saying, “Come to see the graveyard,” and they took us and sat us down beside the grave of their loved ones. And they said, “Let us tell you what happened. And you must go and tell other people.” And really all they wanted us to do was to sit and listen and report. And that was the best thing we could do for them.


Walter Link


[00:23:41] Yeah, so I think what we are looking at here is also to opening up words that kind of have a very abstract and non-profound meaning for us by now. I mean we think of peace and war, but we don’t really think into the depths of what they really are. And I think, in your work, you really kind of drill down behind the first impression of this term and the first impression of the image you see on the television. And to understand what is behind peace and war. Just tell us some more about that.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:24:24] Well, what I pieced together, mainly from observing what was happening in the ’80s and early ’90s, was what actually is the cycle of violence? We talk blandly about a cycle of violence, but what does it consist of? And so I put together a diagram, which is in a book that I wrote with Gabrielle Rifkind called Making Terrorism History. And basically a cycle of violence starts with an atrocity. And the result of an atrocity is terror, immediately. And then that kind of distills down into fear, and fear becomes grief when the shock is over.


[00:25:07] And grief kind of hardens into anger. And unless something is done, anger hardens into bitterness and bitterness into revenge and revenge into retaliation. And then you get another atrocity, and the cycle goes around again. And this can happen over a period of hundreds of years. I mean people in the Middle East still remember what happened in 1400. And so the depth of these, the effect of these shocks, is profound. And so what we find, more and more, is that action has to be taken on a human level, even on a psychological level, to deal with the trauma of war, to help heal it.


[00:26:02] And that can happen – well, first of all, you have to provide physical safety for people. You have to stop them being shelled or shot at. And then you need to provide some political safety, some peacekeeping troops, or some way of enabling them to feel that things are going to settle down. But the most important thing really is the next two stages, which is providing psychological assistance. And that might seem soft, but it’s not at all: trauma work, trauma counseling, enabling people to meet eventually with people who have harmed them. May I tell you a story about Northern Ireland? You probably are very familiar with the Northern Ireland conflict.


Walter Link


[00:26:56] Yes, of course, please.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:26:58] Well, you remember that, as a result of the long, long conflict in Northern Ireland, a lot of the members of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, were jailed in the Good Friday Agreements. And one of them had been jailed for planting the bomb that blew up the Conservative Party Conference and nearly killed Mrs. Thatcher. And it killed one of her ministers.


[00:27:23] Now, the daughter of that conservative minister decided she wanted to meet the man who planted the bomb that killed her father, so she went to find him after he was released in 1998. And they met. And he was obviously very defensive, and she was very full of emotion. It was very difficult for both of them. But they pursued it.


[00:27:49] And I remember bringing them on stage at the Barbican Theatre in London when we were having a seminar about these issues at the time of a play that was on about reconciliation and non-reconciliation. And they sat either side of me on the stage, Jo Berry here and Pat Magee here, and it was only the third time they had met. And live in front of an audience of 300, they did this reconciliation.


[00:28:23] They asked each other what it felt like. She asked him what it felt like to plant that bomb knowing what it was going to do. And he asked her what it had felt like when she got the news that her dad was dead. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was so moving, let alone for them. And the courage that it took them to do that. But they went on and have done – this was in 2002 – and they’ve gone on for the last 14 years completely unified as a unit in building peace in Northern Ireland. So when that reconciliation can happen, when the trauma can be addressed instead of buried, then change can happen.


Walter Link


[00:29:41] So this leads us to the necessity, really, if you are interested in peace-building and in breaking the cycle of violence, to enter into the deep humanity that’s present in both the victims and the perpetrators who often themselves have come from cultures of being perpetrated. And so tell us more about your insight into the psychological and even spiritual dimension of violence and what we can do to transform it, to replace it.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:30:27] Well, I’ve come to the deep conviction after, what, about 40 years or so in this kind of work, that it’s essential that those who want to work in areas of conflict first of all deeply work on themselves. So the higher the level of self-awareness, the better the work is going to be. Put in another way, my level of effectiveness will be calibrated to, will be a direct result of, my authenticity or my level of self-knowledge.


[00:31:10] And the reason I say that is because, when you are either in a very violent situation, you have to be very present because, if you are just obsessed by your fear, you’re going to be paralyzed. We all know how the throat closes up, the brain loses blood, blood drains to the heart, and you freeze or you run when perhaps what you should be doing is calmly walking into the middle of it with a sufficient calm that you can bring calm about.


[00:31:44] And Aung San Suu Kyi is the model of this, how she dealt with many of those very violent situations in Burma. And the other part of it is that many of the people in what I would call the helping professions and those who want to make the world a better place, or save the world, are driven by anger or fear. I certainly was. And unless we really address that in ourselves, we tend to project it out onto our colleagues and accuse people. I don’t know how many charitable organizations are riven by misunderstanding. And energy drains out when people are fighting each other when, with a little bit more self-awareness, they would be able to handle internal disputes much better.


Walter Link


[00:32:52] In your journey, what helped you to deepen yourself and to support yourself to mature in the way that you were able to work in a different manner?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:33:07] Well I think it was the gift of a brain disease, actually. When I was 30, when my daughter was born, 6 weeks after her birth I got encephalitis which is – and this was in southern Africa. It was a very virulent strain. And I was in a coma for a couple of weeks. And when I woke up, which I was lucky to do, I was told that I had lost a third of my brain cells, which don’t recover, and that I would have headaches for six years, which was true.


[00:33:37] But the great gift inside this disease was that, although I couldn’t really think for six years, there was one question that went round and round and round in my head. And it was: Who am I? What am I here for? What’s going on?


[00:33:54] And in those days, this was the ’70s, not many people asked those questions. So I eventually found my way to a wonderful Jungian analyst, and I got really interested in Jung and read incessantly about his ideas. And Jung uses a lot of myth and legend and images and beautiful stuff. And it was those six years that actually set me on this course, I think.


Walter Link


[00:34:25] And then you said you also meditate regularly, and you actually suggest that that’s a very powerful practice for people in these situations. Say more about the impact that meditation has on you and what kind of practice you are using to meditate.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:34:49] Well, my impression is that – and you know this too, and you do it yourself so you know – that those one works with who have a kind of a presence. I can call it a presence. So they can be there in a fraught situation and you feel a kind of calmness. And I believe that comes from very regular practice of quiet, quietness. And it doesn’t really matter how you do it.


[00:35:25] I did it, first of all, by learning to watch my breath, watching my breath come into my body, counting as it came in, pause, and then counting as the breath left my body, which slows everything down and also allows me to listen to my heart.


[00:35:47] And I’ve learned since that the heart has higher electrical impulses than the brain. I think it’s the Institute of Heart Math who tells us that. And I think it’s true. So I believe that what’s going on in my heart probably can have more effect than what’s going on in my brain.


Walter Link


[00:36:12] More effect on what?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:36:14] On the atmosphere in the room, if that’s not too presumptuous. I think it’s true. You know, when you are in the company of certain people, everything seems a bit like an outbreath. It feels more stable. It feels more supportive. It’s not so frenetic. There’s more listening going on. There’s more grace, I think, in the room. I would put it like that.


Walter Link


[00:37:11] I think one of the key responsibility of any leader or any person who wants to make a difference is actually to not only attend to the other in themselves, but to the overall field in which they are collaborating or meeting or even opposing each other because we can do something to the field. So I think that’s what you’re talking about. It’s like how do you impact a kind of less tangible but very powerful dimension of our being human?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:37:48] Exactly. And I think it’s even been measured, hasn’t it? I think there were measurements done in various cities in the United States where they found that when a critical mass of people, maybe several hundred people, meditated simultaneously over a period of several weeks that the crime rate in those areas fell quite dramatically as compared to a control group where there weren’t meditators.


Walter Link


[00:38:17] Yeah. As you know, I’m working a lot in Sri Lanka where my friend Doctor Ariyaratne would convene more than a million people to meditate regularly during wartime. And it had a very powerful impact. And I think the challenge is that you can, with, I’d say, pure meditation, have these kinds of field impacts on yourself and each other.


[00:38:45] But I think there is also a way of how to bring this inner work more into your functioning where it is present in the way you speak a rational argument, the way you are interacting more actively in a meeting, the way you lead a demonstration or even perform a negotiation. So there is a way, in my experience, of how to bring meditation into every action. And I think that is maybe something we are still learning. And it seems like that is something you’ve been experimenting with in these many activities of yours.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:39:30] Yes, I’m certain now that experienced meditators make other people feel safer. And the reason probably is something to do with the fact that their egos are more under control in that what meditation teaches you to do is to step back and see how your ego is cavorting around and demanding things and wanting to be special and wanting to be noticed. And if you can, with meditation, you learn to take some perspective and say, “Oh, that’s how I’m behaving.”


[00:40:10] So then you have more leeway, you have more possibility to calm your own behavior and to calm what you demand in terms of me time in the conversation. So it makes more space for everybody. And I think Mandela, my experience of him was profound in the physical effect of his presence because, those long years in jail on Robben Island, Mandela made it his business to understand the violence of his jailers.


[00:40:58] And as you know, he went into jail as a man believing in violence as a solution to South Africa’s problems. And after 27 years in jail, he came out so committed to nonviolence that he was able to not only bring all his fellow prisoners with him to negotiate with the Afrikaaners, which was thought of as unheard of, but also all the people who hadn’t been in jail in the African National Congress, to convince them because they said, “Now, you’re out of jail, Mandela. We can get all the arms we want, all the money we want, and we can thrash these people and drive them out of the country.”


[00:41:40] And he said, “No, we have to negotiate,” because he knew that there would be a civil war and people said it would take six million lives. And so it was the sheer physical strength – and I say physical, and I’ll tell you why in a moment – the moral strength that he had to take those people with him.


Walter Link


[00:42:03] And what do you mean by the physical impact?


Scilla Elworthy


[00:42:08] Well, one of the times that I was not, sitting not very far away from Mister Mandela, probably about 20 feet, was when he had come into the room and he sat down in one of his brightly-colored shirts and started to speak. And Mandela is not an orator. He doesn’t do oratorial flourishes. And his voice is quite gravelly.


[00:42:35] But he started to speak, and I got shivers right through my body. And normally that lasts 20 seconds. It lasted for 35 minutes while he spoke. My whole body was shaking. And it was the pure energy of that man’s integrity because it was so transparent, so incandescent, really, with no salesmanship whatsoever. So that was the effect. You must have had that with Mister Ariadne.


Walter Link


[00:43:15] Yeah. And I think it is very present in the great peacemakers of all times. If you think about who are the most admired people around the world in regard to peacemaking or even in regard to transformation of society, I think we find that they all have a deep psychological and spiritual practice background, whatever that might be, whether it’s Martin Luther King or Mandela or Gandhi or–


Scilla Elworthy


[00:43:55] Aung San Suu Kyi.


Walter Link


[00:43:57] And many others like that. And I think we don’t sufficiently pay attention to the decades of practice that lead them to be that masterful. And I think your example of Mandela is excellent because he was a guerrilla general and a lawyer, and it took a lot of inner transformation for him to become what he became. And I think that brings another term up. It’s the becoming, it’s the being. It’s not something you say. You don’t need to be a great orator. I think many people are not great orators and have very powerful impact. It’s who you are that matters.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:44:47] It’s who you are. And people get it instantly. They get it energetically, don’t they, when you meet such people.


Walter Link


[00:44:58] So I think also we live in a time where we get too fascinated by fame and by big names. But you have done a lot of work with local peacemakers, who nobody ever knows the name of, in your work with Peace Direct and who, however, also have this kind of impact. Tell us a little bit about that aspect of your work, the local heroes.


Scilla Elworthy


[00:45:28] Local heroes, yeah. Thank you for mentioning that because it’s very dear to my heart. And it was in the early years of this century that, having worked with nuclear weapons decision-makers sort of at the top end of the pile, I got so interested in what was happening at the grassroots because I observed that locally-led initiatives were becoming so effective that they were using money more cost effectively to save lives than any other method of resolving conflict. So we set out to research how this was happening across the world.


[00:46:10] We identified 350 such grassroots initiatives in places like Nepal, Colombia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, and so on. And we wrote them up in a book called War Prevention Works with 50 case studies. And then we began to realize that most of them ran out of money because they didn’t know how to raise money. They didn’t know where to raise money from. They couldn’t do all the complicated application procedures that many foundations require, or countries require to give money.


[00:46:53] So we began raising very small amounts of money through Peace Direct and, more importantly, getting press coverage for them because what they do is so dangerous that, if they are known about in the international press, that offers them some protection. So I’m thinking about somebody like Gululayi Ismael in Pakistan. When she was 16, she started an organization called Aware Girls to enable young women to go to school in northwestern Pakistan where the Taliban, as you know, think that’s a very bad idea. And her colleague, Malalai Yousufzai, was the one who got shot in the head for doing exactly that work.


[00:47:38] And Gululayi is completely fearless. I’ve never come across anybody quite like that. I say to her, “Look, Gululayi. Doing this work–” I’ll tell you what she does now. What she does now is she goes into the madrasahs where young men, some of them are being trained to be jihadis, and she identifies them and then she sits down with them and their families and talks through why the Quran would not want them to be suicide bombers.


[00:48:11] And I said, “But, you know, you’re taking your life in your hands doing this.”

And she says, “Well, yeah.”

And I said, “Do you get death threats?”

And she said, “Yeah, every day.”

And I said, “Aren’t you scared?”

“No,” and that’s it. That’s all she says.


[00:48:27] And she is just wonderful. She’s being recognized now. She’s been to the White House and been recognized by President Obama and so forth. But there are hundreds like her completely unknown and feats of courage that just make you humble.



Walter Link


[00:48:59] On our, website GlobalLeadership.TV, you will find additional footage, other dialogues with innovation leaders from around the world, and also the hands-on practices that help them and their organizations to move from inspiration to real change.