This post was co-written with Dot Maver and Joaquin Phoenix.
Look at 2011's most significant events, those that will have an indelible impact on our future. We saw new wars, revolutions, record-breaking global population growth, climate-related disasters and poverty and income inequality statistics. We also witnessed innovative efforts to build peace on local, national and international levels. Given that media generally focus on the violence, we thought it worth reflecting on a few organizations that are contributing to a more peaceful world.
In Gainesville, Fla., the legacy of River Phoenix lives on in the first Center for Peacebuilding named after the actor, an effort that manifested this year. Not many know of River's commitment to building peace. "If I have some celebrity," he wrote, "I hope I can use it to make a difference. The true social reward is that I can speak my mind and share my thoughts about the environment and civilization itself."
Realizing that every moment must be used to leave the world a better place, River's activism in social justice, animal rights, environment and peace causes inspired what has become the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding. River's Center, whose board of directors includes Phoenix family members, with River's mother Heart serving as president, is courageously and compassionately addressing increased insecurity stemming from vandalism, bullying, gang-related issues, robberies, homicide and domestic violence. Partnering with local government, schools, universities, businesses and stakeholders, the Center is helping to prevent, intervene and heal from violence.
We need more of this in every community: peacebuilders on every block, taking back the night (and day) from the violence that has pervaded it.
Nationally, a new institution that received its 501(c)3 status this year, is offering an alternative to the myriad war colleges, military academies and national defense universities. With courses on campuses throughout the country, the National Peace Academy (NPA) is building the skills for a more professional peacemaker in every aspect of life -- personally, socially, politically, institutionally and ecologically.
The founders recognized that unless we invest in the know-how behind the structures for peace, we will remain in conflict and war. For peace to be taken seriously, it must be taught seriously. In training a newgeneration of peacebuilders, NPA is providing the tools to be the change weseek.
Globally, the Institute for Economics and Peace launched its Washington office this year. The IEP produces the Global and U.S. Peace indices, which quantify peace and its economic benefits by calculating how much countries and cities can save by freeing up money currently spent containing violence, whether crime, incarceration, homicides or military, or money lost from lack of good governance and corruption. In this way, IEP can assess the true cost of violence and the economic benefits of peace.
Since violence takes a toll on businesses and governments and reduces economic productivity, IEP highlights the positive economic impact that improvements in peace can have and shows that peace is intimately linked to opportunity, health, education and the economy.
Savings, had the world been at peace last year, total over $8 trillion ($38 trillion over the previous five years).
As you focus on the holidays and what truly matters, consider helping us transform policies that react to violence and pursue more preventive and proactive approaches. Peace is indeed possible; we just have to build it.
Michael Shank is the U.S. vice president of the Institute for Economics and Peace. Joaquin Phoenix is River Phoenix's brother. Dot Maver is the president of the National Peace Academy. This article was first published in the December issue of Washington Life Magazine.
Follow Michael Shank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Michael_Shank