Peace gets a fighting chance

Southeast Asia Globe, 7 March 2010

Peace gets a fighting chance

A Bangkok resident since 2002, the founding chairman of the International Peace Foundation is committed to spreading his peaceful message around the wider world.

Uwe Morawetz is a man on a mission – he wants to make the world a better, more fulfilling place. He freely admits he’s a dreamer but, as anyone who has followed the ongoing Bridges peace programme in Southeast Asia will have realised, he’s far from the only one. “I get a lot of energy from my work,” Morawetz says. ”I love what I do. I love meeting people. I always try to follow my dreams with 100% energy and the whole of my heart. I never really went to university, so my university has been life, learning how different societies work.” 

Since 1989, the 45-year-old native of Freiburg in Germany has enlisted a distinguished cast of the world’s great and good to the cause of the International Peace Foundation (IPF), of which he is the founding chairman. Legendary violinist the late Yehudi Menuhin provided the initial impetus, and the Dalai Lama became the foundation's first patron. He has been followed by 20 other Nobel laureates happy to donate their time to this noblest of aims.

The seeds of Morawetz’s vision were planted when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. As a poet and a member of Berlin’s vibrant alternative arts scene, he watched an exuberant West meet a crestfallen East and realised that although both sides were German, neither actually spoke the same language. “Coming from the world of languages as a poet, I realised there was a need for dialogue between the two groups. What I’m doing today is a continuation of the same theme: to bring together groups that speak different languages – such as scientists and politicians, workers and artists, and of course people with different nationalities, cultures or religions.”

Over the past 20 years this indefatigable networker has engaged more than 150,000 participants from all walks of life and from all over the world in the Bridges programmes. “I consider myself an artist, and this is an ongoing work of art. Of course there’s a lot of management issues, but it’s really a question of fitting different pieces together into a new creation.”

Any artist will tell you that after its initial conception a creation tends to take on a life of its own, and Morawetz now finds his dream propelling him ever onwards as the IPF consolidates its Southeast Asian network, and begins to turn its benign attentions to South America and Africa.

Part of the IPF's success is undoubtedly its apolitical, non-religious and independent mandate to provide an open forum for debate. “We don’t offer any specific concept of peace, you cannot plan what will evolve," he says. "You must be open to surprises – the main thing is to have trust and believe in what you are doing. Trust is the underlying flow of life." He adds that none of the celebrity guest speakers or performers has ever signed a contract or asked for an honorarium.

Central to Morawetz’s philosophy is the importance of education as a springboard to personal fulfilment. “Only when you’re at peace with yourself can you find peace elsewhere,” he points out. “Education should not only provide a profession, but also a vocation. It should enable you to take the risk to follow your heart, your inner calling, your quest. I believe if you do things you’re good at, you’ll be successful – and the money will come,” he adds with a grin.