From an Idea to a Movement: 5 Questions with Jeremy Gilley, Founder of Peace One Day

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“Peace.” It’s a word filled with possibility. But, often, cynicism. “Peace” may feel like an abstraction, a hippy-ish, idealistic notion that can’t possibly be grounded in reality – not now, anyway.

But what if someone created a starting point for peace? Where peace was more tangible and actionable. A movement compelling us to do something – to find small ways to make a big difference and bring peace to our own lives, and the lives of others.

That’s the kind of peace filmmaker Jeremy Gilley envisioned 20 years ago when he started the non-profit organization, Peace One Day. It all started with something small and tangible: one day. September 21st. A day of global unity, ceasefire, and nonviolence. Peace Day.

“People must understand that they can change the world. That they as an individual are everything,” Gilley says. “That’s really what I love about the day. It’s a moment for us all to come together as one, and in that unity comes hope, belief, and change.”

Peace One Day has inspired 1.2 billion people worldwide to take their own steps, however small, to make the world a more peaceful place – not just on one day, but every day. The organization has inspired the United Nations to officially recognize the day; persuaded the Taliban to stop fighting for one day allowing 4.5+ million Afghani children to get polio vaccinations; and worked with Burger King to try to convince McDonald’s for a public truce in the “burger wars.”

Gilley and Peace One Day have found success turning an audacious idea into a global movement. On the Outside In podcast, Gilley joined Interbrand Global CEO Charles Trevail for a conversation about how his idea took off, challenges faced along the way, and the organization’s next ambitious leap: launching a “LinkedIn for change makers.”

You got the idea for Peace Day in 1999. How did things get started?

I was confused and frightened and concerned about what was going on in the world. I was a filmmaker and had been an actor from a very young age. I thought, Maybe I can make a film about peace. Maybe, through film, I can try and tackle some of the issues that I’m frightened about. But then I realized that a film like that was only going to be a series of soundbites. I needed something more, a starting point. And it was when I had that thought that suddenly everything changed. I was thinking, What’s the starting point for this film? And that was the starting point for peace. But I realized there wasn’t one. There was no day of global unity, no day of intercultural cooperation. There was nothing that brought humanity together separate from politics and religion. I was like, That’s it. I’m going to try create the first ever day ceasefire and non-violence in the world with a fixed calendar day and have every single country vote for it.

How did you go from an idea to a global movement? What has that journey been like?

When it began, I treated the UN General Assembly like the jury. I had to present the case for the creation of this day in terms of the impact that it would make. Everything that I did was about building that case. Because I was a filmmaker, I was able to frame the case within the context of a film. When I met the Dalai Lama, I put the Dalai Lama in the film. When I met Kofi Annan, I put Kofi Annan in the film. And so on. Every time I showed it to somebody, they’d say, “I wouldn’t mind being in that film!” The whole thing grew organically until, after lots of travelling and meeting lots of people, the entire world voted unanimously for the day.

That was stage 1. Stage 2 was proving that it could work. I could hear the cynics saying, “Well, it’s just a day of peace, but nobody’s going to stop fighting.” So I spent a few years working in relation to Afghanistan. Eventually, after all that work and the great help of our ambassador, Jude Law, we were able to get the Taliban to agree not to kill or kidnap anybody on September 21st. With the help of the United Nations, UNICEF, the WHO, President Karzai, the ISAF, and NATO, the fighting stopped. The Taliban didn’t fight. That allowed 10,000 vaccinators to go into areas you couldn’t normally go and give children 4.5 million children a polio vaccination. At that point I knew the cynic had nothing to say, because even in the most complex place in the world it worked. The next chapter that I’m focused on now is institutionalization, and so we’ve been working with corporations. They are one of the keys to humanity’s survival.

Besides the cynics, there must have been other roadblocks along the way. What have been some of them, and what did you do to overcome them?

I’d spent years building the case for the day, and on the morning of the 11th of September, Kofi Annan invited me to the UN to make the announcement to the world’s press that the day had been created. Just down the road, two planes hit the World Trade Center. And so the statement was never made. I mean, that was a moment – not just in America but all over the world. It was tragic. At that point I thought, Well, you could say, really, what’s the point? But you don’t. You say, This is the reason why we must double our efforts and work extremely hard.

In terms of other obstacles, it’s that I’ve got a lot of ideas. I’ve got a lot of people who can make things happen but, unfortunately, if you don’t put fuel in the tank then you can’t race the car. It’s as simple as that. But probably the most difficult thing that I deal with on a daily basis is trying to finance the organization.

You’re now working on something called Impact Profile. What is that, and what inspired it?

The idea for Impact Profile started with me looking at the corporate sector and the paradigm shift in the way in which companies are doing business. They’re talking about profit, but they’re also talking about impact and values. So why wouldn’t you be looking at your workforce in relation to whether they’re going to help you manifest profit? But also, are they going to help you make an impact? Impact Profile is a platform to showcase an individual’s positive contribution to saving humanity. It’s kind of the LinkedIn for change makers – social media for social good. We’re working in partnership with Oxford University and supported by Milbank, which is a massive global law firm.

I hope that one day in the future we will look at human beings not just for the money that they’ve made, but for their impact and their values where I can go, “You have an incredible profile, and your contribution to saving our world is extraordinary. I want to hang with you. I want to work with you.”

You’re also doing important work around cyber nonviolence. How is that going?

The majority of the violence today is going to happen in our homes, communities, schools, and at work. Only five percent is going to happen in an area of conflict. So, we all have a massive role to play. But the cyber world is this new territory, this new arena, where violence is taking place, and it’s having a terrible and tragic impact on so many. On the 21st of September, 2019, we want to decrease negativity, hate speech, and racism in the cyber world and increase peaceful words and messaging. We’ve never attempted anything like this before, and we believe that we can measure it incredibly accurately. We’re very excited about it.

For more information on Peace One Day, its mission, and ways you can get involved, email Jeremy at jeremy@peaceoneday.org. Follow him on Instagram @jeremygilleypod and on Twitter @JeremyGilley.

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