A Q&A with Tom Etzel of the Global Peace Building Foundation

Since 2012, PeacePlayers International has enjoyed a partnership with The Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF). GPBF contributes to the building of global peace by supporting organizations and projects that restore, rebuild, and transform relationships that have been broken due to prejudices, stereotyping, hatreds, and fears. Like PPI, GPBF believes that work at the grassroots level will contribute to sustainable peace.

We at PeacePlayers got the chance to sit down with GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel to speak about this sector of the non-profit world and his experience with PPI. 

 

What sparked the idea for the Global Peace Building Foundation?

September 11, 2001 was the major catalyst in my commitment to peace building. My 25 year-old niece, Katie McCloskey, was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower and my high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner.

GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel

GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel

I needed an outlet to channel my grieving energies in a positive way during the aftermath of that tragedy, so I decided to enroll in the mid-career Masters Degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I wanted to gain an in-depth global perspective and find a clearer vision of world affairs and efforts toward globally building peace. After completing my studies in July of 2010, I successfully established the Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF).

 

GPBF gives funds to organizations that operate under the Contact Theory, specifically via youth programing. Why is this the sector of the non-profit world that you dedicate your time and money to?

Contact Theory is a central tenet of peace building based on the belief that negative attitudes, such as stereotypes and prejudice, can be reduced by promoting contact and familiarity between conflicting groups. Governments sign treaties and aid organizations spend billions of dollars a year, but only people can make peace. The change in attitude and beliefs, which happens in the formative stage of a young person’s life, creates the conditions necessary for youth to form lasting relationships built on mutual trust and respect. Amid the complex and shifting landscapes, this trust is the bedrock for sustainable peace.

 

How did you first hear about PeacePlayers and what drew you to our organization?

I found PPI while I was doing research for my thesis at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. PPI was one of my case studies. I interviewed Trevor Ringland, a former Ireland rugby star who won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2007 ESPN ESPY Awards with Dave Cullen for their work with PPI. I found him to be very inspiring. GPBF grew out of the thesis, including the GPBF-PPI relationship.

 

You visited our program in Northern Ireland not too long ago, what was that experience like?

We visited PPI-NI as part of the GPBF due diligence process. We wanted to learn more about how PPI incorporates the peace education curriculum with the game of basketball.

Tom meets with PPI staff during his visit to Northern Ireland

Tom meets with PPI staff during his visit to Northern Ireland.

We learned a great deal about the history of The Troubles and how PPI-NI is working at the grassroots level to bridge the divides for the next generation. We enjoyed meeting the staff and children. They were very friendly, welcoming and inspiring.

 

With so much continuing conflict in this world, what is one piece of advice for people working in this field whether that person is a participant, facilitator, or donor?

The field of peace building is very complex. There are many components that must work together to make peace sustainable. My advice is to find a niche and be committed to a long-term approach supported by qualitative results. A short-term and quantitative results-driven approach lacks efficacy in sustaining enduring change.

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