A Rotarian Creating Pathways to Peace. Member Spotlight: Michael Bardin

Michael Bardin is long-time member and leader with Rotary International, who has been developing and leading peacebuilding projects around the world for decades now. After retiring several years ago as the chief public policy officer for Scripps Health in San Diego, Michael has taken on even more responsibilities within Rotary International and as a community leader. At a young age, Michael joined the Navy and eventually became a public affairs officer that worked between the film industry and the military. The public affairs turned to advocacy and affairs in the healthcare industry, leading to a decades-long career with Scripps. As a public policy and advocacy leader, Michael was a natural fit for a Rotary club being established in San Diego 32 years ago. Eventually, he became a Chartered member, and later the President of this club.

Championing Rotary

There have been innumerable developments and programs within Rotary that Michael has been involved with, but there several from recent years are especially demonstrative of Michael’s hard work and visions of peace that he has used in his work in RI. A key aspect of Michael’s involvement and leadership has been the development of the concept and actions of ‘Pathways to Peace’ Committee, created in 2004, of which Michael is the Chair. Michael pinpoints the origins of this committee shortly after 9/11 when several clubs came together for a district conference. The general consensus was that despite the pain, confusion, fear, and anger caused by the terrorist attacks, they understood that as an organization (and more broadly, the USA) there was a lock fundamental understanding of what was going on around the world, and especially the Middle East. There arose an opportunity to create a project called the Jewish-Palestinian dialogue (which eventually was renamed ‘Dialogue for Peace’); ‘we realized that we needed to know more about the Middle East and the forces causing problems in the Middle East’.

After 2-3 years of strategic work they were determined to put a plan of action together; “it became clear that what was needed was much more than a dialogue – they wanted a way to implement all those discussions about peace into their work, and into Rotary more generally.” Michael tells the story of a brainstorming session around that strategic process where someone used the term ‘pathways to peace’, and collectively they recognized that the true direction of everything Rotary is exactly that – a pathway to peace. Improving education, sanitation, water, whatever the areas of focus happen to be, is done out of a greater desire to integrate peace from the ground up. Very quickly the strategic planning turned to tactical planning.

Integrating Peace Intentionally

What is amazing about the Pathways to Peace initiative was that what Michael and others in Rotary started to realize, was that this same sort of thing was happening all over Rotary – an organic development of understanding and interest in the ways that peace can be integrated into action and strategy. It had come from the ground up and had spread widely, which kickstarted a broader strategic visioning process.

They started to actualize the pathways to peace – peace is one of the six areas of focus of Rotary but takes a different form because the very idea is an integration of a concept into the actions taken all over the world. Michael notes that because peace is a concept, that in itself can cause controversy – especially in today’s divided political climate; ‘the concept of peace, initially with people who are attracted to it, is the dichotomy between peace and war. Which of course is a …part of it, but it isn’t really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about progress on all human levels.’ As an example, Michael gives Rotary’s Polio Plus program, which has involved tens of thousands of people all over the world in getting children vaccinated against polio. The impact of this program has been immeasurable; besides the actual action of vaccines, the involvement of people and communities has been in itself a massive peacebuilding platform.

Polio Plus, Rotary’s worldwide program working with the World Health Organization to eradicate polio, is also one of the world’s largest peace programs. The work involving communities large and small to collaborate and vaccinate every child in every country advanced other opportunities to come together on other needs.

Water Cooperation Diplomacy Program

In recent years, Michael has also been involved in the creation of a ‘ Water Cooperation Diplomacy Program ’, which is a master’s degree created with three universities (University of Peace in Costa Rica, the University of Delft in the Netherlands, and Oregon State University in the USA). Rotary has sponsored young people from Central Asia, an area that is severely impacted by conflict over the major water basin of the Aural Sea.

When asked for advice he would give young people who are interested in peacebuilding work, he encourages chasing a passion for helping people.

Article by Lizzy Nestor, MBBI Writer