15 November 2012

Interview of Steven Leeper from the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation

Today I am interviewing Steven Leeper that I met during the Aspen Forum 2012. I admire his activism and his efforts in peace building for more than 14 years now. He would like to raise awareness of the nuclear weapons crisis and the global movement to eliminate them. Let's learn a bit more about him and his activities in the following interview.

  • Tell us a bit about your background. 
I was on my way to becoming a family therapist (psychology) when I suddenly became a management consultant in 1981. I was a management consultant when I came to Hiroshima in 1984 and worked in the automotive industry for 12 years. I suddenly became a peace activist/translator in 1998, co-founding the Global Peacemakers Association. In 2001 I started working for Mayors for Peace, becoming full time in 2003, then chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation in 2007. I was not interested in peace or politics when I got to Hiroshima, but was trained to care about such things by the people I met in this city.
  • Tell us what pushed you to pursue your current career. 
In 1998 several things happened. My main consulting customer died so I had to choose between finding a new customer or doing something new. My two boys graduated from college so I didn’t need so much money, and I was feeling free to make a change. India and Pakistan became nuclear-armed nations, stimulating great anxiety and considerable new action in Hiroshima. Two activists came from India and Pakistan asking us to go to their countries to tell people what nuclear weapons really are. By that time, I understood that unless we eliminate nuclear weapons, or at least keep from using them, my children and grandchildren are in deep trouble. Moreover, none of our other problems (economic, environmental, political) can be solved without abandoning the current culture of war for a sustainable culture of peace. 
  • What do you enjoy the most about your current activities?
I enjoy getting in front of audiences and telling them about Hiroshima and its message, then working with the individuals who ask us to help them carry out peace activities in their community. We have done videoconferences around the world, in many countries I have never visited physically. I genuinely enjoy these encounters and watching people come to understand the deep implications of war and peace. 
  • What are the current challenges that you are facing and how could the people reading this interview help you? 
The greatest challenge remains the lack of public awareness of the nuclear weapons crisis and the global movement to eliminate them. People can help by studying the topic, talking about it and bringing it into public consciousness, but what we really need right now more than anything is an introduction to a high-profile celebrity spokesperson willing to take our issue on and help us raise it to a higher level of public prominence. If we had a powerful and committed celebrity, we could raise a lot of money and create a far more effective campaign. We need someone who can and will do for us what Princess Diana did for the landmine ban campaign. 
  • How familiar are you with the concept of gamification?
I first hear the word gamification from you. I was deeply impressed by your presentation and immediately saw the benefits and effectiveness of such an approach. Since then, I have been thinking about how to bring the concept into our campaign.

  • If you are, do you think it could useful to your organization?
Yes, we could easily create a list of activities that someone could do for our cause and our organization that would earn karma points, and we could offer nice rewards for climbing to higher levels. It would take a while to work the system out, but with 5443 city members, we could do an attractive one, I am sure. We could, for example, at a certain level of karma points, issue a special Mayors for Peace passport entitling the bearer to certain privileges in Mayors for Peace cities. 
  • Are you familiar with Corporate Social Responsibility?
Yes, before coming to Japan I did some fundraising for other causes and CSR was always part of the conversation. 
  • What would be your advice to companies, who struggle to engage their employees to their CSR activities? (Volunteering, donation to NGOs, etc..) 
Young employees should be given a surprising amount of money and authority and a real chance to develop their own CSR activities for the company, and the upper management should be as lenient and cooperative as possible in trying what the young ones come up with. Making young employees responsible for CSR will benefit the employees and the company in many ways.
  • How do you feel about companies using CSR activities for their marketing.
There is really no choice in the US, where profit is legally the only allowable imperative. The company has to prove that its CSR is good for the bottom line or the shareholders can sue. I don’t like this situation, but given this reality, marketing is an important part of the system. On the other hand, the future will belong to companies that understand and take seriously their responsibility to the local community, humanity and the Earth as a whole. An exclusive focus on profit is already obsolete and will increasingly be seen as grotesque and unacceptable.
  • Are you using any social networks and why do you think it could be beneficial for corporations to start using them?
I am on facebook but my organization so far refuses. I consider this a big mistake, but we are a city bureaucracy before we are a campaigning organization. If I could do it my way, I would put a big chunk of our budget into social networking and making sure we are an Internet phenomenon, which I believe we could be if we let our youngest staff members work on it. We are still too controlled by guys in their 50s or 60s who have no idea what the young folks are doing.
You are brilliant. You provide a platform that helps all sides of the equation get something out of the relationship, and gamification makes it understandable and fun. Ikifu.org could possibly help us overcome the inertia and get deeper into social networking.
  • If you could use crowdfunding for one of your dream, what would it be for? 
I would like to use crowdfunding to generate the initial investment funds for a series of peace concerts, which would be designed to be self-sustaining. That is, each concert would have to make enough to support the next in another time or place.   Bureaucracies do not gamble with tax money. We cannot really invest in something that might or might not be a financial success. We need to get our initial funding from private sources.

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