Interview with Steve Killelea: Philanthropist and founder of the Global Peace Index

Interview with Steve Killelea: Philanthropist and founder of the Global Peace Index
Steve Killelea is a successful Australian businessman, a former avid surfer. Today, he has become one of Australia’s most important philanthropist. He is an inventor and a genuine man of peace involved in many different projects. We had the chance to meet him in New York where he was presenting one of his most recent projects, “Soldiers of Peace”, a documentary film about the importance of peace.
Mr Killelea is also the man behind the Global Peace Index, an index that measures the level of peace in countries worldwide. “I wanted to show,” he says, “that peace is more than simply the absence of war.” So now we leave the floor to this committed philanthropist.
Q: You were a surfer, then an inventor and a very successful businessman. Today you are a philanthropist. What made you enter this field?
I went into philanthropy for two reasons. The first comes from business and the second from surfing.
The three companies I have established are global businesses. This means that, over the last forty years, I have been travelling the world. The company I’m the chairman of and founded twenty years ago, Integrated Research –– has revenues from more than fifty countries. Forty years of travelling has made me conscious of being a global citizen more so than being an Australian. Thus, I identify myself as being a citizen of humanity.
Secondly, a lot of the surfing I did was in really far-flung places. The best surfing beaches are not near cities, but rather in remote locations such as isolated islands in the Pacific. In this way, I obtained a lot of first-hand experience of poverty.
When I started in business, I eventually reached a point where I had more money than I could possible use. At that point, I began thinking: how can I use this money wisely to help others?
Based on these two experiences, I started to focus on development aid. I give money exclusively to development aid. I give very little money inside Australia, because this country is rich and such money does not go very far, whereas, in the developing world, a little money goes a long way.
For example, I am involved in a lot of clean water projects. It costs US$20 a head to give people clean water, at the same time reducing the death-rate for children under 5 by approximately 25%. Similarly, cataract operations cost about US$40 dollars a head. In the developing world, 1% of the population is blind and 40% to 50% of that is due to cataracts. Some of these people have been blind for decades and with a cataract operation they get their eyesight back. What a wonderful gift!
Q: Where do you carry out the cataract operations?
We are operational in Tanzania and in Rwanda.
Q: What other kinds of projects are you involved in apart from clean water and cataracts?
Child and maternal health care, food survival projects on the border of Congo and Tanzania, housing projects in Cambodia, emergency relief in Zimbabwe, clean water projects in Kenya and many more.
Famine relief is something else we have been involved in. For 40 US cents a day you can keep somebody alive. In many situations, famines last for about ninety days. Famine often happens at the end of the dry seasons before evolving into the next wet period. Quite often after ninety days the famine is over. To keep somebody alive for ninety days at 40 US cents per day represents very little money.
Q: How do you manage to keep the costs down? Do you have staff on the ground or do you use NGOs?
We are operational in eleven countries with twenty to thirty projects running at the same time. The average cost of the projects is between US$100,000 to US$300,000 per annum.
We partner with organizations that already have infrastructure on the ground. We find projects that are not funded or organizations to whom we can extend funding to get things done. That really works well because we like to run projects for a maximum period of three to five years. Then move on to something else. We always look at the sustainability aspect of the programme.
Q: Do you think that your programmes are more sustainable than other development projects?
I would generally say “yes”, because most have a sustainability element built into them.
Let us look at providing water or wells in a community. Part of what we do is to set up a water committee. We monitor the water committee over the life of the project. By the time you get to the end of the project, the water committee is self-sustaining –– they know what they need to do to keep the water running.
Similarly, for a food security project, it is all about training people in the right agricultural techniques. You train them to use the right fertilizers properly, etc. In this way, they have the right skills to keep the project going afterwards.
Some projects, such as famine relief and cataract operations, do not necessarily have a sustainability component. However, when we carry out cataract programmes, we always introduce training programmes for local doctors. With these trained staff, hospitals can take over the operations after we have gone.
Q: Soldiers of Peace is your film. Why did you engage in this venture? It is quite different from the other things you do.
The reason why we stated to do Soldiers of Peace was our active interest in peace. I had a friend, one of Australia’s leading war correspondents, and we decided to do a movie together about peace while talking about war. The philosophical concept arose from of the Global Peace Index.
Q: What was your role? I worked on the concepts which we wanted to portray in the movie. I commented on the script and then I looked at the outcome at the editing. That was my level of involvement.
Q: How would you characterize this kind of project?
Obviously, we can learn from anything new that we do and the film industry is new to me. I learned a lot about international distribution and conveying messages through this medium.
Q: What is your ambition for the film?
There are two main areas where I am hoping the film will have an impact. The first is to raise awareness about the importance of peace and how little we actually know about the process. The second is for the film to be viewed by as many people as possible and to be broadcast by as many television networks as possible around the world. At this stage, I’m quite confident that this will happen as the take up of the movie has been above expectations. The movie has won a number of international awards –– the Monaco International Film Festival, the Las Vegas International Film Festival and we also received the Club of Budapest award at the Cannes International Film festival.
Q: When are you going to show the film in Geneva?
We are in the process of working out the international marketing relations. I am sure that there will be a screening by the end of 2009. And we are planning a special private screening at the Palais des Nations for the first ever UN organized Global Model UN event in August. We hope to stimulate the thinking about global peace of the thousand of international students that will be gathered there.
Q: You are the inventor of the Global Peace Index. How did you get that idea?
At one point, I was travelling through Africa and I started to wonder what the inverse of all these war-torn nations were like –– what was a peaceful country like? I started to look at the web and I could not find a list of the most peaceful countries. Since I could not find anything, I started to work on the Global Peace Index.
That was the origin. It really started by asking a question and finding the answers to that question. Then I decided to hire the Economist Intelligence Unit, part of the Economist Group in London to collect and collate the data for the index. An international panel of experts, made up by peace experts and statisticians, oversaw and guided the process. First we defined peace as: the absence of violence, then we decided on 23 indicators that could be used and for which we could find reliable data. Having completed the index, I thought: I have answered the questions myself, but other people should know about it too. Thus, I started a publicity campaign about the outcome of the index. That is where we are today: a thorough index of the measurement of peace.
Q: What do you want to achieve?
I really want to change our consciousness and the way we approach peace. We should look at the fact that peace is more than simply the absence of war. We should try and better understand the fabric of peace. There is a lot more that we can do within any society to make it more peaceful and to advance the study of peace in higher education institutions.
Q: Last year, at a seminar on trade and peace in New York, a study showed that the world is more peaceful when the level of trade is high. What do you think about that?
To be honest, it depends on what you are trading. If you are trading arms, it might be good for some but I do not think it is good for peace! I think that you have to look at what is being traded … and why. Certainly, there is great correlation between per capita income and peace. If you increase peace you will increase the wealth of society because you will have more trade and business.
Q: In these difficult economic times, are you afraid that we will see an increase in conflict?
I know that we will see such a movement in some countries and this will be reflected in the peace index. We can see this already the world has become less peaceful as measured by the Global Peace Index between 2008 and 2009 and this is directly tied to the economic crisis. Certainly, the destruction of wealth creates a lot of anger. This year we have seen an increase in violent demonstrations and political unrest.
Q: When will the next Global Peace Index be published?
It was published on 2 June 2009 and publicly released at a press conference at Central Hall in London and an event at CSIS in Washington DCWe were very pleased with the attention is received this year which resulted in coverage in more than 100 countries in the days following the release as well as just under a ¼ million web visits in the first few weeks.
One key point that I would like to make is that Peace in the twenty-first century is different from any other epoch in human history. The major challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century are all based around sustainability –– these are global issues. Unless we have a world that is basically peaceful, we will never get the level of trust, inclusiveness, co-operation and social equity that will enable international institutions to carry out governance and to create policies. Therefore, I would say that the spread of peace can be equated with the survival of society as we know it in the twenty-first century.
It is impossible to solve the major issues without the world being a peaceful place.