Reykjavík Peace Þing

On a windy afternoon we sit down with Unnsteinn Jóhannsson and Inga Auðbjörg Kristjánsdóttir over cupcakes and coffee at Unnsteins home in Reykjavík. He is the project manager for the upcoming Peace Þing, which will be held in Harpa concert hall on the 12th – 14th of October. He is also a passionate scout and recently graduated from the Kaospilot programme. He´s been using his knowledge to organize the conference with fellow scout, Inga. She is the project manager for the Peace Camp, which will be held a week before the actual conference. We talked to them about Kaos piloting, being peaceful and the upcoming Peace Þing.

We are still confused, what is Kaospiloting all about?

Unnsteinn: It´s a bit freaky stuff actually. In essence it´s creative project management. We have both finished this course, I ended up there a year after she started.

Inga: The studies are very grounded in reality. There are very few hypothetical projects. In every year you are always working with real clients.

Unnsteinn: The course is divided into four main subjects, leadership training, project design, process design and business design. In leadership training you learn about what kind of a leader you are, what kind of leader you´d like to be, how would you see yourself as a leader and discussing the leadership role in general. The first year is mostly done in group projects.

“Once we even sat for eight hours, just discussing whether to buy coffee”

Inga: It´s about learning to work with a group. You have a very long leash, so you have to find your own ways to make it work. Once we even sat for eight hours, just discussing whether to buy coffee that was organic and fair trade or to buy the coffee that would cost 50 cents less. We discussed this for eight hours in the end, and it was an awful day, but we learned a lot in the process.

Unnsteinn: Project design involves setting up projects, designing the process which the project needs to go through from beginning to end.

Inga: Then there is process design, or process facilitation. Which is about coming into a certain group, and see how all the people inside interconnect and how the communication goes after certain routes. If there are problems we try to find ways with the group to solve those issues on their own. And in the end, the group usually comes up with the same things you would, or even more creative solutions than you might have ever thought of.

Unnsteinn: And the fourth area is business design. It´s mostly social entrepreneurship. It´s about business innovation, but it has to have the third profiteer. You have to profit from it, the customer and also the world, or the environment, or the society. It´s positive capitalism, well capitalism might not be negative for all, but you could call it hippy capitalism.

What kind of people are attracted to this course?

Inga: The students come from all walks of life, from total hippies to strong headed capitalists. It´s a very broad group that finds these studies interesting. The main thing in common is that people are very creative, and willing to jump into this course where you won’t get an official degree, only an diploma and it´s expensive since it´s private education. Still it´s not a massive risk, or at least it doesn’t seem to leave students in a risky situation after graduating. Around 97% of graduated Kaos pilots have jobs.

Unnsteinn: I don’t know how many percent are working in their dream jobs but many are working from their final projects. Mine revolved around Peace Þing, I wasn’t very excited with it at first, but then all these signs started popping up. So I thought I’d give it a chance and it just grew on its own and it´s my full time job at the moment. Many of the final projects turned into viable businesses. In some cases two or three people would start a school project together and I know about few businesses that are still going strong.

Inga: For example two guys from my class had a mission to become famous with their band, Reptiles and Retards. And they did! They have been playing all over, they came to the Icelandic Airwaves for example. That was their project from their beginning. So they used the knowledge from their studies in their pursuit of fame and they’ve done really well!

So where did the idea about Peace Þing come from?

Inga: Bragi Björnsson, Chief Scout, got this idea that we should have a Peace conference in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the Icelandic scouts in November. The scouts have been celebrating this anniversary throughout the year, for example we had hosted events at the Reykjavík Cultural Night in August and had a massive scout gathering during the summer at Úlfljótsvatn. In the beginning it was supposed to be a cute little conference but it has just grown on it´s own.

In the end I started working for the committee that organized it, and as staff, I started to convince Unnsteinn to do his final project about this. That was a year ago. Since then I’ve been working on other projects, but just haven’t been able to let this one go. And now we are working towards making this a fantastic event in Harpa, on the 12th to the 14th of October. We are very happy that the Messengers of Peace program within the international Scout movement is helping us fund this event. There will be 25 lecturers from Iceland and abroad, five workshops and before the conference there will be the Peace Camp. There we will gather young people at the ages 16 – 25 from various different countries.

They will come and do a project about peace and talk about peace and make the Peace Game for Icelandic people, which people can then play in Harpa during the conference. We don’t know yet how they game will be, since it will only be made the week before. We are very fortunate to get sponsorship from the Youth in Action Programme for the Peace Camp.

Unnsteinn: It will be open to everyone, and will be happening on the Saturday. We still have to see how it will played many times or only constantly, it all depends on how the game will be.. We don’t want the Peace Camp to be Icelandic scouts inviting a bunch of other people to participate in some organized event, but for everyone to come together and work together towards a common goal. That´s why it´s so exciting to have people from countries that don’t have much experience of war such as Iceland and Denmark, and then have people from Palestine or Georgia for example that live with war everyday.

Inga: Yes, or people from Austria or Germany, which have a generation gap. The young generation knows the history but have never really participated, but are in a way bound by what happened before they were even born .We are all convinced about working towards peace, but the views on how to go about it are very varied.

So what does the schedule look like now?

Unnsteinn: We´ve already registered lots of people for the event, but it´s still possible to get tickets from our website. There will be three workshops that are especially aimed at young people. One is Scouts and Peace. It´s about how the scout method can be used in peacework. That one involves a lot of games and will be partly outdoors. Another is Messengers of Peace Training and the third is Peer to Peer Mediation

Two are aimed at teachers and people that work with young people. Christina Barruel is coming from New Zealand to talk about the Cool Schools Peer Mediation Programme and the other is a workshop in Consciousness Based Education taught by Dr. Ashley James Deans who is the Executive director of the Maharishi school in Iowa. We are working with a wide range of organizations such as AFS and CSIV that will participate or help out with the conference. Seeds will also be sending us 10-12 volunteers to help out with the event.

“working towards peace and human rights”

There will be 25 lecturers spread over the three days. To name a few we have Páll Óskar and Bergsteinn talking on the behalf of Unicef, Herdís Egilsdóttir, Amal Tamimi and many many more interesting lecturers. In fact we have people who range from being strong feminists like Katrín Oddsdóttir, human rights lawyer, to the CEO of the Landsbankinn, Steinþór Pálsson, but they are all working towards peace using their own ways.

And since we obviously didn’t think it was enough to have 25 lecturers and 5 workshops, we have offered organizations to come and introduce themselves at the expo, organizations like Amnesty International, Save the Children, ICE-SAR and many more. These people all have in common to be working towards peace and human rights and better world in general!

So what is the goal with Peace Þing?

Inga: That people leave with the longing to work actively towards peace. Not just listening and agreeing but to find ways to participate. To have some effect. We don’t want to leave people just inspired to do good, but also leave them with methods to do so.

Unnsteinn: We are focusing on that things start from the heart, and then you can take it wider. You don’t have to Africa to find conflict, it´s about domestic violence, it´s about abuse and bullying. We have all these people talking about peace from different points of views.It doesn´t need to be complicated. Peace can be so big to intake.

When I decided to participate in this project, I was overwhelmed by this idea of peace. But when I started thinking more about it, I realised that all the work I’ve been doing as a scout is about peace and helping others. It´s not about telling people to stop arguing, we realise that there will always be conflict, but how you meet these conflicts is a whole different matter. The world be much better if we could meet these conflicts without violence, be it physical or verbal.

You are using the scout philosophy in the making of this event?

Yes, and we want it to be interactive, and peer to peer. We have young people controlling the game for young people, we have a lot of group work and such. The scouts are founded as a movement of peace and the first international scout gathering was held to promote peace and connections throughout the world. When you know people from around the world, you can better understand that we all have to live on this planet in peace. It´s incredible to think that you can hold a scout gathering for 30.000 people and there is almost nothing negative that happens.There is a very beautiful society that evolves from this.

Peace Þing – at Harpa, concert hall, 12th – 14th of October.

Interview: Erla Björk Barldursdóttir
Photographs: Nanna Dís