Collaborating with the Initiatives of Change

By Martin Gilbraith

I happened to meet Jonathan Dudding of ICA:UK at Caux Palace in July. I was helping to design and facilitate an event called Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business and he was supporting the International Peacebuilders Forum. Both events were organised by the Initiatives of Change (IofC), which also owns the venue, a fairy-tale castle of an international conference centre in Switzerland.

Leaders of the global not-for-profit organisation were there as well, gathering for their global assembly. So we seized the opportunity to meet them to discuss prospects for a global partnership conference of our two organisations at Caux next year. I came away enthused by the prospects of such a partnership. This was endorsed by ICAI’s online General Assembly on 21st July.

There is a potential for synergy between the two organisations, which have collaborated over the years. ICA:UK and ICA Spain have helped design and facilitate IofC’s annual summer season of international conferences, and provided Technology of Participation  (ToP) training for its members. Other cooperation with individual members of ICA dates back over 30 years in some cases, in countries including Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and Ukraine.

Ideas for exploring broader collaboration have brewed for a year or two on both sides. A global partnership conference was proposed  to the ICAI last December by ICA: UK, with the support of ICA Spain and other European ICAs. It would follow on from ICAI’s 8th quadrennial Global Conference on Human Development Held in Kathmandu in 2012. Parallel conversations have been held by IofC. We hope to set up a joint committee in the autumn to develop a partnership and the approach to the conference.

Initiatives of Change describes itself as “a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own”. It was founded in the late 1930s as the Moral Rearmament Movement by Frank Buchman, a charismatic American minister whose ideas and practices had been developed largely working with students in what had been known as the Oxford Group. Today, IofC International has member organisations in about 40 nations. IofC Caux hosts a series of international conferences over three months every summer, under the banner “Exploring the human factor in global change”.

The iconic Caux Palace was a grand hotel that had become derelict. Swiss supporters bought it,  refurbished it and opened it in 1946 as an international conference centre where those who had suffered in the war could come together and build new relationships. IofC also established other  centres in the US and around the world, supporting reconciliation and peace-building through dialogue and, particularly at the Westminster Theatre in London, also through drama. 

ICA was founded somewhat later, but also from a faith-based movement, as the secular successor  to the Ecumenical Institute and University-based Faith and Life Community founded by the American former Methodist minister Joseph Wesley Mathews in the 1950s and 60s. ICA describes itself as a global community of non-profit organisations “advancing human development worldwide” and  sharing a “concern with the human factor in world development”. It launched a “Band of 24’ pilot Human Development Projects in each of the 24 time zones worldwide in 1976. These are one of the roots of ICAI’s network today. We now have member organisations and groups in around 40 countries – about half of them in common with IofC.

ICA’s former global headquarters, now ICA USA’s GreenRise building in Chicago, was also rescued from dereliction by volunteer labour and in-kind contributions in the early 1970s. It was a venue for ICA’s annual summer Global Research Assemblies. These have been followed by the quadrennial ICA Global Conference on Human Development held in various parts of the world since 1984.

There is much the two organisations have in common: aspects of their histories, the language  used to describe various approaches and a shared vision of a just and sustainable world.  At the conference I facilitated at Caux, I found similarities to our tradition of community living. Those  familiar with ICA centres in the past in Chicago, Brussels and elsewhere will appreciate the expectation at Caux that everyone contributes to the care of the community. Relationships are broadened and deepened by taking part in kitchen duties. They will also welcome the time for collective reflection and other spirit practices scheduled daily at Caux, an ICA tradition as well.

They may be pleased to find that most bedrooms in the former Caux Palace Hotel have their own bathrooms (unlike many ICA facilities of the same era), and they will likely find the simple and even antique furnishings and fixtures as charming as I did. Certainly few visitors will fail to be impressed by the views from their windows and balconies, and from the garden and terrace below – the mountain location, accessed by funicular from the lakeside, was well chosen indeed for a retreat centre.

Martin Gilbraith, a certified professional facilitator, is president of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International

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