Business urged to 'get involved'
Okotoks chartered accountant Bob Stewart says the whole community must pull together to fight violence
Story By: Brian Brennan

Businesses for peace — it hardly amounts to a new world movement yet, but Bob Stewart of Okotoks is determined to make it so.

“Just as businesses participate in building a culture of violence, businesses must be involved in building a culture of peace,” says the 49-year-old chartered accountant and management consultant, a winner of the year 2000 YMCA Canada Peace Medal.

Stewart uses strong words and he means them, but he doesn’t point fingers at the business community as he utters them.
Shannon Oatway photo, Business Edge

Okotoks chartered accountant and management consultant Bob Stewart holds up his peace medal.

“I am a business person and I am very much a friend of business,” he explains.

“What I’m saying to business — as a friend — is: ‘Here’s a heads-up.’ Business currently is contributing to a culture of violence that we have in our society, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly.”

As examples, he points to oil companies operating in developing nations — Talisman Energy and Ranger Oil, for example, have received negative press coverage relating to their activities in Sudan and Angola, respectively — and industry giants such as Nike and Reebok being accused of human rights abuses and labour law violations in Third World sweatshops.

“Large businesses must become aware that they are no longer just in the business of making money,” he says.

“They are a part of the community, and the community is a key stakeholder in what they do. They have a definite role in building a culture of peace.” He’s not just talking about peace in foreign countries. Stewart is also talking about peace at home.

“In strikes, for example, there’s often a large amount of conflict, sometimes even violence. It’s important for businesses to work with their employees to manage conflict.”

Stewart has been active as a peace promoter since the 1996 Rotary International Conference in Calgary, when visiting Nobel Peace Prize laureates talked about advancing peace in the world and inspired him.

Before that, while living and working in Yellowknife for 13 years, Stewart saw how a community’s peace could be shattered when a violent labour dispute at the Giant gold mine culminated in a bomb explosion that killed nine workers. The Stewart home was broken into during this period, and a schoolyard bully mugged his son.

“So I had my concerns about violence in Canada,” he says. “I have three children, two of them girls, and I felt it was time for me to get involved and try to make a difference.”

The problem was, where to begin? With so much violence in the world, ranging from schoolyard fighting to military conflict, the task of advancing peace seemed immense.

“The first thing I did was go to the bookstore and look for the book Peace For Dummies,” says Stewart, smiling. “But of course it didn’t exist.”

There were other books and information sources, however. After researching the subject for three months, Stewart came to the conclusion there was what he terms an ocean of available data on peacemaking, “but you could drown in it.”

It would require someone with his business skills to manage the information efficiently, provide a focus and a develop a strategic plan.

He built a Web page,, to help create a community of peacemakers. He realized there were some people who wanted to help, but didn’t know how.

“The world is dangerous not because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything,” he says.

He decided his prescription for dealing with the disease of violence would be to “inoculate” with peace education all the children of the world, beginning with Canadian children. “It’s really as basic as the three ‘Rs’ — reading, writing and arithmetic,” he says. “I’m suggesting a fourth R: reconciliation.”

He made his Web page — “it’s what I call e-peace” — the first of what he hopes will be a network of Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace across this country, and he became an active participant in the UNESCO Culture of Peace program. He took as his motto the UNESCO peace declaration: “Since wars and violence begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

To date, Stewart has brought his message of peace to Rotary Clubs and other service organizations across Canada.

The message is simple and consistent: “You, as a caring individual, can make a difference.” He tells his listeners that because caring individuals took a stand in the past, such organizations as Block Parents, Neighbourhood Watch, Citizens on Patrol and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have become powerful forces for change in our society.

He also talks about individuals who have done it on their own. In Washington, D.C., for example, a man named Coleman McCarthy goes to his local high school on a volunteer basis every week to teach a course on peacemaking. “He found that children want to learn about peacemaking because they see with fresh eyes the world’s violence.”

Stewart believes that if one person can do it, two can do it, and that’s how things will eventually change for the better.

“In the past, peace building was not an easy thing to do because there were an awful lot of barriers in the way. Now with computers and the Internet, there’s a real possibility that we can bring peace to our communities and to our world.”

Calgary-area businessmen Bob Stewart and Arthur Millholland received YMCA Canada Peace Medals this year for efforts on behalf of world peace. Here and in a related story called "Iraqi tragedy inspires oilman to act", they talk to Business Edge about their activities.