The man who made international peace a priority – an interview with Jeremy Gilley: Founder of Peace One Day

Current Affairs Profile

Image Credit: The Oxford Union

Jeremy Gilley began his career as an actor, before transitioning to making films and documentaries in 1995. In 1999 he created the non-profit organisation Peace One Day and made a documentary about his effort to establish a fixed annual day for ceasefire and non-violence. In September 2001, building on Jeremy’s momentum, the UN unanimously adopted a General Assembly Resolution to establish 21 September as a universal day of peace. In 2007, Jeremy filmed The Day After Peace, which documented the administration of polio vaccinations on a mass scale in Afghanistan. From the early days, Jeremy received support from international figures such as the Dalai Lama. Since the mid-2000s, Jude Law, the prominent British actor, has been an Ambassador for Peace One Day. It has been estimated that millions of vaccinations have been delivered over the Peace Days which have taken place since 2001. 

I meet Jeremy in the Morris Room of The Oxford Union. He was there to launch a new app, called ‘Impact Profile’, with Jude Law. The idea behind the app is to create a profile which simply shows the impact you are having on the world. Examples of this could include raising money for charity, volunteering your time or being part of a campaign. 

When you first started out, how did you find the motivation to work on something like this?

I was really concerned at the beginning of this journey about what was going on in schools. I left school pretty much at the age of 12. Sadly, I don’t have any qualifications, I was badly dyslexic, etc. But I saw things going on in school, people being bullied and I thought, “What’s going on?” You see stuff in the community, and in people’s homes, and I was confused. And all the wars and the media and the negativity. And so, I was just somebody who was questioning, “What is happening? Why are human beings behaving in this way? Will it ever change? Can it change? Is human kind fundamentally evil? Is the destruction of the world inevitable? Should I have children; is that a responsible thing to do?” So many questions buzzing through my head and so at that point I thought, “I’m going to make a film about peace and I’m going to explore some of these issues.” Then I was thinking about the research for that film and I realised that actually that wasn’t enough. In that film I just talked to people, there wasn’t a structure. And that’s when I started to think about well, “Where is the starting point for peace?” and that’s when I had the idea. Lots of questions. Gave me a thought that there is no starting point for unity, and inter-cultural cooperation; which the academics are saying is key to humanities survival. And so that was how it happened. It was confusion that made it happen.

Are you fascinated with the individual and the impact they can have?

Yeah, I think I am. I am fascinated by individuals. And I am amazed at all the kinds of things that happen and what people do. And I also think that the power of the individual is absolutely massive. You’ve only got to look around [Oxford] to see that is true. And we all know it to be. Individuals really shape the world culturally. I’m really interested in creating opportunities for individuals to make real impact. I really love talking about the work and the Day of Peace, and inspiring people and empowering people to go for something and do something because the reward that they feel and the stories that we witness and document and hear are just so amazing. And so, lets create that system on a daily basis. Doing good is so fundamentally important to the world surviving. None more so than now. It’s really serious in terms of the success of the global goals. And therefore, whatever motivates somebody to do something good. Let it be and let’s let it happen. The more the good we can see happen the more chance we’ve got of stopping people suffering unnecessarily and unfairly.

Would you describe yourself as an idealist? 

I don’t know. Look I don’t know what I am really. I’m into climbing the mountain – whether I get to the top or not is really not important to me. I’ve been on the road with Peace One Day for 19 years, 123 countries. We achieved the establishment of [Peace One] Day, then the brokering of the ceasefires, and then mass engagement on a huge scale. And it’s been incredible to be a part of that and watch that happen. And I think that now with Impact Profile, it makes sense to me and to many, many, others and to Oxford and to others. Social media for social good is a really interesting concept, and if social media can encourage us to do good rather than take a picture of a latte and put it on Instagram, then obviously that’s a marvellous thing.

Using the media and film the way you do – do you think you are trying to change how people communicate?

Well, I’m not trying to change what other people are doing really. I just see that there is a place to do things differently. Whatever people do is what they want to do and I really respect that. You can’t start judging everyone because that is just so disempowering for the individual anyway, because you are spending so much time -wasted time – doing something like that. But what I do love is being really constructive and positive with the medium. It’s really exciting, telling great stories which can really engage and inspire and empower people. Recording a piece of history unfolding. The history of establishing the first ever day of ceasefire and non-violence, or what Jude did in Afghanistan – it’s beautiful to use the film in that way. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. The film camera is like that too. You point it in the right way, and you ask the right questions in the right way. It can have an incredible impact.

Why did you choose Oxford to launch Impact Profile?

Well, we are in the UK and the organisation is based in the UK. It’s an obvious thing that should exist. If impact is crucial to humanity’s survival, which indeed it is, lets create a system to be able to recognise, harness and record that action. And given we are here in the UK, it makes sense to trial and engage a community in a pioneering way. And if you had a wish that it could be true anywhere, then it would be for a lot of people in Oxford. It’s an incredible, ground-breaking, historic, world-famous university. The people who attend this university are some of the greatest minds of the world. And we know that. You only have to look at pictures around this place to understand that it really trains unbelievable people to excel. Here we are with an opportunity to work with students from this university and indeed others, and local people, to get it right. This is also a county where there is so much activity across peace, environment, health, society and equality. There are amazing organisations in this county, it has the best of everything. It’s very diverse in all sorts of wonderful ways and that makes an experiment like this – a pioneering moment – absolutely perfect.

Do you think young people are particularly important?

I don’t necessarily think that. But I do think it in the sense that it’s true, but I think that students here, students across the world, people of my generation, I think we all really want to make a difference. And I think we want to socialise with people who are making a difference and we want to go to things that are really interesting. What the application does is it shows you all the different ways you could make a difference in this area. It’s going to list all of that action for you and at the same time its going to inspire you with content, and so what I’m hoping is going to happen is like ‘Jedi’ – coming together and really going for and changing things in a positive and constructive way. I genuinely think this process is about shaping something for the future. We are saying, “We’ve got an idea, a lot of people think it’s a good idea – can you help us shape this idea so that future generations have a tool that will support them?”