The Rotary Peace Fellowship: A Fully Funded Educational Opportunity for Service Above Self

Apr 24, 2019
Mark Flanigan (far right) with other Bangkok Rotary Peace Fellows on a field study in Cambodia

By Guest Author Mark Flanigan

Rotary International is a global civic organization that is active at the grassroots level. While they are best known for nearly eliminating polio from the face of the earth, they also provide dedicated funding each year to those looking to make a positive impact on world peace.

A key initiative of Rotary International is the Rotary Peace Fellowships. Each year, Rotary awards fully funded fellowships for global leaders to study at Rotary Peace Centers, including up to 50 fellowships for master’s degrees and 50 fellowships for certificate studies at premier universities. Through academic training, practice, and networking opportunities, the Rotary Peace Centers program develops the fellows into experienced and effective catalysts for peace. The fellowships cover tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation, and all internship and field-study expenses.

In just over 10 years time, Rotary International has trained over 1,200 new Peace Fellows. Many of them now serve as senior leaders in national governments, within highly-regarded Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), international organizations like the UN and World Bank, and top universities, or have started their own companies and foundations.

I had the unique experience of being selected as a Rotary Peace Fellow twice: first in 2010 to complete a Master’s degree in Peace Studies in Japan at International Christian University, and second in 2017 to complete a Certificate in Peace and Conflict Studies in Thailand.

Two Types of Rotary Peace Fellowships

Peace Fellowships for a master’s degree program lasts from 15 to 24 months depending on the university and include a two to three-month field study, which participants design themselves. I interned at the UN OCHA in Geneva, for example.

In addition to formal qualifications, applicants should have a minimum of three years of related full-time work or volunteer experience. Accepted candidates study peace and development issues with research-informed teaching and a diverse student body. There are five different locations: Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA; International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan; University of Bradford, Bradford, England; University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia; and Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.

Peace Fellowships that lead to a professional development certificate allow experienced leaders to gain practical tools for promoting peace and international development during an intensive three-month program, which includes three weeks of field study (both domestic and international) and peer learning opportunities with a diverse group of professionals in a variety of fields. Applicants need a minimum of five years of related full-time work or volunteer experience, and should also be able to demonstrate their commitment to international understanding and peace and leadership skills. This takes place at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (fact sheet).

Mark (far left) with other 2017 Peace Fellows in Bangkok

Benefits of the Fellowship

In looking for fellowship opportunities, the cost can be a critical factor, as many worthwhile graduate programs can saddle students with massive debt. Rotary International recognizes this and realizes that it takes a committed investment in people to yield positive long-term results. For this reason, the Peace Fellowship provide full funding, including tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation, and all internship and field-study expenses.

The Peace Fellowship is open to people from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines. While cohorts include those working in government, peace and security and international affairs, they also include teachers, clergy members, law enforcement officers, athletes, visual and performing artists, and entrepreneurs. Rotary is looking to build a global cadre of professional peacemakers from all fields and walks of life. Also, unlike some other fellowships, there is no upper age limit to applying. In fact, a number of Peace Fellows every year are retirees or senior level staffers (especially in the certificate program, which is three months long and geared toward more mid-career professionals in the field). I found these aspects to be refreshing, especially after being ineligible to apply to a number of otherwise great “young professional” programs.

Mark volunteering for a tsunami relief mission in northeast Japan following the terrible earthquake of March 11th during his time as a 2011 Rotary Peace Fellow

Application Process

Candidates for either option should meet the following basic requirements:

  • Proficiency in English; a second (or even third) language is an asset
  • Demonstrated commitment to international understanding and peace
  • Excellent leadership skills

Applications for the 2020-21 Rotary Peace Fellowship program are now being accepted. The deadline for candidates to submit applications to their geographic Rotary district is May 31, 2019. District-level Rotary Clubs and offices will interview candidates and then submit endorsed applications — representing the semi-finalists — directly to The Rotary Foundation by July 1 for final consideration as one of the 100 selected each year. Applicants do not apply to their respective universities until after they have been selected as Rotary Peace Fellows.

If you decide to apply, your first step would be to contact your local Rotary district before submitting your application to request an interview. If you are unsure about the process, your local Rotary club can help you connect with your respective district. You can also use the Club Finder to locate the club nearest you. Club interviews and recommendations are strongly encouraged (but not required) for candidates who have secured support at the district level. Applicants who pass all stages of the process will begin their Fellowships in 2020.

Application Tips

While there is no perfect formula for passing, in my experience I found there are two primary things that you should be able to articulate clearly as part of your application and interviews.

First of all, you must be able to explain why you, as opposed to the thousands of other applicants, would be a good fit for the Rotary Peace Fellowship. Who are you and what makes you tick? Why do you care about global peace? In other words, what sets you apart and makes you a worthwhile candidate? Rotarians worldwide are highly-successful businesspeople and tend to consider the “return on investment” when they commit to supporting a specific project. They think not in terms of their own financial gain, but what collective benefit to global peace will emerge from their committed time and financial support. Key to this process is researching Rotary as well, including its history, mission, and values to ensure you can align yourself to Rotary honestly and convincingly.

Second, how would you and your long-term career prospects benefit from receiving the Rotary Peace Fellowship? You should be able to explain how the receipt of a Master’s Degree or professional Certificate would add value to your knowledge base, future career path, and your personal and professional goals. Avoiding vague platitudes like “I want to promote world peace” (which is certainly a laudable goal, but not specific enough in this case) and being as detailed as possible will strengthen your application. Rotary will be making a considerable investment in your education and professional development. How will you honor that investment post-graduation?  

In conclusion, the Rotary Peace Fellowship is a wonderful, fully-funded opportunity to devote yourself to learning about blending theory and practice to promote global peace. I would encourage anyone thinking about applying to go for it! Conflict will always exist on our shared planet. We need more talented and trained practitioners to help us manage and resolve it as best we can!

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Rotary Peace Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

Mark Flanigan is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) at the Imago Dei Middle School in Tucson, Arizona. He has been a US Army officer, Presidential Management Fellow, and Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program participant. He earned two Rotary Peace Fellowships; the first at the International Christian University (ICU) in Japan, and the second at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.