Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (former president of Iceland)

There is pride in the fact that there are peace centres established in Iceland named after the house where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met at an Iceland summit. The cold war lasted decades, and there was hope that Iceland could host a meeting of peace between super powers. But soon the Berlin wall came down and Europe was reunited due to the Reykjavik summit.

The biggest problems facing the world can only be solved through international cooperation, and an open and inclusive dialogue is required to attend them. Peace centres are intended to be places where this type of discussion can take place.

Former President

Tawakkol Karman- Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Youth are the best equipped group for looking over the horizon. They are full of power and creative energy, which is important in the creation of peace. We must not view children as immature and without knowledge, as they will be important in creating a peaceful future. We must encourage youth to participate actively in conflict resolution and peacemaking.

The media is powerful and can also play a role in the promotion of peace. Peace is not just about stopping war, it is about stopping injustice and human rights violations. Nonviolence is the most impactful way to face violence, and our voices are stronger than the sounds of bullets.

Every kid must have their own dream and their own tools to achieve their dream, including being armed with knowledge.

Yemen is now suffering from a war after a peaceful resolution, and people have lost access to basic services, due to a change in leadership. It is important to become a leader and stand up to the oppressors in order to make real change in achieving peace, equality, and democracy.


Unni Krishnan Karunakara- Assistant Professor of Public Health at Yale University

I have been a humanitarian worker for two decades, and believe humanitarian and peace work do not always go together, but there are some things in common. Humanitarian action is a moral activity in which assistance is provided to those in need, it is not mandated or a legal action, and can be limited but is also important. The purpose is to work for people immediately, not years from now. Humanitarian work is not about finding root causes, it is about alleviating suffering. Workers work in places where the needs of citizens are not being met by the leaders of the nation. Humanitarian action is not a solution, but the course of action when everything else fails. A core belief behind humanitarian action is that people are not meant to suffer, despite the fact that many religions include suffering as part of life.

Borders are a way in which we create an us vs them mentality, and otherize people and dehumanize. In olden times when there was a human rights issue, we would go to European nations who would take the moral high ground, but now the issue of migrants is more controversial, and the commitment to human rights is being tested. All countries have signed the declaration of human rights, but when it comes to migrants, many nations are not upholding their end of the agreement. The whole world has failed to address this critical issue, and this is an issue which prevents the promotion of peace.


Faten Mahdi Al-Hussaini, Activist and spokesperson against hate speech for NRK

I came to Norway when I was a year old with my father as a political refugee from Iraq. When we arrived in Norway, my father was on social services. My mother had five more children and wasn’t able to go back to school.

I went to Iraq in 2005, which was during the war. When I returned home, I began to dislike Muslims because they were the ones who kidnapped my friend. Later in life I began to learn more about Islam. In Norway, there was much discussion about Shia and Sunni Muslims, and the hate I received caused me to hate all Muslims and those who view Islam as a brotherhood. After going back to Iraq in 2013, I realized that they are humans, not just Sunni and Shia.

I began to fight back against the view of Muslims in Norway, stating that I am different than the extremists. I began to experience threats and abuse from my own community in Norway and needed police protection, and was eventually forced to move. The threats progressed to the possibility of honour killing. I hated the Iraqi community and viewed them as monsters.

Today I question why I is not viewed as truly Norwegian with my Hijab, and why there is so much hate for who I am. I values being strong and direct as a way to get people to listen and bring about change in an efficient manner.


Emi Mahmoud- Poet and Activist

I first learned about genocide when I was 10, when I asked my family why so many people were dying.

I felt silent and began writing poetry to get people to hear my voice and the voice of my community.

It is much easier to be seen then heard.

In college I was forbidden from going to poetry competition because it wasn't´t seen as academic, but I argued with my professor and demanded to be allowed to participate. By being challenged by my professor to fight to pursue one of my passions, I was inspired, and inspiration is not given enough credit for how powerful inspiration can be.

My life experiences allowed me to continue to fight for change today.

Emi 1


Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Iceland is a small nation, but has a strong voice and desire to create change. Peace is only as strong as the effort put into leading it, and in order to last it needs effort and support from many aspects of society.

In a world where there is great inequality, we must not lose sight of the values of human rights and equality. To build peace and stability, there must be respect for human rights and equality among all citizens.

Iceland remains a voice for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Equality is very important in sustaining lasting peace, as well as freedom to act and grow. These qualities make a nation a role model in creating a better and safer world.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson

Georgina Campbell Flatter

When I received the invitaton to come and speak, I was excited because I work with change agents at MIT everyday. Entrepeneurs can be impactful in solving the worlds greatest issues countries face.

In my speech I would like to introduce to you entrepreneurs from different corners of the world and tell you about their incredible work and describe to you the social impact of their innovation.

Joseph is from Nigeria, in the town in which the major kidnapping by Boko Haram took place. I met Joseph while visiting Nigeria, where he workes for a company that deliveres hot food to people all over the city. From the inside, it looks like a normal startup, but outside, you realize the scale of the challenge this company is trying to solve. They created a system for geotagging addresses, and are extremely innovative.

Veronica lives in the slums of Nairobi Kenya and workes for a fashion brand called Soko. Soko works with highly skilled artisans across the Nairobi slums, and connects them with artisans in San Francisco, and sends the designs to the artisans in Nairobi. They are now able to create these handmade designs at a competitive cost.

Mirthala is from Mexico and suffers from diabetes like 11 million people in her country. An entrepreneur, Javier built two clinics that test for diabetes, and where patients like Mirthala get to see a nutritionist and a doctor all in one clinic. He created a business model in which high quality care is provided for a very low subscription fee.

The next generation of entrepreneurs is responsible for a rise in job growth and creating platforms for innovating social change. The three most important characteristics of these entrepreneurs are purpose, principle, and persistence. These entrepreneurs are sustainable and are able to go beyond helping just individual people.


Dagur B. Eggertsson, Mayor of Reykjavík

Reflecting on the topics of today, it is clear that there is a rise in serious breaks in humanitarian law violations and we need to start with a discourse on how to change this issue.

It is hard to discuss peace without discussing the idea that nuclear war could be started through Twitter, and these are fearful thoughts. Everybody is talking about how the world needs more weapons.

When you´re a mayor of a small city in a small country, you sometimes question what on earth we could provide or contribute to the discussion. But the ability to gather everyone in one place and have a dialogue is extremely impactful.

The goal of the conference is similar to a startup, but a peace startup. It is where people from all over come together to share ideas for peace.

Small States

I wish there were more small states in the world. Small States cannot be imperialistic. Small States tend to be peaceful and often advocate peaceful relations. At the same time, small states cannot defend themselves from aggressors. Small states rely on a peaceful international system. Accordingly, it is of importance for small states to be champions of peace and peaceful solutions. We are on a mission to seek out and find new paths to strengthen small states around the globe and guarantee peaceful relations between states. A peaceful world is a world where small states can be prosperous and free.

- Baldur Þórhallsson, Professor of Political Science and Research Director at the Centre for Small State Studies at the University of Iceland

The Roots to be Unrooted

The roots of war are unsolved conflict and/or unconciled trauma. The root of conflict is incompatible goals. Conflicts are solved by making them compatible, through mediation finding what the parties want and a vision of a new reality with reasonably compatible goals. The root of trauma is past violence. Traumas are conciled by clearing the past and creating a future, through conciliation wishing the violence undone, and proposing future cooperative joint projects.

- Johan Galtung, the founder of the discipline of peace studies.

Us and Them

To create a tradition of positive dialogue it is important that people treat one another with courtesy and respect. Peaceful societies are based on respect for others and tolerance towards those who are different from us. There´s nothing wrong with people having different opinions. It can be positive to discuss important issues with people who don’t necessarily agree with one´s point of view. Though sometimes when having a heated debate people tend to attack their opponent rather than the issue being discussed.

Hate speech is dangerous and can never contribute to peace. Hate speech creates dissolution and conflict and the victims are almost always minorities. The consequences are numerous and can range from systematic discrimination to violence and war. Much of the conflicts that occur in the world have their roots in discrimination and hate speech that divides groups into "we" versus "them". The Holocaust was for example rooted in prejudice and hate propaganda against Jews. Hutu slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda in the ´90s can also be traced to hate propaganda against the Hutu. Of course there are other underlying factors that have contributed to the violence, but systematic hate speech, especially in the media, promotes inactivity and the acceptance of society of violence and discrimination against the group that is targeted.

With these words, I urge my countrymen to reject hate speech and intolerance in Icelandic society. There is nothing unusual about fearing the unfamiliar, but it is important to deal with fear of the unknown by educating oneself about what causes the fear. It is extremely important to seek information from different perspectives, step outside the comfort zone and try putting ourselves in their shoes. Let´s stop focusing on the negative, there is much more that unites us than divides us, and it is also much better for the soul to focus more on the positive in life.

-Vera Knútsdóttir, Director at United Nations Association in Iceland

The Children of Refugees

Of the over 21 million people who have refugee status in the world about half are children. In most cases, these are children who have lost their homes and have been brought up partly or wholly in situations where their basic needs of a safe environment and education are not met. What many of these children have witnessed and experienced can have lasting effects. War and violence, abuse and neglect are part of the daily life of children of refugees.

When children get to safety after such an ordeal they need not only adapt to a new society, learn the language and become familiar with the traditions of a new country, in which the school system plays a key role. Children also need to deal with the experiences that they have suffered and the violence they have witnessed. Distorted values ​​from conflict zones is often the only thing they know.

You can still have a major impact on the development of an individual when he is still only a child and prevent permanent damage that a childhood in disaster situations causes. The community that receives children, the town or city where they receive shelter plays a key role in teaching these children to value peace above war, the value of cooperation beyond divisions. Children who have grown up with war and hate have to see and experience that it is possible to get your own way and succeed by other means.

By focusing on peace, mutual respect and community we can lay the foundation for children that have experienced war to have a new worldview where it is possible to resolve disputes by means other than violence. That way these children will be both more successful in the host country and will in the future possibly be able to work on the reconstruction of their countries of origin.

Communities that receive children who have been displaced can help them deal with the tragedy they have experienced and recreate their world view. Good reception of people who come to this country in search of protection can thus be crucial for refugee children and their families, their country, and especially Icelandic society.

- Erna Kristín Blöndal, PhD student of Law

Rights can Secure Peace

Although human rights have been anchored in international- and in most countries also in national law – their nature and content is still debated, which rights are human rights, whether they are universal and of equal importance, how far we should go to ensure them and how it should be done. Rights are also different in nature; some are intended for individuals and others for groups of people. Some you can take before the courts while others you can’t. Some are designed to implement immediately, while others you can implement in phases depending on the economic situation and development in the country.

There are some things about human rights that the nations of the world have more or less agreed upon:

  • First -Human rights are rights that a person has simply because he or she is a human being. Thus they are sometimes referred to as "innate rights".
  • Second - Human rights are not something that you have to buy, earn or inherit.
  • Thirdly- with rights comes responsibility, international human rights stipulate what governments should do for its citizens and what they can´t do. Every person is entitled to certain fundamental rights, human rights, and every person is responsible for respecting the human rights of others. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is stipulated that “everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible”.

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings. We all have the right to life, to express our opinion, and no one can stand in the way of people working or studying what they want and can. No one should live with hunger or be without housing. Color, sex, sexuality nationality, religion or disability does not make a difference when it comes to human rights. If we learn to respect each other´s fundamental human rights then everyone can enjoy equal rights and can make use of their talents, that will certainly lead to a world where everyone can live in harmony and peace together.

- Margrét Steinarsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Center