Ambassadors for Peace-conversation with Mandar Apte

  • By Mandar Apte
  • February 22 2021
  • 3444 views
  • Know about Mandar’s fascinating mission and journey from a Shivaji Park, Mumbai boy to one who is working for Social Innovations through the Ambassadors for Peace program.

Sanjeev had a freewheeling conversation with Mandar Apte, over Maharashtrian snacks at Aasvad, a famous restaurant in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park area.

 

Mandar runs a very successful training program called ‘Ambassadors of Peace’ for those communities that are facing continued violence and are looking for innovative solutions. The program makes you look within, introspect our behavior, through transformational breathing and yoga practices. Graduates are thereafter trained to teach these tools to others in their communities and organizations. The goal of the ‘not for profit’ Cities4Peace  initiative that he runs is to actively promote peace in cities and communities worldwide.

 

In 2019 he ran a highly successful pilot project in partnership with the LA Mayor’s Office for Gang Reduction and the Los Angeles Police Department.

 

Ever since the unfortunate death of George Floyd and social unrest thereafter, Cities4Peace programs have made a difference to several communities across the US including Seattle, Pomona, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Minneapolis, etc.

The program is also useful for those who want to improve personal health, live in the moment and know how to cope with stress.

 

Know Mandar’s fascinating mission and the journey that evolved from a Shivaji Park bred boy to one who is now working towards promoting Peace through his initiative. Read on in Mandar’s own words 

Education

After completing HSc from Ruparel College, I did a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from UICT (Institute of Chemical Engineering, University of Mumbai). Based on a strong academic record, and some luck, I got a scholarship to pursue a Masters degree in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Tulsa, USA.

Corporate Life

After completing graduate studies in 1999, I relocated to Houston to work with Shell International. The job required me to travel across the world as a technical advisor on Shell’s offshore energy projects. It was a great experience to have that global exposure and learn about the impact of the energy industry on the global energy needs. However, constant travel affected my health - causing stress and high cholesterol.

How did Art of Living enter your life?

It was then, in 2002, that a close friend suggested taking the Art of Living workshop. I was impressed with the program and started the regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya (a profound breathing technique taught in the workshop). Within a short period of time, it made a huge difference to my health and wellbeing. I have not missed a single day of this practice since October 2002.

Participants from South Los Angeles participating in Art of Living breathing exercises.

What made you become an AOL Teacher?

The daily practice of meditation had helped reduce stress, and boosted my self-confidence, communication skills and overall wellbeing. Having benefited immensely I now wanted to be a part of the solution to reduce stress at work and began to see opportunities of how meditation could help develop better leaders. Therefore, I felt drawn to become a meditation teacher so that I could be an effective bridge between the corporate world and India’s ancient wisdom traditions (of yoga and meditation).

How a change in Job Profile changed me?

After a decade of working in technical roles, I was fortunate to join the strategy and innovation team at Shell. I found that to be the best role as it allowed me to bring my authentic self at work - I had always been attracted to out of the box thinking.

As part of the Gamechanger Innovation Program, I made a business case of how the practice of meditation could improve entrepreneurial skills and boost the innovation culture. With support from my manager, I was able to design an innovation learning program called EMPOWER that leveraged Art of Living’s Sudarshan Kriya practice to empower staff to develop their innovation and leadership capacity.

The program was well received by staff and within 18 months, I had trained over 2000 staff from across the world. This effort had earned me an award  from global consulting firm Accenture on Intrapreneurship - an entrepreneur inside a large organization.

Thereafter, I was able to influence Shell management to expand the mandate of Shell Gamechanger - to also invest in social innovations - that create business returns and make social impact. By managing this portfolio for four years, we showcased how big business can and must invest in solving social and environmental issues going beyond CSR (corporate social responsibility) and philanthropy.

I was invited as a thought leader, to speak on this emerging sector at leading business schools (London Business School, Oxford Business school, etc) and at leading sustainability related conferences (Social Innovation Summit, Sustainable Brands, etc).

 

The twist came in 2016

While at the helm of corporate life, I accidentally started reading the autobiography of Dr. Martin Kuther King Jr. and was surprised to read the chapter on MLK’s travel to India. Mahatma Gandhi had died so the two men never met each other - yet this travel journey across India had made a profound impact on Dr. King. 

I was so inspired that within a few months after reading the book, I had completed a documentary film titled ‘From India with Love’. The documentary film shares the transformative story of victims of violence from across America during their pilgrimage to India following MLK’s footsteps. 

Having led this journey, I had been forced to look at the impact of the spiritual traditions of India that we Indians, often take for granted. I returned to America totally transformed and with a dream to find ways to integrate India’s ancient culture and wisdom in solving the most pressing problem in the world - that of violence - that arises from hurt, social disconnectedness and ‘othering’.

Soon the avenues to fulfil this dream opened up. The Dean of the prestigious Carter School for Conflict Resolution & Analysis at George Mason University invited me to join as a Visiting Scholar.

Based on my scholarly work, and with the blessings of my meditation teacher, Indian humanitarian leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar we started the Cities4Peace initiative - to actively promote peace in cities and communities worldwide.

Violence can be considered a public health issue. It can span from hurting oneself - suicides to hurting others - homicides. It can also stem from addictions (e.g. drugs, violent games) and a lack of access to good mental health (through childhood trauma, bad parenting, etc). In all these situations, we can consider the culprit as a “victim” asking for help. This is where we can showcase the value and impact of India’s wisdom traditions (of yoga and meditation) that have a long and proven track record of transforming the individual from ‘inside out’.

The cost of violence in large cities like LA is huge - for example, one homicide in LA could cost the tax-payer anywhere from USD 1-10million! If we could help the city reduce violence and promote peace, then we can save money. Those funds could then be redirected to improve the social services for violence stricken neighbourhoods.

We were invited by the Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to do a pilot program where we brought together LAPD officers, former gang members and victims of violence and through our educational program, certified them as an Ambassador of Peace & Nonviolence. The participants were trained to promote peace and share the wisdom of nonviolence and breathing exercises to their communities. Researchers from George Mason did research on the program and we saw a 90% increase in the capacity of the participants to promote peace, and reduce conflicts. A short video of our work is here. The testimonial from Assistant Chief LAPD and news coverage from ABC/NBC is here

Building trust between community members and LAPD police officers.

Our vision for 2021

Multiple vectors including COVID-19, systemic racism, and climate change are forcing all of us to open our hearts and our minds to fundamental realities.

Stress and anxiety are reaching unprecedented levels and threatening the mental health and wellbeing of our society. This is a defining moment that requires leaders to have equanimity – to be grounded and at the same time, being able to empathize with and energize others through their presence and actions.

We have created an online educational module that provides inspiration, tools and frameworks to leaders and change makers to become bigger advocates of Peace and Nonviolence in their communities and organizations.

In 2021, we want to bring our Ambassadors of Peace program specifically to communities that are looking for novel solutions to their violence challenges.

If you feel inspired, please reach out and Be Part of The Change. You can contact Mandar info@cities4peace.org

 

Receive Site Updates