"Geneva has a role to play in promoting non-violence"
Blaise Oberson heads a foundation recently established in Geneva, which educates young people to eradicate violence.
There is no doubt that the path to a world free of violence passes through Geneva. Blaise Oberson assures us that the City of Calvin has a role to play in combating this scourge on a global scale, and he intends to make his contribution to the edifice. That is the reason why the Non-violence Project Foundation (NVPF), which he has managed for a year, chose to move from Verbier to Geneva last September.
"Coming here has changed everything for us," says this local child. We immediately found support, especially from the City and the Township." Settling here has also brought the foundation closer to potential donors such as the world of finance and watchmaking. It is a crucial point for the organisation, which lives essentially on donations. Blaise Oberson can also count on a good network, after having made a career in fields as varied as humanitarian, the written press or the luxury industry.
To change attitudes and stem violence in society, NVPF works in schools and communities around the world with educational programmes for young people and those who support them (teachers, sports educators, etc.). Situational sessions teach them to accept difference and manage conflict peacefully. "As Gandhi said, if we want to change the world, we must start with children," says Blaise Oberson.
Since its creation in 1993, the foundation has already reached 8 million people in some 30 countries and aims to reach 50 million by 2025. It also launched the SpeakUp application, which allows students to report violent acts and receive support. Discussions are underway in Geneva to have this tool already used in Sweden and the United States adopted by schools and sports circles.
The arrival of this Genevan at the head of the NVPF is pure chance. "Having missed the cable car in Verbier, I was picked up by Jan Hellman, the founder of the NVPF," says Blaise Oberson. We became friends and I eventually joined the foundation board." In January 2017, he was offered the position of Director. "It's fate! I like to lead people, I bring all my experience and passion. Excuse me, but I'm good at this!" he says without false modesty.
With non-violence, Blaise Oberson returns to his first love. After studying history at the University of Geneva, he joined the ICRC as a delegate in the 1980s. "I thought I'd do two or three years for the experiment, but I stayed twelve years." He travelled the war zones of Latin America, from El Salvador to Nicaragua, passing through Peru, before being posted to Israel. "I advise all young people to do a few years at the ICRC. It is a great school of life, even if it is very difficult. We are confronted with a lot of violence, and we do not come out completely unscathed in the face of certain horrors."
From the ICRC to the world of luxury
In order to raise his children in a more peaceful environment, he finally returned to Geneva to work for the ICRC's human resources department. Against all odds, he likes this new function. He then worked as Human Resources Director for the Lausanne-based press publisher Edipresse for ten years and for the watchmaker and jeweler Chopard for seven years. "It's a place where you can make things happen. Besides, I like to deal with conflict. Sometimes there are difficult situations, such as reorganizations or layoffs, but this can be made as painless as possible. I've always been against injustice." Since his studies, Blaise Oberson has been driven by the same motivation: to understand human nature.
Two years ago, he opened with partners a professional coaching school and a business consulting office. But the meeting with Jan Hellman put an early end to this experience. Today, he is full of projects for the NVPF, such as organizing a forum of young people from all over the world or bringing here the young Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai. And to mark the importance of Geneva for the cause of non-violence, he has a dream: to install on the Place des Nations a replica of the pistol with the knotted barrel which is in front of the New York headquarters of the UN. This sculpture has indeed become the emblem of the foundation.
By Antoine Grosjean published in Tribune de Genève, 12 May 2018