Robert Rivers – Celebrating (and Funding) Social Change with Beer

Robert Rivers

International peacebuilding trainer and expert, Robert Rivers, talks about why he’s bringing his skills back from war and conflict zones to his native Montana… to build a microbrewery. 

Tell me how you got started. I often tell people that I fell in love with a Mexican grandmother.  When I was 19, I left the U.S. for the first time to work alongside a local community to build a safe zone for children living in a marginalized area of Tijuana.  During that process, I met Dona Aurelia, the woman who spearheaded the project and who saved money for 25 years to finance the construction.  After the center was built, she gave it to the community, no strings attached.  Seeing her impact on the world–especially backed by very few resources–inspired me to ask the question, “If I have been given so much more, what is my responsibility to the world?”

What interests you most about what you’re doing now? After working in civilian peacebuilding and community-level peacebuilding in conflict zones all over the world for most of the last 12 years, I am currently collaborating with my fiancée to establish the U.S.’s first combination of microbrewery + center for positive change.  Within the brewery, we will have a designated space for transformative educational workshops and dialogues to help people build their capacity to constructively engage in the challenges of our time.  We will also use proceeds from the brewery to fund worthy local and international peace-related projects.  Overall, what interests me most about the project is making the process of social change more celebratory, accessible to different kinds of folks, and financially self-sustaining (see our short documentary for more information).

What’s been your biggest accomplishment? Biggest challenge? If I had to name an accomplishment that I feel grateful for, it would be to have had the opportunity to accompany, train, and support some of the more courageous people in the world who are doing some of the most demanding work in the world.  Their lives and their witness have formed who I am and I am deeply appreciative for their presence in my life.  Along the way, developing transformative processes to help people overcome “us vs. them” mentalities has been a constant challenge.  Those who arrive at the understanding that there is only “us” invariably, in my experience, lead more meaningful lives.  However, it is usually a painful process to get to that space, especially when people have been separated from the world by too much comfort and security or in conflict with groups who live a stone’s throw away.

Who or what inspires you? I have been inspired by all those along the way who have chosen to care about humanity, who live simply lives of service to their communities, and who are courageous enough to step across divides in their societies to be bridges of hope.

Why is peace sexy to you?  What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you? What is most “sexy” about peace for me is the connection it entails.  A lack of peace is often manifested by fragmentation, segregation, isolation, and alienation (all of which can lead to violence if not dealt with constructively).  When I see people diving into the dynamic process of building peace, it has an electric energy about it.  I find that energy to be not only attractive, but incredibly life-affirming.  Connecting with others in the greatest of all enterprises—to leave the world better than we found it—brings a sense of wholeness that is unmatched by many other undertakings.

What is a simple thing you do to create peace? What is something you do everyday?  Besides recycle?  🙂  Right now, a great deal of my and Fernanda’s energy is spent creating relationships with key actors in our own city/society that can help increase the positive impact of our brewery and center for positive change.  It’s been quite meaningful to have a mechanism that offers the possibility of collaboration to connect us.  Without this initiative, we never would have met many of the wonderful local people who have entered our lives in the last 9 months.

How would you like Peace is Sexy to make a difference in what you are up to? Right now, we are less than $14,000 away from making a 4-year dream a reality.  We would love to continue building our community of support for the project.  If Peace is Sexy can get the word out and connect us to others who want to support us and work together with us towards a better world while celebrating in the process, we would be very grateful.  Check out our video below.

Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? Ideally, once we have the brewery and center up and running, we would like to help other breweries around the world integrate projects that can have a positive impact on their own communities.  Also, one of our 10-year goals is to use proceeds from the brewery to build an international training and retreat center in Montana to facilitate more intense processes to help people become effective agents of social change.  I’d love to have this center next to a beautiful river so I can hop down and fly fish or hike a nearby mountain with friends a family at the end of training days.

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