Youth Exchange alumnus works for peace with Dalai Lama, Tutu
Brian Rusch has worked with two of the most influential men of the last 100 years: first the Dalai Lama and, today, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “I’ve been inspired by working with them, and I know we can do so much more to reach a new generation with their teachings,” says Rusch, who in June 2015 became executive director of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. A Rotary Youth Exchange alumnus, Rusch started his professional life in the world of fashion media, but he was inspired to make a career change by his late grandfather, a Rotarian.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work with the archbishop’s foundation?
A: The peace work is something I love. But what I excel at is highlighting the work of these icons. It’s amazing to me how many students on college campuses don’t know who Desmond Tutu is. He and the Dalai Lama have fought very hard for peace and justice, and I want people to understand the struggles they had and the causes they fought for. I want people to know that there’s a lot of hope in healing and reconciliation.
Q: How did your Rotary Youth Exchange experience (in Recife, Brazil, in 1988-89) influence your life?
A: The town I grew up in, Grand Lake, Colo., had only 300 people – a beautiful place but very rural. Going to a city of millions really expanded my worldview. To be exposed to poverty and wealth on a level I’d never experienced before opened my eyes. I tell all my friends with kids that they have to do a Rotary Youth Exchange.
Q: You went from the fashion world to promoting world peace. What led to that career change?
A: My grandfather Warren J. Ramler, a Rotarian, was very sick, and I went to be with him. After he passed, I thought about the life he lived and realized I wanted to refocus my efforts to use my powers for good. I became communications director at a nonprofit, Project Happiness, and through that I was a volunteer adviser on social media for the Dalai Lama Foundation. I left Project Happiness and became deputy director of the foundation. Through that I met Archbishop Tutu, and when they received a grant to hire an executive director, I applied.
Q: What do you do at the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation?
A: I oversee all aspects of what we do, from fundraising to programming to operations and staffing. Our purpose is to inspire young people to become change-makers based on the life and activism of the archbishop. We primarily do that through a program called Peace3, which teaches young people how to develop inner peace and spread that to friends, family, and community.
Q: What have you learned from working with Desmond Tutu?
A: Throughout South Africa’s recent history, he held on to hope and continued to inspire others to have hope. For me, that’s really important both personally and professionally. The other thing I’ve learned is that peace is not a passive thing. He didn’t just lie down; he fought for peace.