How IofC began in Australia
Initiatives of Change has been active for over 80 years. It grew out of the work of Frank Buchman (1878-1961), an American Christian minister of the Lutheran denomination.
Buchman believed there is a divine purpose for the world and everyone in it, and sought to demonstrate the connection between faith and change in society. In the period between the two World Wars, as European nations began to re-arm for war, Buchman called for ‘moral and spiritual rearmament’ as the way to build ’a hate-free, fear-free, greed-free world.’ Following World War II, Moral Re-Armament (MRA), as it became known, promoted trust building and reconciliation among former enemies, based on changes in individual motivation and character.
Australians were exposed to the ideas of MRA through the work of entertainer Ivan Menzies during the 1930s, which stimulated a vibrant fellowship across several cities as people began practicing the movement’s core principles. In 1942, introducing Moral Re-Armament, Menzies produced a musical revue, titled, ‘Battle for Australia’ on the theme of ‘Sound Homes, Teamwork in Industry, a United Nation.’ Wartime Prime Minister John Curtin was sufficiently impressed to arrange for the revue to be shown in the Members’ dining room of Parliament House in 1943, and arranged for the adjournment of both Houses to enable the MPs, senators and Governor-General to attend.
In the post-war years, many Australians dedicated their lives to the ideals of the movement and were active internationally, some of them working out of the MRA world conference centre in Caux, Switzerland. In 1955, MRA sponsored a delegation of Members of Parliament and ex-servicement to Japan, meeting the Prime Minister to seek reconciliation. The visit paved the way for further parliamentary visits, and was credited with smoothing the path to establishing Japan’s 1957 post-war trade treaty with Australia.
In 1956, Melbourne industrialist Cecil McKay donated his family home for the use of MRA. At the time of this gift, MRA became incorporated as a not-for-profit company. The house, ‘Armagh,’ serves as the Australia-Pacific Centre for Initiatives of Change, and hosts many visitors from within and beyond the IofC community.
Extensions to Armagh in the 1970s enabled the centre to host residential training courses. Initially a programme of ‘Studies in Effective Living’ was run for young people of the Asia-Pacific region. Now ‘Life Matters’ workshops complement other training and personal development activities for local and international participants.
In Australia, many in the movement have been involved in supporting Australian Indigenous leaders in promoting indigenous rights and self-determination, and finding answers to the bitterness that had marked so many lives. At an IofC conference in 1953, Kim Beazley, Sr, father of former Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, pledged to use his political career for the benefit of Australian Indigenous people. He was the first MP to raise in Parliament the issue of land rights for Australian Indigenous people, and was involved in promoting indigenous voting rights and the 1967 referendum that allowed for ‘Aboriginal natives’ to be reflected in official census figures. Later, as Minister for Education in the Whitlam government, he legislated to provide education in 22 indigenous languages.
Margaret Tucker, one of the early campaigners for Aboriginal rights, went to the US in the 1960s supported by MRA. Here, she found a way to get beyond personal bitterness, bringing home inspiration to promote harmony between black and white communities. As Australians began to recognize and campaign for restitution for Indigenous Peoples, many in the IofC Australia network supported the popular movement to organize annual National Sorry Day events through the late 1990s and 2000s. Full-time IofC volunteer John Bond was awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia for his role as Secretary of the National Sorry Day Committee.
In business and industry, MRA was influential in addressing concerns of both workers and employers, particularly in the maritime industries where individuals motivated by MRA’s principles, including waterside workers’ union leader Jim Beggs, helped to provide the leadership for transforming working conditions and creating new productivity agreements.
In the 1970s, Adelaide architect Gordon Brown designed and built a centre at Panchgani in India, on the invitation of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi. The centre, which accommodates 300, has a theatre and auditorium, and has hosted thousands of participants at conferences for ethical social change and reconciliation. Alongside colleagues from India and other countries, full-time Australian volunteers have supported the running of the centre for many years.
Around the region, Australians have been involved in peace building initiatives in Cambodia, India, Japan, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Samoa. Australians associated with IofC have partnered with local community groups at home and abroad in addressing many issues, including substance abuse, damaged relationships, racism, corruption and youth radicalization. Cambodian, Vietnamese and South Sudanese community groups in Australia were among the many who associated themselves with the organization and drew on the network to support grassroots initiatives. More recently, Australians of all backgrounds have been involved in welcoming and supporting Muslim and other community leaders to counter issues of racism, ignorance and extremism through local initiatives offering hospitality and dialogue.
With the approach of the new millennium, many active participants in the movement felt that the words ‘moral re-armament’ no longer held the same resonance as they did in 1938. At a global consultation of representatives of the international network, the new name Initiatives of Change (IofC) was agreed to.
While ways of expressing truth, and methods of coordinating the global work, continue to change as succeeding generations take on this particular responsibility for the moral and spiritual renewal of society, the essential philosophy of IofC remains the same - that personal change can lead to social, economic and political change. With its emphasis on experience rather than philosophy, IofC provides a focus where people of different religious and political persuasions can meet without compromising their own beliefs, and be part of a global network committed to working for change in the world.
As IofC entered the 21st century, some of those most active in the movement embarked on a period of intense searching and reflection on the organization’s internal practices.
At a Global Assembly in 2012, IofC's International President, Omnia Marzouk, reinforced the need for such ongoing review in her statement ‘Learning from the past and present’, made on behalf of the International Council. She noted that, while IofC’s collective history had included times of profound community and extraordinary acts of selflessness, the movement had also experienced internal division and dysfunction, and she called on all concerned to promote openness to constant learning, compassion and generosity to each other.
In Australia, a small group of people had begun from 2009 to consider the past experiences of around 50 people who had previously been associated with Moral Re-Armament (the former IofC). These conversations revealed both pain and opportunities for healing. A report of these conversations, titled ‘Towards Learning and Healing,’ led the IofC Australia Council to formally apologize in 2015 to certain individuals, where appropriate, for hurtful treatment they had experienced in the past from the 1950s to the 1980s. Read more about the process Towards Learning and Healing.
Today, IofC Australia takes the view that transparency and internal accountability offer a pathway to ongoing healing and transformation as an organization. An ongoing ‘Cultural and Structural Change’ process has laid down new programme structures with clear accountability mechanisms and a code of conduct. All staff and volunteers with IofC have access to grievance procedures and mediation, where needed.
Read about the history of IofC around the world.