In 2007, a diverse group of students, with the support of faculty and community members at the University of California at Irvine, established the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) in response to tensions on campus surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a desire to address them in a constructive and innovative way. Coming from a variety of backgrounds and affiliations, these students created an on-campus forum for discussions of different perspectives, then organized and raised funds for a trip to the Middle East to learn about the conflict from those who live in its daily reality. The trip was a transformative one. Upon return, students participated in speaking engagements and organized programming to share their experiences and knowledge with the on and off-campus communities.
Since that original two-week trip in 2008, OTI has grown tremendously in academic scope, impact, and number of students involved. OTI can now be found on university campuses throughout California and continues to expand domestically and internationally with new academic programs in Conflict Analysis and Resolution offered at several universities. The program now includes pre-and post-trip coursework, as well as mentorship and leadership development. All trip participants become part of the OTI Alumni Network and the online platform “Olive Talk”, which facilitates continuing discussions and provides learning resources and a job database.
In 2012, OTI developed a South Caucasus branch and visits this region annually studying borders and political relations between Turkey, Armenia and Georgia, thus expanding OTI’s scope and applying the holistic Experiential Education model to other regions in the world. The program has plans to expand to their 3rd region of study in India and Pakistan in the coming years pending funding and staffing abilities.
Today, OTI continues to provide student leaders with the innovative education and skills needed to resolve complex global issues.
1) Promoting a respectful and informed discourse
2) Educating the campus and broader communities about regional conflicts through inviting a variety of differing perspectives, narratives and facts from those regions.
3) Building a community of students and local residents who are well informed about the complexities of different regions.
4) Prepare future foreign policy scholars by providing them with the tools, training, and connections needed for finding and implementing effective solutions to international conflicts.
5) Working directly with university administration and faculty to develop rigorous academic programs for each campus, and developing empirical standards by which to measure results of the program.
Standards and Ethics
To ensure transparency, the internal policies of The Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) are shared below:
Preamble: In order for any group to call itself “Olive Tree Initiative” or be related to the Olive Tree Initiative brand, the following standards, ethics, and policies are required. Those principles will be acknowledged, agreed upon, and signed onto in writing by each participant.
1. Education Not Political Advocacy.
The Olive Tree Initiative is an experiential learning organization and does not engage in political advocacy. The focus and scope of the initiative is on education. We encourage discourse and discussion in a respectful and positive manner. The Olive Tree Initiative embraces advocacy towards dialogue, bridge-building, and understanding.
The Olive Tree Initiative is non-partisan and apolitical. It does not issue any policy papers or statements in regards to current events or issues. Rather it encourages respectful and informed conversation and discourse about them. Members of the initiative may have partisan perspectives, while the initiative itself is non-partisan.
3. No Co-Sponsorship.
The Olive Tree Initiative does not co-sponsor, co-sign, or co-host any event with other student groups in order to remain true to its mandate of non-partisanship. Members are free to actively create support and identify with other campus groups, as well as participate in many other campus events.
4. No Political Activism.
The Olive Tree Initiative does not engage in political activism. OTI members might do so independently, but the organization is and will remain apolitical.
5. Commitment to Balance.
The Olive Tree Initiative is committed to providing balanced and varied points of view. The focus of programming and activities is to enhance education through knowledge acquisition, respectful discourse, and by challenging biases, assumptions, and stereotypes. Thus, OTI provides perspectives and counter-perspectives on issues relevant to the same event or program when possible and appropriate.
6. Commitment to Civility.
The Olive Tree Initiative is committed to respectful behavior, listening, and understanding. This includes respect for and between the participants for: all guests and presenters; irrespective of one’s religious, ethnic and personal background, or orientation.
7. Commitment to Honest and Authentic Discourse
The Olive Tree Initiative is committed to honesty and authenticity within the safest environment possible. Members learn to be open and vulnerable with each other in an atmosphere that values genuine differences in people’s perspectives and responses.