The Nobel Peace Prize Forum takes off Friday in Minneapolis, for the first time offering viewers across the globe a chance to participate in a Minnesota institution.

"We've gone from an international event happening in the Twin Cities to an international event held internationally," said Maureen Reed, the forum's executive director. "This puts the Twin Cities forum in the hub of a global experience," she said.

The Peace Prize Forum is the only event outside of Norway that is directly affiliated with the committee awarding the Peace Prize, thanks to Minnesota's strong ties to the Norwegian Lutheran community. It has brought dozens of Nobel laureates to Minnesota, as well as world-renowned leaders of nonviolence.

Twenty-six years after being launched in a Northfield college auditorium, the forum has gone high-tech, offering audiences from Liberia to Japan a chance to remotely participate in forums exploring global peace, health and security.

The forum typically drew crowds of about 1,500, Reed said. But in the past few years, numbers have soared, she said, and about 7,000 Minnesotans are expected Friday through Sunday at Augsburg College.

This year's forum hosts four Peace Prize winners. The Dalai Lama spoke last weekend. The 2013 Peace Prize laureate, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will be represented, as will 2011 Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.

Expert panelists will get help from colleagues who will be beamed into Augsburg auditoriums. When leaders of Doctors Without Borders, the 1999 laureate, discuss women's health, medical professionals will join in from Haiti and southern Africa.

Reed said the virtual forum is designed to expand the reach of the Minnesota forum, especially among new generations. Even for older folks, it's a thrill.

"It blows my mind. … to be listening to a Q and A and have the moderator say, 'Here's a virtual attendee on Google Plus who is coming in from Yemen," said Reed, as happened last year.

Nobel Debate

Also featured this year is the "Nobel Debate" on a key question: Does the Peace Prize really reward the year's most effective global peacemaker?

For example, this year's Peace Prize nominees included U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, will debate Jay Nordlinger, senior editor of National Review and the author of "Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Lundestad said the Minnesota forum has played an important role in keeping the ideals of the Peace Prize alive.

"We don't have any grand notions that it [the forum] will lead to world peace," Lundestad said. "But it is useful in developing knowledge and understanding of the important work of Nobel Peace Prize laureates."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511