The SGI was formed in 1975 as a global association to link local Soka Gakkai organizations around the world. In 1983, it became a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The roots of the Soka Gakkai date back to 1930 in Japan, when two school teachers, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) and his colleague Josei Toda (1900–58), founded an organization dedicated to promoting educational reform. They promoted value-creating education focused on the development of independent thinking and the unlimited potential of every child at a time when the authorities saw education as a means of molding docile servants of the state.
The group developed into an organization of lay Buddhists devoted to reforming society through individual change. At a time of intense militaristic nationalism in Japan, Makiguchi and Toda were arrested and imprisoned in 1943 as “thought criminals,” for their refusal to compromise their beliefs and lend their support to the wartime regime. Makiguchi, first president of the Soka Gakkai, died in prison.
After World War II, Toda became the group’s second president and rebuilt the Soka Gakkai in Japan as a community-based Buddhist organization. As a pacifist, Toda was determined “to rid the world of misery” and believed that his ideal of global citizenship would help achieve that end. Toda’s 1957 declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons served as the foundation for the organization’s peace activities.
In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda (1928–2023) became the third Soka Gakkai president and spearheaded the movement’s development outside Japan. He also strengthened the organization’s commitment to promoting peace, education and culture and became the president of the SGI on its founding in 1975. Between 1983 to 2022, annual peace proposals were authored by Ikeda. These 40 proposals, as well as statements he issued, put forth ideas grounded in Buddhist humanism in response to global issues in order to help build the foundations of the culture of peace.