By Ana Sofia Hibon
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017
In 1864, 23 men met in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to craft a collective vision for what would ultimately become what Canada is today. In 2014, the 150th anniversary year of the Charlottetown Conference, 23 Canadian women gathered, shared, and produced Charlottetown’s 2014 Declaration, a manifesto on Canada’s advancement in the next 150 years.
Among the visionaries behind A Bold Vision: Women Leaders Imagining Canada’s Future were many Canadian women from diverse backgrounds, such as renowned artists, Members of Parliament, First Nations community leaders, scientists, human rights activists, and educators. Their voices and insights are collected in an anthology which envisions a more inclusive Canada, guided by “justice, equality, solidarity, community, collaboration, good governance,” and more.
The premise of the 2014 conference in Charlottetown sent a powerful message regarding the role of female voices in shaping Canada’s next 150 years. Women leaders from all walks of life, all around one discussion table, reaching a common ground.
Initiatives such as A Bold Vision foster connectedness among participants and their respective communities, and create spaces for pressing discussions to occur. Inclusive platforms for representative citizen engagement are also crucial in bringing voices that traditionally are ignored to the discussion table. However, too often, initiatives like these go unnoticed by the general public, ultimately resulting in little action in terms of public policy or program development.
Here are some ways in which inclusive coalitions and leadership conferences can be better leveraged to foster connectedness and catalyze action against social isolation.
1. Think global, envision local
Accountability for change-making cannot be put solely on the shoulders of the people who meet around the discussion table. This is unrealistic and will seldom lead to comprehensive change. It also does not empower communities to be the drivers behind their own development. To maintain the momentum of citizen coalitions, calls to action need to be framed in ways that are conducive to grassroots-level strategies. These can offer pathways for local communities to harness their mission statements and create change within their own environments.
2. Disseminate the conversation
Coalitions and leadership conferences can create value by harnessing the educational potential of the materials they generate. The reports and manifestos produced at these events are current and well informed, and can be prompts for meaningful and constructive dialogue in school classrooms, university lectures, neighborhood discussion tables, community book clubs, etc.
Picture a primary school classroom. Now imagine the reflections that could take place if students were asked to compare and contrast their individual dreams for Canada’s future with those of the Fathers of Confederation and those of the 23 women behind A Bold Vision. Indeed, a strategic and wide-spread distribution of conclusions produced by coalitions or leadership conferences can bridge the spaces between those initiatives and the general public, and subsequently inspire action. Thus, these materials must be accessible and user-friendly.
3. Pave the way for cross-sector collaboration
There is increasing evidence correlating cross-sector coordination to sustained, large-scale social change. Yet, coordination requires more than a united front. When a diverse group of formal and informal leaders convene, “a specific goal is better than a common cause.” Goal specificity encourages collaborators to delve into their joint pool of resources in search of the people that will make things happen. Cross-sector conversations thus only become actionable once the leaders sitting around the discussion table redirect big ideas into the hands of their allies.
We are now equipped with tools that Canadians could have only dreamt of back in 1864. If used strategically, digital technologies and social media can increase visibility and stretch dialogue beyond discussion tables in conference halls.
Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can serve as feedback channels for live engagement during events. The use of streaming audience participation can inform conference organizers and participants on the topics that resonate the most with their audience and stakeholders in real-time.
Social media can also maintain audience participation beyond an event’s culmination. Harnessed effectively, it can “play an important role in facilitating the mobilization for, and coordination of, direct actions offline.” The shape that digital engagement takes will depend on each coalition and conference, but its potential impact should not be underestimated.
In what other ways can coalitions and leadership conferences catalyze tangible actions and community engagement? Tweet out to @sconnectedness and share your thoughts!