Written by: Liam O’Doherty, TakingITGlobal
A global alliance for Citizen Participation, Civicus is a member based network of NGOs, CSOs, and individual members who work to support government accountability, mobilization and the protection of human rights defenders. Every 16 months they organize an International Civil Society week and World Assembly, which provides an opportunity for engaged individuals and organizations to meet, share perspectives, experiences, tools and experiences and to build solidarity and collaborations in order to advance our global society.
The World Assembly in Montreal in 2012 was one of the first big trips TakingITGlobal ever sent me on, and I found myself intensely drawn to the open sharing, deep conversations and incredible warmth of the community. Fast forward to 2016; the recent meeting in Bogotá themed around Active Citizens, Accountable Actions, was my fifth time at this incredibly vibrant meeting of global minds. The connections through the years and across the world made the experience feel like a family reunion of super engaged global leaders.
These meetings kicked off with a Youth Assembly which allowed youth to create foundational bonds and an inclusive space leading to stronger relationships amidst the 900 participants throughout the week.
This year, I promoted the Social Connectedness project, providing a welcome message to the youth delegates to promote the “What does Belonging Look Like” Art Contest, as well as facilitating an interactive workshop, Creative Advocacy Tools to Foster a Culture of Belonging, and curating a display of art works collected through the What Does Belonging Contest thus far.
There was a beautiful mix of English, French and Spanish running back and forth throughout these interactions. People expressed themselves in whatever tongue they feel most comfortable with and participants were quick to ensure everyone was able to participate in the conversations, offering to whisper translations to those who are not as comfortable in their second or third languages. This led to a more open environment which promoted linkages across ideas, cultures and vocabularies, reinforcing the connections between each of the participants – relying on members of the community to understand what other people are communicating.
The workshop, Creative Advocacy Tools to Foster a Culture of Belonging, was co-presented with Engagamundo, a Brazilian youth organization that focuses on making young people aware of their social and environmental impact. We started by sharing a group massage along with personal information about ourselves like: what super powers would you like to have? What is your favourite funny looking animal? Who are your heroes?
These two activities helped to reinforce sharing and create a safe and inclusive atmosphere. Starting the interaction by hearing these ideas from all of our peers as well as experiencing physical touch in a safe, collaborative space instantly broke the ice and language barriers between the 20 global representatives in the room. It also ensured that everyone present had shared something of themselves within the first few minutes, establishing a context where people are more likely to engage throughout the rest of the workshop experience.
We then proceeded to discuss the types of work that we were doing and the current challenges that we face in integrating perspectives from those who are more isolated within some of our societies. From the reworking of outdated gender stereotypes, to the social dimension of environmental degradation, to sexual violence and creative methods we could apply to integrate shy people in a school lunch setting, the group opened up and shared both the common, and vastly different, challenges we face in our work.
We established an environment of interaction where the group itself provided feedback and creative approaches to address these deep issues, peer to peer. We then turned to expressing these challenges, approaches and solutions through creative means, working in small inter-culturally mixed groups to detail our thoughts and feelings through ink and paper.
The sessions concluded with a feedback survey, which helped to inform a youth declaration which was shared with the wider ICSW congregation during the World Assembly later that week. The section from our workshop ended with this statement:
To foster creative strategies, to raise consciousness and to collaborate, we must promote non-violent strategies in communication and act as positive change makers. To do this we will establish unifying mechanisms in commonalities shared by issues and solutions. We will focus on global collaborations on how to learn from various cultures and contexts. International networks and the mobilization of speed & numbers are of vital importance.
In terms of advocacy for belonging, we see creativity as a tool for civic engagement at every level. To create new norms and become more conscious of how information is disseminated. We would like it to engage on every level without questioning professionalism in short, to be fun!
We hope that we will inspire social inclusion through the mobilization of creative ideas that involve all stakeholders in solutions, finding strengths in our weaknesses. In these, we ask that you, the CIVICUS World Assembly, join us. So we are one and we are united.