In November, I headed out to Tunisia for the Hammamet Conference 2015. It was a great opportunity to go to the British Council-run event, as Spark+Mettle moves into working more in North Africa and the Middle East with the Taqaddam project. At its core, the conference aims to draw ‘new and established leaders from the worlds of business, civil society, media and government to engage in dialogue, build new relationships and identify solutions to critical issues.’
The theme of the conference was around tackling exclusion and promoting inclusion. It was a mammoth (and at times overwhelming) topic—especially when you think about all the different ways exclusion can manifest itself. Overall, the conference enabled us as an organisation to expand our networks and meet others working in similar spaces and doing great things.
The conference also brought up a number of thoughts around inclusion, exclusion and what it means in our own context:
- Exclusion offers safety and power to those doing the excluding—regardless of the extent to which the latter might be aware of what they’re doing. I would argue that to exclude is often a conscious and active choice. If we’re honest—sometimes it’s much easier to ignore the problem. To create an inclusive space or way of doing things requires work. Those with the power to create change must be willing to act. At times it’s uncomfortable—especially if you yourself do not directly feel the effects of a particular type of exclusion. At some level, we have to give a toss about other people. We need a society of people who care about others, even when the inclusion of those on the fringes will not necessarily benefit them in an immediate or tangible way.
- Inclusion increases opportunities for (social) participation. At Spark+Mettle, we strive to promote inclusion in our work and co-creation is an integral part of this. Often, it’s the oldies (and even the young-ish) that take it upon themselves to gather round a table and decide what programmes and initiatives they’ll run for young people. They make decisions for them rather than working with them. Perhaps this is why many organisations fail to really engage young people as they should and end up with empty seats. If young people are not on your programme, they sure are somewhere else! I’m certainly not wagging my finger because we can fall victim of this too and we have—particularly when we have failed to engage young people in the planning process on a meaningful level. It has to be more than a tokenistic, let-us-tick-the-box act. We all must work in the spirit of co-creation, not the law of it.
- The final thought I had was an unsettling one that lingered during the course of the conference. It was this: are we as charities (particularly) building environments that limit or empower people? As in for reals. I hope that it is the latter, but it really is a question that I think we should keep asking ourselves on a regular basis. We should never create programmes and projects that just make us feel good and on the surface look good. People should leave us better than they came. Moreover, people should actually leave! Go! Fly! Our desire is that the young people that go through our programmes take what they need and run with it. If they do come back, let it be for them to pay it forward and empower other people to take what they need to soar. The moment we stop doing this, is the moment we’ve lost the plot.
Good intentions are not enough. The way that we see and solve problems—like exclusion—really matters. Let us not only be moved to act, but use wisdom in our course of action.
Written by Kazvare Knox
Photo credit: British Council