Earlier this month I went to Strasbourg in France to present IofC's Trustbuilding Program at the World Forum for Democracy.
Each November the three-day Forum, hosted by the Council of Europe, brings about 1,000 community activists from across the world to meet with political decision-makers and debate solutions to the challenges facing democracies.
This year the Forum met in the European Parliament, using the parliamentary chamber for plenaries, and committee rooms for workshops and talks. Out of 400 applications to present workshops or talks, about 80 were chosen, including the Trustbuilding Program. It was allocated to a workshop on 'New ways of conflict resolution'.
The session was chaired by Emmanuel Decaux, President of the René Cassin Foundation, a French foundation devoted to the advance of human rights. Over 100 people filled the committee room, some having to stand. Simultaneous interpretation enabled smooth switching between French and English.
We first heard from Héritier Mumbere Sivihwa, founder of the JAAMA Grands Lacs organisation. He lives in Goma in the war-torn East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed groups are running amok. Rape and murder are widespread. His organisation is rehabilitating young people who flee the armed groups, and is bringing people together in a ‘citizen’s university’ to rebuild the social fabric of the region.*
He was followed by Moussa Soumaroro of the House of Democracy and Human Rights in Guinea, which is tackling electoral violence by bringing together the political parties in the run-up to elections. Then we heard from Yehuda Stolov of the Interfaith Encounter Association, which is working for mutual respect and trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
I then outlined the methodology of the Trustbuilding Program, and told of its impact in France, Nigeria, Indonesia and Kenya.
These experiences provoked lively discussion and challenging questions. In conclusion the Chair thanked us for these 'innovative projects' which, he said, he had found very moving. 'Despite technical developments and artificial intelligence, you show us that human relations are essential.'
In the following days many talked with me about the Trustbuilding Program. I was fortunate that Christoph Spreng, IofC's representative at the Council of Europe, was present, and could introduce me to colleagues. He serves as Vice-President of the Conference of International NGOs, the link between the Council of Europe and INGOs, and is greatly respected.
As a result, I returned home with a deeper understanding of the role of civil society in advancing democracy, and with a long list of people to keep informed. A number of these people hope to attend the Caux Forum next year.
The session on 'New ways of conflict resolution' can be seen and heard, entirely in English or entirely in French according to your choice, by clicking here.
* In July this year, Héritier was a recipient of IofC's Trustbuilding Awards. He was unable to attend the ceremony at Caux, but appeared on zoom.