From 8-12 October 2012, in Nicosia, Cyprus, an inter-regional learning exchange conference has held, organized by the Cyprus Peace It Together Civil Society Network with the support of UNDP, USAID, World Vision, CYINDEP, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the EU. The objective of the conference was to promote the exchange of knowledge between Europe and the MENA region on the role of citizens and civil society in stimulating social change during periods of transition. Ilina Nesik, BCSDN Project and Communication Manager took active part on the conference and the Souq that followed it.
Such a conference usually serves as a useful networking, people learn what others do, and the declaration galvanizes actors to keep up the good work, but this time it was different. The conference’s vision was to foster innovation among civil society actors working in transitions. This was not just about sharing best practices and networking, but a chance to come up with new ideas for action.
The conference begun with identification of problem statements (what are the priorities for social change in transitions?) to development of innovative prototypes (concept notes for small grants), and has shown what technology conferences had to offer. The whole process seemed more like a hackathon than a traditional panel discussion.
The Power of One (#pof1) conference that took place last week ended up being a potpourri of elements from different tech events. From the experience of ICCM and the Standby Task Force an idea of a private online social network (a Ning site) was created for participants to share views and get to know each other before the conference. Participants spent one day in facilitated small group brainstorming sessions to flesh out the role and the priorities for civil society in transitions. At the end of day one, participants were given the chance to sign up to present one innovative idea for action for social change in transitions. These “spark presentations” were delivered the next morning to the entire conference, and took the format of Ignite Talks (1 presenter, 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide).
Sparks were an opportunity for individual participants to champion an idea for change and get other participants interested. 28 sparks were presented, ranging from using history curriculums to bridge gaps between conflict groups to building eco-sustainable villages to integrate anthropology perspectives in peace building. A Random Hacks of Kindness like event followed, when presenters moved to a ‘souq’ to further explain their idea and gather supporters. idea To develop the idea into a funded project, spark presenters needed the skills and expertise of other participants. So within minutes, the place turned into a chaotic market place of ideas, where participants were selling their ideas and shopping around for projects to join. An hour later, 7 sparks were abandoned due to lack of support.
With their group of supporters in row, spark presenters had 24 hours to develop a 2-page concept note and a more elaborated presentation. In the souq, a number of ideas merged, leaving the final count of project concept notes at 17. Those were presented at a plenary session and participants then voted for their favorites. The top three project ideas will now be fast-tracked for a USAID / UNDP grant for innovative inter-regional projects for social change. The remaining 14 are also eligible to apply for another three available grants from USAID / UNDP.
The chosen three project ideas will certainly make a difference in the region, which is an important result by itself. But the Power that oneconference can have is also a proof of the adopted concept. It is a model that can change the way civil society understandsand acts upon innovation. The generated sparks and concept notesare a useful tool not only for disbursal of small grants to civil society actors but they are the concrete priorities for civil society action, containing a fresh perspective. This is without doubt a good place to start when deciding on programming priorities for Europe and the MENA Region.