[Dateline: New York | Author: iSeek]
Participants at the second forum of the Alliance of Civilizations (AOC) on Tuesday, 7 April concluded their two-day meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, agreeing to spearhead a wide-range of new initiatives, using technology to break down cultural and religious barriers.
The forum made concrete progress toward a global agenda for intercultural dialogue as grassroots advocates join forces with heads of state and high-ranking religious and cultural leaders in efforts to promote intercultural understanding among different communities.
Policy-makers, leaders of international organizations and civil society groups had the opportunity to share best practices and learn about several AOC-supported initiatives that are making a significant difference in communities around the world.
On Monday, Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon addressed the opening session of the forum, stressing the importance of AOC’s work to the UN. "All too often, the United Nations must deal with fires after they break out. Through the Alliance of Civilizations, we can stamp out the sparks before they catch," he noted.
This, the Secretary-General said, was critical, as "no amount of blue helmets, ceasefires or human rights monitors can bring lasting peace without a genuine spirit of cooperation among different communities, different faiths, different groups."
Economic and financial turmoil are tearing at the fabric of societies, Mr. BAN told the forum, adding, "Too many people are jobless, hungry and angry. Many are looking for scapegoats. They blame the Other. The Other community. The Other religion. The Other faith. The Other group." The Secretary-General pointed out that "this is extremely dangerous and even deadly." Unfair blame, he said, leads to unjust punishment.
Among other goals, the annual AOC forum seeks to address some of the ongoing tensions and divides across cultures and religions, and to examine some of the broader challenges of good governance of cultural diversity in an age of rapid globalization.
“The Alliance Forum is not only about dialogue. It is about dialogue that delivers. It is about concrete, practical projects that make a real difference to the lives of people,” said former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, the first and current High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Istanbul meeting follows the successful inaugural Alliance Forum held in Madrid, Spain, in January last year, which came up with action-oriented projects to bridge culture and religious divides.
Heads of Government and over 50 government ministers took part in this year's forum, which ended with the launch of a number of high-profile projects.
The following are some of the projects:
- A Global Youth Movement for the Alliance of Civilizations composed of youth organizations and individuals who make the objectives of the Alliance a central part of their daily lives through concrete projects and personal commitments.
- Dialogue Café, a highly innovative technological project aimed at creating a global collective of ordinary citizens, who will explore common interests across divides, and will be encouraged to collaborate on common projects. The project, led by CISCO (supplier of network equipment) will be the first example of a true global public-private partnership, involving the business sector, foundations, universities and local public authorities.
- Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges, a cluster of Euro-Mediterranean projects, led by the Alliance and the Anna Lindh Foundation, to be developed by a number of partners, aimed at restoring trust and rebuilding bridges in that region in the wake of the Gaza crisis.
- An initial showcasing of the Alliance Fellowship Program to facilitate meaningful exchanges of young leaders from a number of countries and establish working relationships between them.
- Plural +, a youth film festival focused on migration themes to be launched in partnership with the International Organization for Migration.
- Doing Business in a Multi-cultural World – Challenges and Opportunities, a joint report of the UNAOC and the UN Global Compact showcasing a range of best practices and case studies for companies to use in responding to the diversity of today’s business environments.
- The launch of Mapping Media Education Policies around the World, a joint publication by the Alliance and UNESCO on media education policies.
- A joint Rapid Response Media Framework developed with the Anna Lindh Foundation and the European Commission to serve the needs of journalists working across the Mediterranean region. This initiative will provide user-friendly access to information and expertise in the context of crises with cultural dimensions as well as a support mechanism to bring together international journalists, editors and relevant experts for media dialogue.
- The Alliance Research Network, which was launched with 12 universities from across the world.
- The launch of the Education about Religions and Beliefs Clearinghouse with 12 partners from around the world.