December 10, 2011 : Youth Preparatory Event @ Doha

The youth event on the 10th was a success! The organization was tight, and I was very impressed by my co-moderator’s summaries of the online discussion forum. Each co-moderator and additional moderator from Penn State were given around 10 youth participants. We then had three separate hour long meetings to discuss the three themes of the conference.

It wasn’t easy to draw out key recommendations from each philosophical discussion of the three themes, nor to ask for personal experiences, but I very much enjoyed the challenge and hope that I am a better moderator for it. In my particular group (#10), I had three people from Qatar, a woman from Liberia, a man from Djibouti, two crashers – one from Serbia and one from Palestine, a guy from the United Arab Emirates and one from Hungary. Of the three people from Qatar, two were women. One was traditionally dressed – 99.9% of Qatari women dress in the full burka – and one wasn’t, prompting questions about where she was from.

We heavily focused on Qatar in our conversations, since not many of us had ever been to Qatar, and because Qatar is rapidly changing. The emir’s strategy for the country is impressive, and the policies in place very beneficial to its residents. Qatar has an interesting population where 80% are foreigners and only 20% Qatari. The government pays for water and electricity, gas is subsidized (the place IS sitting on gas reserves), education and healthcare are free, and the government will even pay for foreign education provided it is a top university in another country. Still, there are challenges in a country that still has very traditional expectations of women, and the more traditionally dressed Qatari women has an entrepenurial foundation for women because she knows that women need help with business advice, financial support, offices, etc. The Qatari woman who was dressed in Western (conference) clothes had actually lived in San Diego for 7 years before moving back to Qatar and is currently applying to some American universities, including USC, NYU and Columbia! She was also much younger than the other people from her country at the table. They therefore had interestingly different viewpoints on the expatriate-Qatari workplace dynamic and consequences. The other Qataris maintained that expatriates took the best jobs in the country and that Qataris were stigmatized for that as being incapable of performing high-level work. The younger girl said that Qataris do not often have a good work ethic because they have a very high standard of living and do not feel pressured to work hard because they know that their futures are assured.

We had some other disagreements at the table throughout the three conversations, and I loved every minute of it. I was so privileged to be able to have this conversation with people from all over the world from different classes and niches within their societies. For each of the three themes, we were able to formulate concrete strategies such as: use development strategy to change public opinion of marginalized or oppressed groups within the society. Create classes about different cultures and religions and mandatorily teach them to both teachers and students starting from high school. Focus on cultural strategies to create a culture of trust and tolerance, such as film, art festivals, youth exchanges, conferences, etc. New intercultural dialogue strategies can include initiatives to use art as a political and social tool, such as Art Corps in the USA, and creating comedy troupes that focus on intercultural issues, such as Axis of Evil (you all must youtube this! it’s hilarious!).

We had a little side discussion about why social media is so powerful. Social media itself isn’t powerful – it’s powerful because we invest it with power. Moreover, we choose to use it for “good” or for trivial matters. The girl from Liberia has a social media consulting company where she encourages youth to civically use social media. And we decided that social media is powerful because people believe that they are powerful when they use it. It creates multipliers, and it empowers youth to share their opinions and thoughts. Which is what I’m doing – I started this blog because I thought that it could reach more people than I could physically do by having different conversations with people that I meet, and I do feel empowered when I write about my thoughts and experiences. I feel empowered when I read the comments and listen to your suggestions or criticisms. Social media won’t go away – and it’s up to us to fight for it to be used in a civic way, and to tell everybody that they can talk about the issues that they care most about through social media.

Tomorrow is the last day of the conference, and I haven’t had the chance yet to write about the breakout sessions and conference organization, but I will do so soon! Keep watching for updates and for photos of the participants, the venue, and Doha!

Lots of love,
Ani

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