What a way for this American to celebrate the 4th of July! Our Liberia Peacebuilder Community Summit was a great day, with well over 100 diverse people in attendance – primarily community members, with a sprinkle of NGOs and Western expats. Our theme was, How can we Build Partnerships and Strengthen Peacebuilding Together? NG0 + Business + Community + Government
It was a day that began with torrential rain and thunderstorms – despite our many efforts to influence the weather patterns through pleas, visualization, prayers and any ways we could imagine… WAWA (“West Africa Wins Again” – our code word for the unavoidable complications and chaos that arise in a developing world with minimal infrastructure and different views of time)… Arrival for everyone was delayed well beyond the usual, due to the rain… Plus, the AV guy with the sound system was nowhere to be seen and the generator was locked up and no one present had the key (yet all parties had been pre-paid for their services). The noise from the rain was so intense that we felt we couldn’t begin the program without amplification. Fortunately, the culture troupe was there – and they were great troupers indeed, offering a wonderful morning performance even before they had their costumes on. Finally, we decided we’d just have to make the best of it and get started with the program, sound or no sound… And happily, in the middle of Emmanuel’s welcoming remarks, the AV guy showed up.
A small group of our Core Team and I had worked hard on Saturday to prepare all the signage – and to take on the facilitation. I prepared a sample script and coached them Saturday afternoon, with the assurance that I would be ready to intervene and support them on Monday. It was a thrilling to witness them stepping up to leadership as I stayed ‘in the wings’ and played a very minor role. The World Café was a powerful way to begin the morning and get everyone engaged and intermingling across the many differences present in the room: men/women, elders/youth, educated/illiterate, Christian/Muslim/Traditional – and 16 different ethnic groups, plus Westerners. We used stones gathered near the beach for talking objects. The questions:
Round 1) Think of the times when you had successful partnerships across sectors…Share the highlights. What made it possible?
Round 2) What are the challenges that keep you from building stronger partnerships?
Round 3) What can you do to build better partnerships?
The notes from the debrief have not yet been typed up – I’ll post those to a later blog. The Open Space generated about 20 topics for the two sessions. It was great to see many in the group really get the idea of the Law of Two Foot – and move around amongst sessions. However, what I noticed during many of the sessions was a tendency for one person (typically an elder male) to become the director of the session and, rather than generative conversation, the group tended to just list ideas for the ‘director’ to record. Observing this in so many sessions opened my eyes again to how many skills and experiences we may take for granted that are essential building blocks for the capacity for generative conversation: asking questions, taking turns, building on each other’s ideas (rather than making parallel speeches), being open to new ideas or uncertainty or not knowing, etc. In the future, I would recommend that a Core Team member attend each session to help serve as a facilitator with the goal of facilitating conversation and brainstorming. In any case, the day brought a sense of community and empowerment to all who attended, and a number of ideas and action plans were set into place. You’ll hear more in the next few days!