Beyond Conflict participates in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Conference

Beyond Conflict participates in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Conference

Tim Phillips, Beyond Conflict Founder and CEO

Beyond Conflict participates in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Conference

By Tim Phillips, Beyond Conflict Founder and CEO

I was honored to be invited with my colleague Mike Niconchuk to participate in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Conference in Athens, Greece, with a distinguished group of international leaders and activists from the worlds of science, government, technology, the arts, and civil society. We were encouraged to share our work on mental health and resilience with Syrian refugee and migrant communities, and to explore what we can learn from South Africa as we struggle to hold meaningful and constructive dialogues in the United States and Europe at a moment of deepening division.

The conference was organized in partnership with the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, which is funded by the Niarchos Foundation and dedicated to addressing the state of democracy around the world through research and practice.

From left to right: Tim Phillips, CEO and Founder of Beyond Conflict; Roelf Meyer, South African Former Minister of Constitutional Affairs; Ebrahim Rasool, Former South African Ambassador to the United States.

Beyond Conflict’s participation in the conference will launch a strategic partnership with Agora and Johns Hopkins University to focus on a range of critical global issues, from the threat of growing and deepening polarization in the US to the risk of increasing division and declining trust in democracy and democratic institutions around the world.

I had the honor to speak in a panel on Talking Across Divides with two amazing South African leaders: Roelf Meyer, former minister of Constitutional Affairs, who played a principal role in negotiating the end of apartheid, and Ebrahim Rasool, a top ANC leader whose imprisonment was overseen by Roelf when he was the apartheid minister managing the then state of emergency.

“For three centuries or more, South Africa was divided according to its racial composition that led to a notion of superiority versus inferiority. That was the paradigm that defined the South African existence and that we had to change. The core of it lays in this ability that we discovered that we could change our paradigms, from where we were to what we had to achieve,” explained Meyer.
The discussion explored the lessons from South Africa on dialogue and reconciliation and focused on the necessary and essential need to find the humanity in the other whether it be your enemy, an immigrant or those you feared and mistrusted.

“I had to unlearn so many of my stereotypes because it was comfortable thinking about the apartheid practitioners in terms that are caricatures of them. Until you meet the people, you see their fears, vulnerabilities, and aspirations; then you have to recalibrate your subliminal racism and assumptions about people,” underlined Rasool.
As Meyer and Rasool said in their compelling and timely remarks, we need to recognize that fear of the other is fear of the unknown, and that real and lasting social change occurs when we “fight injustice while seeing the humanity in others.”
In his panel on Perspectives of Refugee Integration, Mike shared with the audience the personal and profoundly traumatic experience of refugees and migrants who are uprooted from their homes, communities, and families, and find themselves in conditions that strip them of dignity, hope and any sense of normalcy. When we see the experience of refugees and migrants through their eyes, then we see a world different than we had imagined, which brings us closer to the possibility of greater understanding and empathy.

The conference included a fantastic group of participants from Wes Moore, the head of the Robin Hood Foundation; Marc Morial, the former Mayor of New Orleans and Head of the Urban League, to William Kentridge, the brilliant South African artist and visionary, among others.

Follow the conversation on Twitter: @Beyond_Conflict and #SNFDialogues

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