Analogue leadership in a digital world

Human Dignity in the 21st Century

Human Dignity in the 21st Century

The House of Protection, Utøya

The island of Utøya is owned by the Workers Youth League in Norway and has held annual Summer Camps for young people there since the 1950s.

On 22nd July, 2011 a right wing Norwegian extremist killed 69 of those young people together with a further 8 in Oslo after he blew up a major government building.

Since 2011 Norway has slowly dealt with this event, the deadliest mass shooting worldwide committed by a single perpetrator, and the island of Utøya is a monument to how challenging the process of reconciliation with hate and horror is, but also how time and patience can help those left behind begin to heal.

The island continues to be used as a meeting place and learning centre for young people fighting for democracy, human rights, peace and reconciliation – locally, nationally and globally and in May 2024 was one of the key venues used by The World Freedom of Expression Forum, WEXFO 2024.

WEXFO’s aim is

to inspire progress for freedom of expression on all levels of society – internationally, nationally and locally and seeks to be a forum where the challenges to freedom of expression can be discussed and debated.

WEXFO 2024 comprised four complementary events.  As well as the main conference held in Lillehammer, Norway, there was also:

  • The WEXFO Youth Network Conference which focuses on youth freedom of expression and seeks to assess the current state of Youth Freedom of Expression through a platform of co-operation in order to facilitate the sharing of insights.
  • WEXFO Young Experts which targets 18 to 35 year old innovators, activists, and community leaders with the aim of increasing young people’s participation in their societies. This is held between Utøya and Lillehammer.
  • WEXFO Youth Voices brought around 1000 secondary school students from Lillehammer and surrounding areas to come to the Scandic Hotel to learn about freedom of expression, engage in discussions, and truly express themselves.

I knew nothing of WEXFO before our Intersticia Fellow Abeer Abu Ghaith was asked to speak at it and prior to my arrival I really had no idea what to expect.

WEXFO has largely been created and supported by a collective of literary organisations including publishers, libraries, the Norsk Literature Festival and organisations such as ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network. Predominantly the focus is on the inter-relationship between literacy/reading and the nexus between freedom of expression and Democracy.

Reading is democracy’s and freedom’s most important weapon. (WEXFO CEO Kristenn Einarsson)

Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.  

The challenge of course is how this works in practice balanced with the cultural norms and values of the societies in which it takes place.

Free speech and expression is the lifeblood of democracy, facilitating open debate, the proper consideration of diverse interests and perspectives, and the negotiation and compromise necessary for consensual policy decisions. Efforts to suppress nonviolent expression, far from ensuring peace and stability, can allow unseen problems to fester and erupt in far more dangerous forms. (Freedom House)

WEXFO 2024 opened with a focus on the state of Democracy and the rebuilding of trust in institutions, particularly in the age of rapidly evolving forms of information technology and innovation.

According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer the loss of trust in governments and institutions within countries with more democratic forms of government is striking, and most particularly in the abilities of governments to regulate innovation and technologies.

Historically the probability of a Western politician getting re-elected is around 35%, historically it was 70%. (Ruchir Sharma, How To Academy, June 2024).

To put this in context we need to define and understand what “The West” is in the 2020s.

I’m going to begin by using Joseph Henrich’s definition of WEIRD),

Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic—aims to raise people’s consciousness about psychological differences and to emphasize that WEIRD people are but one unusual slice of humanity’s cultural diversity. WEIRD highlights the sampling bias present in studies conducted in cognitive science, behavioral economics, and psychology.

The reason I feel this is important rather than just listing countries deemed to be ‘democratic’ is that being Western is as much a mindset as it is a geography, and it is peculiar to The West to consider this so.  This democratic mindset may be defined as

Democracy is the sharing of cultural, economic and political rights.  Democracy a constructive space for deliberation. (Alpa Shah speaking at Institute of Art and Ideas, The Indian Century)

In his talk about the status of freedom of expression in 2024 political scientist Staffan Lindberg gave a stark overview of how things are changing in the world.

Drawing from the most recent research of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg Lindberg spoke to these major trends:

  • The level of democracy enjoyed by the average person in the world in 2023 is down to 1985-levels; by country-based averages, it is back to 1998.
  • Since 2009 – almost 15 years in a row – the share of the world’s population living in autocratising countries has overshadowed the share living in democratizing countries.
  • The decline is stark in Eastern Europe and South and Central Asia.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean goes against the global trend: Democracy levels increase, and large countries are more democratic than smaller ones.
  • The world is almost evenly divided between 91 democracies and 88 autocracies.
  • 71% of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – live in autocracies – an increase from 48% ten years ago.
  • Electoral autocracies have by far the most people – 44% of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people.
  • 29% of the world’s population – 2.3 billion people – live in liberal and electoral democracies.
  • Israel falls out of the liberal democracy category for the first time in over 50 years.

As a complement to this Felicia Anthonio from AccessNow described the current state of internet shutdowns linked to elections and violence, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.  Their 2023 Report is disturbing reading, particularly in a year billed to be the biggest election year in recorded human history.

One of the most troubling aspects, particularly given the lack of trust in government and institutions, is the growing influence of smart information technologies and it was sobering to hear Sam Gregory of WITNESS describe the what he sees as the major challenges but also that alluded to some glimmers of hope

Sam Gregory with a message of hope

First and foremost in this is that we are not passive witnesses to what is happening around us, we are active participants.  We do this individually and in groups but we are co-creating the world and therefore we have a responsibility to take some ownership of the outcomes.  This is the message we have been trying to give through our Brave Conversations and Web Science because those glimmers of hope come from forums such as WEXFO but also the work that so many institutions around the world are doing to develop we humans within this digital age.

Democracies need not merely freedom to think and talk, but universal information and vigorous mental training, (H. G. Wells).

Part of this mental training comes from, firstly, realising that for those of us who live in functioning democracies that Democracy, as children’s author Laurie Halse Anderson stated, is a VERB not a NOUN.  It is an ACTION state.

Freedom of Expression is like a muscle which needs to be constantly exercised, it is an active choice.

Irene Khan reinforced the ACTIVE nature of freedom of expression

There are numerous ways in which this muscle can be exercised and strengthened.

One of them is Deep Reading, a term coined by Sven Birkets (The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age) where

every book a portal to a different universe where we allow ourselves to enter through our imagination and a state of mindfulness that helps us experience the book on a much deeper level.

Another is to teach and promote active Critical Thinking for all generations.  This is what organisations such as Sitra and people such as Anil Dash are doing and is a major focus in education for the government of Finland.

It is what underpins the The Ljubljana Reading Manifesto which states that:

Higher-level reading is our most powerful tool for analytic and critical thinking. It exercises metacognition and cognitive patience, expands our conceptual capacities, trains cognitive empathy and perspective-taking – social skills which are indispensable for informed citizens in a democratic society. Signatories of this manifesto call to acknowledge the permanent significance of higher-level reading in the digital era.

As I sat and listened to all of these speakers, spoke with young people during the breaks and pondered the fragility of our Western inheritance I began to think more and more that it is not Democracy that we should be focusing on but human dignity.

This dignity comes not from the particular political system within which we live but is as much about how we view ourselves and others within that system.

Whilst in 2024 we have a Universal Declaration of Human Rights they are something to be viewed as incredibly precious but only of value if we stick by them and implement them. This requires all of us to take a good long look at our own systems and to be prepared to stand up for what we see as insufficient rigour in this self-examination, something that is proving to be beyond our currently governance systems to do.

Our humans systems are designed to serve our societies and they must adapt and evolve as our needs change.  As a part of this we need to provide evidence to the populace that their vote does count, that their voice can be heard, and the brightest light in 2024 thus far as been that in the largest democratic elections of 2024 the people did speak (see Indian elections 2024).

All of these are difficult and challenging issues to deal with and challenging conversations to have, but have them we must if we are to be able to deal with the ever increasing complexity of the years ahead presented by climate change, increasing migration and the growing capability of artificial intelligence.

WEXFO was an opportunity to sit back, to listen to challenging and sometimes controversial viewpoints, and to quietly reflect.

We in the West can be hugely judgemental and arrogant when it comes to other forms of government, and our history is littered with our determination to proselytise and impose it on others.  We consider it right for us, but it is not the only way to be governed and since only 8% of us live in a “full democracy” perhaps we should be more sensitive to and aware of the threats to our own systems rather than focusing on converting everyone else.

We have a lot of work to do in ‘The West’ to get our younger people to participate and engage in the democractic process, to step up and proactively create the societies that reflect their values, and to take responsibility for the rights that they have, not merely take them for granted.

So on top of reading and literacy we need to educate and empower our young people about government and governance, policy and politics, civics and civilisation and ther role in creating it.  We need to not just listen to their voices, but to integrate those voices in to our systems and processes at all levels.

This is what I felt was the value of WEXFO 2024, taking the time to think about what we value in what we have, and determine to work towards keeping it.

 

Imagine they held a war and nobody came …

Imagine they held a war and nobody came …

Photograph – looking over the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes, Israel

We cannot change the past, but the past can inspire us to campaign and change the future. (Julia Gillard)

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Jesus of Nazareth, The Beatitudes, King James Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 KJV).

I took this photo as I sat on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Israel, in 2022 and pondered the words of Jesus of Nazareth. I felt deeply moved, but above all deeply saddened that the words he spoke at this place have been so ignored or deliberately manipulated by so many for so long in pursuit of their own agendas, and that his message has so often been used as an excuse for violence rather than peace.

So too with the words of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the Quran, man is called “khalifatullah”: Allah’s representative, His vicegerent, His responsible steward on Earth. … That man chose to accept the “trust” signifies that God has granted him free will. … Man is not free, however, to escape the consequences of his wrong choices, any more than the earth can escape the consequences of man’s constant misuse. (Barbara (Masumah) Helms).

As Barnaby Rogerson states in The House Divided it is a pity that throughout history the gap between the ideal example established by the Prophet(s) and the reality of political leadership has been a continuous tragedy.

I am writing this post as our Intersticia community gathers in London for the first of our Voice Workshops developed and facilitated by our Creative Fellow Jess Chambers.  Jess gave a great introduction at our 2023 Retreat and is following this up with both group and 1:1 sessions in London over the next month, for Intersticia, Founders and Coders and The Yalla Co-Operative.

Jess’s work is about

crafting a dynamic voice that completely and truly represents your dynamic thoughts and ideas. I believe that when we work with the voice, we are working with the whole person. (Jess Chambers)

Our hope for the programme is that as individuals our community will learn to trust, integrate, harness and amplify their voices in the work that they do, whilst simultaneously enabling them to craft a community voice for Intersticia and what it stands for.

With this in mind I am also beginning to prepare for our next Brave Conversations to be held in Stuttgart as a part of the 2024 ACM Web Science Conference.

I have been mulling over what the key themes to extract for the world in 2024 are, both for our Intersticia community and for Brave Conversations. Both our Intersticia work and that of Brave Conversations Stuttgart 2024 exist within the context of a world undergoing a confluence of social, political and technological change, perhaps the greatest confluence in recorded human history.

  • 2024 is the year which seems the most number of human beings participating in ‘democratic’ elections, something that has been described as an ‘election extravaganza’ (Reference)
  • Technology companies are releasing more and more powerful Large Language Models and Machine Learning systems and Intelligent Agents (Reference)
  • They are also rapidly developing and releasing new ways of interacting with technologies such as Augmented Reality (Reference)
  • Social Media companies are under increasing scrutiny by governments and regulatory authorities around online safety (Reference)
  • Progress on human longevity is becoming increasingly interesting with progress being made on the Science of Ageing (Reference)
  • It is hoped that renewable energy sources will achieve one third of global power generation in 2024 (Reference) particularly as the planet warms at an unprecedented rate (Reference).

Within all of these there is no one theme that is paramount, but it is the collision and convergence which is creating a pivotal moment for humanity – one in which we may either destroy life as we know it, or we may muddle through to embrace a Brave New World that is positive, or, something entirely unexpected may emerge.

History has shown that the success of homo sapiens has come about through collaboration, social intelligence and our preparedness to believe shared myths and stories (Harari 2015).  The power and influence of stories, and the voices that tell them, are often under-appreciated but they changed the path of history, and all too often resulted in the destruction of our environment and the desolation of landscapes, and the traumatisation and humiliation of human beings.  Whilst history does show that warfare has inspired, funded and progressed the human technological condition, it has also enslaved us because more often than not we have given in to our anger and aggression, we have allowed our primal reactions to dominate rather than to draw on our capacity for forgiveness and compassion.  We keep repeating the same mistakes and following the same patterns.

The definition of insanity is doing the same experiment and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein)

With this in mind one framework I have been pondering is that of the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory, sometimes referred to as The Four Turnings. What intrigues me is to reflect on how human generations have been shaped by what they encounter in the key years of their development (their 20s) which then determines how they respond to major changes or crises that they meet later on.

For me as a Generation X (with a bit of ‘late Boomer’) what I find frustrating is that despite being armed with an unprecedented knowledge and understanding of a combination of history, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, sociology and politics, and supported by the growing power of artificial intelligence, we keep repeating the same mistakes that have rhymed throughout history:

  1. Dictators still think they are all-powerful and will defy history
  2. Democratic societies still don’t appreciate the fragility of their governance systems
  3. Religious leaders still exploit tribal differences to propel and further their own power and influence and political agendae.

History has told us that this often breeds results in the short term, but is usually destructive in the longer term.

Trying to foretell and influence the longer term is what Hari Seldon sought to do with his Psychohistory (the inspiration for, and basis of the Social Machine), which of course didn’t work.  This is perhaps because Seldon too succumbed to the arrogance, hubris and confidence that scientists always seem to bring to their own models, rather than drawing on sufficient humility to allow for Black Swans and the unexpected.

Carrying the past through collective memory and stories is crucial to our survival but it fails to serve us unless we heed all the lessons, good and bad, that our ancestors learned. Central to this is the power of forgiveness which is a powerful theme that permeates throughout human cultures:

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve Peace. (The Buddha)

Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they themselves must pass. (Confucius)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  (Jesus of Nazareth, The New Testament, King James Version, Matthew 5:38 – 5:39)

Having a cross-cultural understanding to focus on what brings us together, rather than what pulls us apart is crucial in a world where people are increasingly moving.

As Edward Said said:

We need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than any abridged or inauthentic mode of understanding can allow. … We need time and patient and sceptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.  (Edward Said, Orientalism)

As I consider the work of Intersticia as a group of people whom we have chosen deliberately to craft as global a community as possible, spanning across multiple generations, it seems that a key priority for us in 2024 is to harness the collective support and curiosity of the group experience whilst acknowledging and supporting the individual and cultural identity of our people.  As one of our Advisors Philip Hayton so astutely told me at the Leicester Conference in 2018 ‘this IS the work!”

If we can harness this to support each of our people individually whilst crafting a collective voice then our work will truly be transformational for us all and have a degree of impact beyond any one of us individually, and we can honour the trust that our Fellows have put in us to enable each of them to be the best person that they can be.  That is our hope.

We need to be able to sit in the interstice of forgiveness in order to break the cycle of madness or else we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and if so we will only have ourselves to blame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kardamyli 2023

Kardamyli 2023

Last month I spent five days in the delightful village of Kardamyli for the third Kardamyli Festival.

I first heard if this festival during lockdown through the HowToAcademy but sadly could not attend the first one in 2021 as I was in Australia but this year I made it.

The festival is held in the village of Kardamyli, one of the oldest settlements in the Peloponnese and once home to “Britains leading travel writer” and adventurer Patrick Lee Fermor.

The site itself is located in a large car park opposite Πέτρινοι Πύργοι στην Παραλία (Pétrinoi Pýrgoi stin Paralía), a picturesque beach populated by stone cairns with their own individual personalities added to by the daily passers by on their way to the beach.

I came to Kardamyli largely out of curiosity and the quality of the world class speakers featured on the programme many of whom I have long followed and greatly admire. The festival is undoubtedly a labour of love by all involved including a band of friends and family volunteers who cheerfully did the meet-and-greet, played bouncer and guard, and shepherded the 350 odd attendees who turned up to pretty much every session.

Nothing about Kardamyli disappointed.

We stayed in a lovely home-run studio, wandered the town, had some interesting conversations and explored many of the ideas that were raised.  The Festival began with Bettany Hughes exploring Socrates’ concept of “The Good Life” which especially resonated given the foundational concepts upon which Intersticia is based, particularly the work of John O’Neil.

Building upon this was Andrea Wulf’s “Magnificent Rebels”, a work which I read when it first came out and found fascinating in terms of how fate brought together some of the most important thinkers of late 18th Century Germany in one place at one time.  Many of these thinkers were instrumental in helping to define “The West” and the construct that underpins it which archaeologist Naoise Mac Sweeney extrapolated in her sweeping view of the evolution of the idea and concept of “The West” from where it began to where we are now.

Every society has a set of beliefs that go far beyond the life of the individual and have the power to define – and to divide – us.  (Neil MacGregor)

Neil MacGregor took us on a whirlwind tour of humanity through the objects, places, rituals and spaces that connect with and represent the theological dimensions that cultures and societies have used to identify themselves, ranging from the challenge of observing Ramadan in Space to the creation of the Shrine of Pont d’Alma for Princess Diana in France.  He concluded by asking some very poignant and crucial questions for “the West” centred around the challenge of how to define our shared beliefs as a society in the age of secularism, ‘the individual’ and the underpinnings of liberal democracies in their desire to embrace and embody multiculturalism.

These questions were further interrogated by the best Prime Minister that the UK never had” Rory Stewart who challenged the West in its need to explore new forms of both economic and democratic models suited to the 21st Century calling for Aristotle’s rhetoric as a powerful tool with which to explore the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.

Stewart identified the three corners of what Harvard Professor Mark Moore has transformed in to The Strategic Triangle which is one of the foundational models for the design and analysis of Public Policy and which we use as a fundamental model for both our Founders and Coders Social Machine curriculum and in our Brave Conversations.

The triangle is based on the interplay and interconnection between:

  • Pathos – the need for emotional communication and resonance in exploring ideas
  • Ethos – the need to discover moral character in order to talk about Truth
  • Logos – the need for new ideas and vision

A key element to this is in understanding the notion of the authorising environment, where the power lies within a society, how it is wielded and where it’s limits lie.  This was especially relevant when German journalist Kai Strittmatter gave his perspective on Xi Xin Ping’s China in what I found to be a very one-sided and naïve criticism of an alternative to The West as represented by the Chinese State.  My main criticism is that Strittmatter was critical of the China surveillance model without acknowledging or even recognising the insideousness of our Western Surveillance Capitalism, let alone being in any way open to the potential advantages that might be presented by Chinese Data and AI Regulation.  I cannot claim to have any knowledge of the Chinese system but I don’t believe that we in The West should be lauding the system we live in to be one that is superior.  There could have been a lively and useful debate around this but sadly very few really interrogate our own system from the data perspective and the talk by Anjana Ahuja, whilst being aimed at the “average punter” gave some good insights, was fairly superficial and lightweight.

BBC Russia journalist Steve Rosenberg made his first visit outside of Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and through his stories and songs gave us a glimpse of the reality distortion that is life in 2023 Russia.  Both he and Kai Strittmatter provided contrasting perspectives on aspects of humanity that we in the West too often fail to appreciate because we don’t know how to interrogate their belief systems, mythologies and deeply ingrained traditions, rites and institutionalised practices.  If more of us did we would be far more prepared for the events which surround us and perhaps more nuanced in our analysis of them.

This became startlingly obvious when, on Saturday 7th October, we awoke to news of Hamas’ Operation Al-Aqsa Flood  and the outbreak of the largest Israeli-Palestinian confilct since the War of Independence in 1948.  My first inkling of the event was through a Telegram message from our Palestinian Fellow who comes from Gaza, but from that moment on the rest of the Festival was underpinned by what was happening in that part of the world.  Tom Holland addressed this directly as he opened the second day by giving some historical perspectives to the events we were witnessing.  After the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132CE it was the Emperor Hadrian who had determined to deal with the Judean uprisings once and for all by renaming the city of Jerusalem to be Aelia Capitolina and the Province of Iaedea to be named Syria Palestina, (Palestine) after the historic enemies of the Jews, the Philistines.

It goes back that far and yes this still matters.

History never repeats but it does often rhyme.  (Mark Twain)

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905)

To have a major world event happening in the midst of this Festival demonstrated the crucial importance and value of literature and history in helping to frame any possible futures we might envisage but also to perhaps suggest alternative paths we may take in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past.  It is through our myths, stories, poems, traditions and belief systems that we as humanity seek to articulate and describe our deeply embedded cultural DNA, so deeply ingrained within us that we fail to recognise their power as the scripts which run our lives.

The Kardamyli Festival provided those who attended with the opportunity to reflect on this for a few days inspired by the work of those who do this full time.  Armed with these insights and the most peaceful and idyllic setting there should be no excuse not to dare to strip away some of the filters and lenses with which we view the world in order to identify and address our own blind spots and perhaps, just perhaps, begin to frame the world anew.

My only criticism of the Festival was the lack of diversity in the audience, but it is only new and it may be that with time it will grow and mature in order to attract those with more outlying ideas whose intents are nonetheless philanthropic in nature.

Digitally Savvy

Digitally Savvy

A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure to do an interview with Simon Western on his Edgy Ideas podcast.

As always in a real human-to-human conversation it enabled me to think through some ideas which have been percolating for quite a while.

Thank you Simon and for Aodhan Moran for introducing us.

Listen to the “Edgy Ideas” Podcast with Simon Western.

View of an Intern

View of an Intern

From our Intern Jacquie Crock

For as long I can remember I have never truly understood what Intersticia is.  I knew that Mum had a friend called Anni, and they would travel around the world and do interesting things.  But I never knew they had a purpose, a common goal and motive that lead them to what Intersticia is today.  As one of the newest members of the Intersticia community, joining in the historic year of 2020, my questions were finally answered.

The first thing I realised was that Intersticia is not a workplace, rather a community of like-minded individuals working together for the future.

Some of my first work was with the new “Brave Conversation” podcasts, a brilliant idea to better know each member of the Intersticia community.  As a kid, still in school, hearing about people literally studying Martian matter, and working in innovative fields from sustainable energy to aid in humanitarian crises to tech and the arts, I found it quite overwhelming to be part of such an incredible group.  However, it only took me a short while to understand that there is not a single member of this community that would ever put themselves on a pedestal.  Of the people I have met this year, each have been incredibly articulate and genuinely kind people, and overwhelmingly intelligent all the same!

Another aspect of Intersticia that, rather excited me, was the mechanisms deployed to ensure sustainable work practices.

As soon as I joined my first Zoom meeting I was refreshed to experience people working through future based concepts, ideas that will benefit the international community, not only for themselves but for generations to come.  Relating to this idea, I immediately noticed how generous the Intersticia community is.  This year has forced us to live online, and although it has had its disadvantages, meeting via zoom and communicating online has lead me to meet so many incredible people.

I am completing my final years in high school and was asked to present a twenty minute presentation on the Gaza Strip, in a brief conversation I mentioned this to Anni, and within hours I was put in touch with an incredibly generous woman who not only took the time to email me and send me articles, but who gave me an hour out of her day to meet with me.  This was one of my first experiences with the generosity this community contains and certainly won’t be my last.

After meeting with a collection of people in 2020, I was grateful to learn that even in times of crisis people can still practice things that they value. This image above depicts Palestinians in Gaza practicing music (Pre-Covid). Those in Gaza are resilient and spirited, and that even though they face some of the most prominent challenges of this century, that they are still able to celebrate life.

Unlike friends of mine, who spend hours stacking shelves or working in shops, the time I spend working is educational and truly beneficial for my future. I have had the opportunity to listen in on workshops and meetings and have learnt so much.  The social depth that humanity is facing with the rise of technology and globalisation is unlike any other time.  Hearing about what these new advancements mean and how to face them has been inspirational and hopeful, knowing about these concepts now has prepared me for the future, however difficult and inconspicuous it will be.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be Intersticia’s newest Intern and look forward to meeting more of you in the future!

Intersticia’s 2020 Year in Review

Intersticia’s 2020 Year in Review

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.  (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin)

“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse

2020 has certainly been interesting.

As we have all been hunkered down in our respective homes around the world locked up in various level of Covid tier we have connected as never before, created new ways of supporting our Fellows and others with whom we work, and truly begun to embrace the world of digital media that has been at the core of our beliefs about what is needed for 21st Century Leadership.

Intersticia exists to develop and promote digital fluency and develop smarter humans in terms of how we proactively create, manage, harness and utilise digital technologies.

We do this primarily through the following activities:

  • We identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships
  • We work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation
  • We hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership

In the 2019 – 2020 year we built on the foundations that were laid in our first couple of years of existence and, powered by the opportunities afforded by the Pandemic, we have been busier than ever.  At the end of 2019 I felt that we were completing the work of our first Horizon, developing our Fellowship; clarifying who we are, what we do and how we do it, and creating our partnerships.

As we embark upon 2021 our second Horizon is becoming clearer.

Identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships

From the outset Intersticia has sought to identify and support emerging leaders who are a little different, are prepared to take risks, are generous of spirit and have a deeply ingrained need to make the world a better place.  I am often asked how we find our Fellows and those we choose to support.

The first filter is through our values which are those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace.  We look for these in how people approach us, how they present themselves, how they interact with the world and the sorts of things they value in life.  These are what drive those of our current Fellowship and manifest in how they demonstrate their individual leadership.

The second is our belief that Intersticia is a community.  We are not a leadership development or training organisation, nor are we a Charity that ‘sets and forgets’.  Our intention is to recruit and embrace individuals who will contribute to and expand the work that we do both individually and collectively, and as a group collaborate to bring about positive change.

The third is the filter of need.  There are many who apply for our support who come with worthy ideas that many other organisations will see merit in, and we often encourage them to find those organisations.  As a small organisation our interest is in those people who often fall through the cracks, who often straddle multiple disciplines and who don’t fit neatly in to one category or another.  These people provide the hidden connections which we see of great value.

We now have 21 people we have supported through Scholarships and Bursaries and of these 19 have been made Fellows (see https://intersticia.org/fellows/).

However, bringing people in to our Fellowship is just the beginning, and one thing that our work thus far has demonstrated is that it is not broadening our reach which is important, but deepening our connection and strengthening our impact.  Of those we support some choose to continue being a part of, and contributing to, our community, others choose not to, which is their choice.

For those who stay with us there are four main areas that we have begun to focus on:

  1. helping our Fellows develop their own Authenticity as emerging 21st Century Leaders
  2. creating our Fellowship as a Community that shares experiences and learning
  3. supporting our Fellows to find their Voice in the stories they tell and work that they do
  4. harvesting these factors to build a collective Resilience in their work and individual lives

This year we have not been able to come together as a group physically but we held our 2020 Retreat online and appended this with Small Group sessions which continue in to 2021.

We have embarked upon a series of Intersticia Brave Conversations interviews with each of our Fellows produced online and available throughout the community.  As a complement to this we have begun working with our Fellow Jess Chambers in her professional capacity as a Voice Coach to give all within our community additional skills in how they present themselves publicly.

Finally we have expanded our group of Advisors with the contribution of key individuals who are willing to help and support our Fellowship group.  These people have been incredibly generous with their time, energy and enthusiasm – without them we couldn’t do all that we do.

Work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation

We also could not do the work that we do without leveraging the partnerships that we have, in particular Goodenough College, the Web Science Trust, Founders and Coders (FAC) and Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG).  It is through these organisations that we have been able to find new opportunities and innovative projects.

Our support of the Founders Programme began our formal partnership with both FAC and GSG and has resulted in three cohorts of Founders from both London and Palestine, and our first cohort of Founders (Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Ramy Shufara) has created the first spin out in Yalla, “a Web Design and Development agency which helps non-profits and impact-driven businesses drive positive social change in the tech sphere”.

In 2021 we aim to take this to the next level through the development of a pilot Apprenticeship Programme with Yalla employing two Gaza Code Academy Graduates.

Hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership

From the outset Intersticia has sought to operate within the interstice between society, culture and technology, the space of the Social Machine.

Our flagship activity is our Brave Conversations events which seek to educate the general public about the Social Machine and act as an Outreach activity for academic research of Web Science.  We have now held events around the world, and, with the opportunity afforded by Covid in 2020, online.

Our plan for 2021 is to build on these foundations to further expand the footprint encouraging a greater partnership with the Web Science Trust and its network of Web Science Labs, beginning with our second event hosted by IIIT Bangalore in February 2021.  We will also be an integral part of the 2021 Web Science Conference to be held online in June 2021 and intend to integrate content from the Web Science Untangling the Web podcasts in to our activities.

All of our events are listed below and on the Brave Conversations website.

2020 Brave Conversations Kav Mashve
2020 Brave Conversations Arabic/English
2020 Brave Conversations Southampton Online
2020 Brave Conversations Gaza
2020 Brave Conversations Bangalore
2019 Brave Conversations London
2019 Brave Conversations Boston
2019 Brave Conversations Melbourne
2018 Brave Conversations Kingston
2018 Brave Conversations London
2018 Brave Conversations at the World Government Summit Dubai
2017 Brave Conversations Canberra
2011 Metalounge

Digital Gymnasia Series

In a ‘normal’ year we would usually hold a series of workshops at Goodenough College to promote digital literacy and digital skills to current students of the College.  Given the restrictions on travel we have instead now developed our Digital Gymnasia Series which has been delivered throughout 2020 to students and Alumni of the College around the world. In 2020 we developed and delivered eight workshops which attracted between 20 – 30 attendees each time.  In 2021 we will be delivering an additional four Gymnasia to the Goodenough community in 2021 on the topics of Building Digital Brands, Demystifying AI, Facilitating Online and Digital Governance.  All of these are now being recorded to be made available online to the general public, especially the Boards of Charities and Not-for Profit organisations.

Conclusion

2020 has taught us the value of our networks and connections, whether they be IRL (in real life) or via the virtual medium.  What I have found is that whilst I have been ‘grounded’ in my physical space here up on Pittwater and have connected more frequently with my local neighbours and community, I have been much more active with a broader range of people around the World and my Global community.  I have spoken to my family and friends more often, I have held more meetings and I have been more productive than I have ever been.  Through this I believe we have been given the opportunity to deepen our relationships this year, particularly with our Fellows and Advisors, who have all brought their personal experiences and challenges of negotiating and navigating through 2020 and shared without hesitation.

We have been given the opportunity to slow down and consolidate rather than madly race around looking for new adventures and shiny new distractions, and for that I am extremely grateful.

So what comes next?  We have talked about our planned 2021 Retreat in Devon and following that we plan to take our Fellows to walk through the Sinai Desert led by our Advisor Louise Sibley.  These face to face activities where we don’t have to rely on words but can commune as a group of humans physically together are now more important than ever.  As are our ongoing Brave Conversations events where we ask our Fellows to share their thoughts about the work they are doing and perhaps the theme for 2021 may be “Brave Conversations Unplugging” as the World gradually unfreezes from it’s Pandemic state (thanks to Sam Crock for that idea).

More on that to come!

June 2024
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