On 9 March 2021, Arigatou International Geneva’s Executive Director, Ms. Maria Lucia Uribe was invited to partake in an online webinar hosted by Shanti Ashram. The webinar was the third installment in a series called the Interactive Knowledge Update. This session, entitled The Rationale and Impact of Successful Convening, focussed on the concept of convening. Defined as the act of bringing people together, usually for a public purpose, convening has come to occupy a critical role for many international organizations.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, convening has become even more essential as it brings together various stakeholders across several industries and fields to work collaboratively to address issues facing vulnerable communities. The webinar began with some words from Dr. Subramanian, Former Director, Tamilnadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore. His opening remarks served to clarify the rationale behind the webinar and the necessity for exploring the concept of convening in further detail. As he pointed out, the current COVID-19 pandemic has had such a wide-reaching impact that tackling the various negative effects that have stemmed from it can only be achieved by working collaboratively and that any attempt to tackle these issues individually will ultimately result in failure.
The floor was then ceded to Ms. Uribe who explored in further detail the context in which the discourse surrounding convening finds itself. As she was quick to point out, convening is not simply the act of bringing people together but rather it is a manifestation of our interconnectedness and faith in one another. She went on to highlight the necessity for convening given the current complex challenges emerging as a result of this pandemic. COVID-19 has demonstrated just how interconnected we are as a society and as a people as such it is only through harnessing this interconnectedness through convening that we will be able to tackle these unprecedented issues we are facing.
Three elements were highlighted as critical to convening. Firstly, convening must be built on diversity. Complex problems require us to look at them from a variety of different perspectives and listening to different voices across various sectors. Secondly, convening should be a space for empathic dialogue. This space should not minimize discussions where people disagree but rather foster a space in which disagreement allows us to find common ground and allow diverging opinions to converge into shared solutions. Finally, convening should be a catalyst for change. Convening taps our collective intelligence and allows for collective action. This action, however, can only be actualized if there is a committed community of stakeholders willing to back it up. Ms. Uribe closed by noting two important factors for successful convening. She noted the primal role of solidarity and ethical responsibility which allows us to work successfully with others. Moreover, we should always keep in mind that there is a higher purpose to our collaboration and that it is through our humility to convene that we are able to drive successful convening.
With the framework and context laid out by Ms. Uribe, the floor was then given to Shanti Ashram’s Ramya Devaraj. Ms. Devaraj presented a more in-depth look at how Shanti Ashram has been able to harness the power of convening in addressing issues related to COVID-19 as well as attach explore the theoretical frameworks which define it. As Ms. Devaraj noted, convening is a process in which many organizations already engage in whether consciously or not and Shanti Ashram has been no exception.
After reopening its doors on 7 May 2020, Shanti Ashram set out to address the immediate effects faced by communities. This involved distributing personal protective equipment to children and adults, as well as raising awareness of issues such as violence and domestic abuse which have seen significant increases due to lockdown restrictions. Ms. Devaraj highlighted that, while Shanti Ashram has always convened with a wide array of stakeholders to improve the lives of others, this convening was taken to another level when tasked with dealing with COVID-19. Shanti Ashram was able to address a whole host of issues through their convening with various partners. Their collaboration with Rotary and the Tamil Nadu Public Distribution Services allowed for individuals to receive direct aid in the form of food and other essential supplies. Meanwhile, they also convened with Masonic Medical Centre and PSG Medical School to engage in awareness campaigns around the health of young mothers and issue surrounding child marriage and teenage pregnancy respectively.
During this time Arigatou International and Shanti Ashram collaborated as part of the Children’s Solutions Lab which saw several micro-grants awarded to child-led initiatives. The Children’s Parliament’s project was one of the awardees, receiving 1,500 USD to carry out a child-led project to help tackle poverty through education.
From here, a general examination of the importance of convening was conducted as well as an examination of what successful convening looks like. As noted by Ms. Devaraj, convening has to result in the implementation of solutions as merely identifying problems is not sufficient. With the conclusion of Ms. Devaraj’s presentation the floor was opened to the public for questions and reflections.
Participants reflected on the framing of convening in a more informal context in which stakeholders, often unknowingly, discuss issues they face and in doing so work towards finding a common solution.
We would like to thank Shanti Ashram for inviting us to partake in this engaging webinar to discuss a topic that is becoming exceedingly important in the face of continued adversity.
The full recording of the webinar can be viewed HERE.