Diversity was one of our goals when we founded NOW. Yet, its importance only became crystal clear when – finally after a year of hard work – we brought together 29 young people to learn from and with each other to kick-off the first NOW Journey. Meeting them, however, made us rethink our understanding of diversity.
Bringing diverse people together can be a magical tool to create understanding, solidarity and responsibility for the world we live in. That is why we built our organization with diversity as its core learning approach. Looking back, we now have a notion of just how powerful this inter-diversity learning is.
When after a ten-day event Fanis, experienced Greek social entrepreneur of 24, says he learned a lot from Ghizlane, 17 year old Moroccan who’s still in high school, then I think we are seeing inter-diversity learning at work. Besides diversity in ethnicity, religion, gender, language and age, we also aimed a bringing youth with different levels of experience together. Among our participants were those who are afraid of taking up responsibility and don’t feel empowered to create change, as well as those who describe themselves as experienced and follow workshops impatiently.
Ghizlane wrote in her blog post about the NOW Encounter: “I had to unlearn so many things to be able to accept the different realities in our world, to accept everything I heard from the other participants and to tolerate everyone despite our differences.” It’s reflections like this one that make us believe that inter-diversity learning works. But the last weeks also taught us that diversity is not enough.
We have learned that diversity without inclusion is nothing. It’s only inclusion that turns diversity into social justice. The more time we take in our organization to reflect about the vision of NOW, the more we understand that social justice is one of the key elements of what we do and why we do it. With that we mean not just that we envision a world that is more just and equal, but rather that we work hard for it in everything we do. Inclusion – like all elements of social justice – is an ongoing effort. And it sometimes means going the extra-mile – no matter if in working hours or in finances.
In my earlier blog post, I wrote about the challenges of creating an inclusive organization. The list mentioned there has grown now that we have actually started implementing the NOW program. We asked our participants what inclusion meant during the NOW Encounter. Alma, a young Bosnian participant, pointed out: “Inclusion…that’s me being here.” She referred to the fact that often intercultural youth events do not make it possible for youth with hearing impairment to participate. However, to us, the two sign-language interpreters that supported Alma were a huge enrichment of our experience. The NOW program was not about youth with disabilities, but about youth with big dreams. Alma is one of them, just like Bianca, Gerttu or Serhat.
Besides having sign-language interpreters, we managed to reduce the language barrier by including youth with limited English skills. 10 days meant an incredible development in everyone’s communication skills: for some the English skills skyrocketed, for others it was their ability to communicate non-verbally that improved drastically.
Finances also matter in inclusion. A lot. At NOW, we are willing to walk the talk even if that sometimes means higher costs. On the second-to-last day of the NOW Encounter, we opened up the NOW books to our participants. We want them to know exactly how much money we have raised and are spending to make this experience happen for everyone. This transparency meant that some of our participants decided to spontaneously increase their contribution to the program. Contributions for our program are not equal… It is up to each and every participant to say how much they can pay. Because if we learned one thing at the NOW Encounter then it’s that we’re not equal.
Privileges are unevenly distributed and social justice guides us in acting upon the privileges we were given (or not). That is the reasons why inclusion matters. Walking the talk of social justice is a bumpy road. The first NOW Journey has been more inclusive than any previous experiences any of us has had. Yet, it is still far from where we would like to take this. Starting from now, we are not walking alone. Our team just gained 29 young people to walk with us. Our participants will be the ones to help us getting closer to our vision of a world without injustices. And to get there, we’ll be working to become more and more inclusive.
This blog post is part of our weekly feature on Ron Orp Zürich. Check it out here.