Conclusions and Lessons Learnt from the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation

Katarina Stigwall

National Museums of World Culture

The world around us is directly influenced by globalization and, day by day, national boundaries are breaking down and cooperation is becoming the heart of our work. The first Anna Lindh Forum 2010, which took place in Barcelona attended by 1,000 representatives from 500 civil society organisations from the 43 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean, highlighted the importance of culture, the voice of ordinary people and ecological degradation, which is humanity’s major challenge. The Forum participants requested two things from the Anna Lindh Foundation: on the one hand, the problematization of the issues, which includes the diversity that allows us to understand the current context of the world; and, on the other, the strengthening of the NGOs, which means giving support to their members on coordination, communication and documentation of present and past projects. A future agenda was also established in the Forum, focusing on non-formal training, especially of youths.


The first Anna Lindh Forum, held from 4th to 7th March 2010, brought together in Barcelona over 1,000 representatives from 500 organizations. In lectures, presentations, workshops, film screenings and exhibitions, the content was provided by the participants themselves. The Forum 2010 was the largest initiative yet for organizations from the 43 Anna Lindh member countries.

Values

The values that were shared during the Forum are at the heart of the participants’ work and should also be the guiding principles for the Anna Lindh Foundation.

  • The first of these values is context.

Context can be found in terminology: the Foundation needs to be a critical counterweight to some of the terminology that is too frequently and easily used by the media, such as “terrorism”, “clash” or “conflict”. The Foundation should also be careful to ensure actual substance behind its own terminology, so that the key words “intercultural dialogue” and “co-existence” do not lose their power. Context is also about voice: the Foundation needs to let the voices of ordinary people be heard, the voices of its members. No one can state their own cases better than they can, and it should be the role of the Foundation to make them heard, not to do the talking for them. The discussions at the Forum also revolved around the importance of diversification: the Anna Lindh Foundation should be careful to provide a wide range of sources of knowledge to ensure different perspectives. It is not enough to listen only to the loudest voice; we need to search for the hidden histories and the alternative stories in order to reflect the complexity of each issue.

Finally, the Forum participants requested problematization: the Foundation needs to ask the questions, and see the uniqueness in each one of its members. Yes, we are searching for common ground, but we must also see the diversity and let it enrich us. If we never question what we see, we will never come close enough to get to know the actual context. 

  • The second value is culture.

The definition of culture is a natural core value of the Anna Lindh Foundation, and every session at the Forum treated culture in its different forms. As a concept, culture needs to be redefined and re-evaluated to stay dynamic. It needs to be considered in its widest form – not limited to fine arts, tradition or heritage. The Foundation defines culture as “identity” and, as such, it needs to encompass:

Spirituality: religious and spiritual values are essential for the individual, and must be included when we speak about intercultural dialogue. 

Social dimensions: culture is a reflection of social, economic and political values, central to defining our background and who we are. None of these aspects are isolated, and they all contribute to our perspectives and perceptions. 

Equality: cultural equality is at the heart of the Foundation’s work. But too often we consider equality in an overly narrow sense limited to gender and ethnicity. The Forum participants requested that the Foundation should see beyond the visible equality and look at other factors as well, such as age, sexuality and class.

Ecological sustainability: this value is to be particularly emphasized – a great deal of the content during the Forum revolved around this topic, which is fairly new to the Anna Lindh Foundation’s agenda. It is time to re-evaluate the importance of the environment and to include a perspective of sustainability in the definition of culture. Ecological degradation is humanity’s major challenge, it goes beyond all our differences and it concerns us all. It will affect all issues in our programme, and the only way we can make a change is by doing it together. In this respect, it is the most important issue for the Foundation, and it should move to the top of our agenda as a crucial part of intercultural dialogue.

  • The third value is structure.

If the Anna Lindh Foundation is to fulfil its ambition of reaching out efficiently, dialogue needs to undergo certain structural revision:

Nationality vs. regionality: the Foundation tends to emphasize nationality and to divide into categories of countries. This is natural considering the character of its members, but increasing emphasis needs to be placed on regionality, which opens up to new constellations and a more dynamic take on globalization. National boundaries are weakening, and we need to be more open to different ways of cooperation.

Horizontal and vertical: the Foundation needs to operate both on a horizontal and a vertical level. Traditionally, this could have been applied to geography in a “north and south” approach but, according to voices at the Forum, the members are looking for cooperation both between NGOs on a horizontal level, and between NGOs and policy-makers on a vertical level. 

Future Agenda

The future role of the Anna Lindh Foundation should primarily concern training: this is already at the heart of the agenda, but the member organizations are suggesting training in a less traditional sense:

Non-formal: the training provided by the Foundation should be inclusive, both an addition and a counterweight to traditional education. Most of the suggested projects and best practices presented at the Forum focus on non-formal training, often based on voluntary action, and peer-to-peer initiatives where skills are shared between individuals. The Anna Lindh Foundation is asked to support such initiatives.

Inter-generational: the Foundation has previously almost exclusively focused on youth. However, there is a value of learning between generations, both in terms of effectiveness and impact; in the ambition of changing the way we look at each other and live together, several generations should be targeted at once. 

The same principle applies to training of the entire production chain. The impact will be much greater if we not only train students, but their teachers as well; not only journalists but editors too, and not only NGOs but also decision-makers. The Foundation is asked to target broadly in their training approaches, and to widen the target groups.

The second role that the Forum participants ask the Anna Lindh Foundation to play is in the strengthening of NGOs. NGOs are the core of the Foundation’s activities; the networks are primarily made up of NGOs and they are the ones who carry out the work. The Foundation can provide assistance through: 

Coordination: coordinating events, programmes and projects throughout the EuroMed region to ensure synergies. Among almost 3,000 member organizations, there will inevitably be links and connections that the Foundation can help identify. This will strengthen NGOs in their efforts, increase their networks and add credibility to existing events.

Documentation and follow-up: the Foundation is asked to play a stronger role in the documentation of existing projects and the evaluation of initiatives. By a careful follow-up, it will be easier to identify best practices, and the members are requesting better access to previous experiences. This will increase the quality of future projects and prevent repetition.

Providing a thematic approach: the Foundation is asked to focus less on geography and other categories of cooperation, and to create more opportunities for thematic work. Gathering people around a common topic is bound to have greater impact than a merely bilateral exchange. This approach enables new constellations like gatherings of teachers, environmental activists or journalists.

Small-scale support: many of the project proposals and best practices are small, but with a surprisingly large impact. Not all projects supported by the Foundation need to be large flag-ships; the members are asking to keep the smaller grants. If you are working on the ground, even symbolic amounts can make a great difference and also contribute to encouragement and participation.

Channels of communication: to empower the NGOs, the Foundation is asked to make its communication effective, including the use of social media, where we have just begun to explore the opportunities of maximum outreach. This also creates opportunities for more ecologically sustainable dialogue with virtual classrooms and an exchange of information without carbon footprints.

Having highlighted the core values and expectations voiced at the first Anna Lindh Forum 2010, it is clear that the need for cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean region is greater than ever. The Anna Lindh Foundation has a unique role to play in this cooperation, and the days in Barcelona marked a milestone in intercultural dialogue, with results as rich and diverse as the Foundation itself.