Walls that need to go: Ideas for a more inclusive world
How can we create more inclusive communities? From fighting censorship
on social media to creating a new unifying European identity, guests of this
year’s 6 Degrees forum in Toronto put
forward examples of barriers that are in desperate need of breaking down.
Journalist, educator and organizer
6 Degrees Junior Fellow
6 Degrees Junior Fellow
Co-director, Visualizing Impact
Research and project coordinator, Visualizing Impact.
Founder and Creative Director, This is Worldtown
6 Degrees Junior Fellow
- Tell the stories that heal, not harm.
- Put technology in the hands of the displaced.
- Barriers in healthcare: Providers should be as diverse as their patients.
- When the digital world doesn’t reflect you, add your own voice.
- Stronger guidelines and more transparency are needed to combat censorship on social media.
- Foster a new, more inclusive European identity.
- Ideology and identity can be limiting — knock those walls down, too.
Tell the stories that heal, not harm.
— Abdul-Rehman Malik, London-based
journalist, educator and organizer
Every person in the room was either crying or fighting back
tears. At a community arts centre in Jakarta, Rey and Yans embraced each other.
A moment later, about 30 youngish Indonesian women and men — activists,
teachers, social workers, youth group conveners, poets, artists, religious
leaders — began to applaud, cheering loudly. They were celebrating the bravery
Rey and Yans showed by telling their stories together. Rey and Yans are both
mixed heritage — his family is Chinese and hails from Manado in North Sulawesi
and Ambon Island, two overlooked regions in Indonesia’s vast archipelago; she
is also from Ambon and Manado, but considers herself from the Indigenous people
of Ambon Island.
Since moving to Jakarta, Rey and his family have faced racism and prejudice for being Chinese. The recent defeat at the ballot box of Jakarta’s Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely known by the nickname Ahok, and his jailing on a flimsy blasphemy charge has recently heightened tensions again. A powerful alliance of alt-right Indonesian nationalists and alt-right religious chauvinists has been blamed for the rising intolerance. Rey choked up as he recalled how as a child he had hid under a bridge as nationalist mobs took to the streets. As the Suharto dictatorship collapsed, he tried to convince Muslim Indonesians that the Chinese minority had engineered some kind of coup d’état. He described how he forgave a friend who in recent months had begun sending anti-Chinese messages on social media. It was a difficult choice. To do otherwise, would have been to continue a cycle of misinformation and recrimination.
Yans grew up in a Christian family. She also grew up hating
people of Chinese descent — even those who professed her Christian faith. She
saw them as stingy, clannish and unsociable. Her life was a contradiction. She
was active in social service, yet she kept away from her Chinese and Muslim
neighbours. Her assumptions and learning was challenged when in college she
faced some intense personal crises. Her Chinese and Muslim classmates came to
her aid, surrounding her with love, support and unconditional help. Yans had to
eventually confront her elders and her faith community and question the almost
institutional suspicion of people — fellow Indonesians, don’t forget — who did
not share her cultural background.
Rey and Yans then told a story of “us” — a story of what
Indonesia looks like when they are both in the frame. Through telling their
story they found common ground — in their shared regional and linguistic
heritages, which were obscured by race and ethnicity, and also in a renewed
vision of what it means to be Indonesia.
This is vignette from a project that I have co-created in
Indonesia (with the Jakarta-based Habibie Center and veteran Canadian-British
interfaith and intercultural activist Stephen Shashoua) to combat a rise in
violent attacks against religious and ethnic minorities in major urban centres
there. We train young changemakers to tell the story of what inspired them to
become leaders and activists. We also pair participants from different
religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds and give them a chance
to tell a new story: the story of a country where they both belong. A country,
like ours, that is constantly changing.
It has been a powerful, moving experience. We now have 150
leaders recreating these storytelling circles in five major cities in Java.
There are plans to expand this work throughout Indonesia and beyond. We call
these gathering Café Cerita — the café of stories.
Our world needs more spaces like Café Cerita. It should be a
public policy priority.
As a journalist and an organizer, I work with stories every
day. I know the importance of the narratives we tell — how we tell them, to
whom we them tell them, the way we tell them. Stories can bind us together and
stories can tear us apart. Stories create false mythologies and stories shatter
our illusions. Stories can create dangerous enmity and stories can help heal
profound trauma. Stories can also become barriers to understanding.
It doesn’t need to be this way. We need to consider what
kind of stories we are telling about ourselves and what impact they have on our
understanding of one another and “us” — as citizens of cities, nations and the
world. If the quality of our stories is poor, our understanding of one another
will be equally abysmal. It begins with truth telling and honesty and
compassion to hear and take and reflect.
Stories told by us, about us, are like jigsaw pieces. It’s
not until we hear others tell their stories that we realize how we connect to
them and they to us.
My friend, teacher and activist Mark Gonzales puts it a bit
differently: we cannot live in trauma, pain and wound. We must remember that
there was a time before trauma. That memory — preserved through stories —
allows us to imagine a story after trauma. Tell the story, he says, of that time.
The master storyteller Neil Gaiman says that stories connect
us as humans. “Because,” he says, “we all have stories. Or perhaps, because we
are, as humans, already an assemblage of stories. And the gulf that exists
between us as people is that when we look at each other we might see faces,
skin colour, gender, race, or attitudes, but we don’t see, we can’t see, the
stories. And once we hear each other’s stories we realize that the things we
see as dividing us are, all too often, illusions, falsehoods: that the walls
between us are in truth no thicker than scenery.”
It is these divides, these barriers, against which we must
harness the best of our stories. Narratives that will push us to have better
conversations and find more enduring solidarities in an increasingly divided
and violent world.
Abdul-Rehman Malik is an
award winning London-based journalist, educator and organizer who works at the
intersection of faith, culture and social justice. He is currently a
Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow at Yale University.
Put technology in the hands of the displaced.
Goube, CEO Techfugees
In 2016, 47 percent of the world’s population had
access to the internet. This is up from just one percent in 1995. The internet,
and more broadly technology, has had a profound effect on our lives and has
changed the way we interact. Think about it: your smartphone is more powerful
than the technology which has put man on the moon. So, there’s no shock then
that people fleeing wars, persecution and natural disasters would use the same
internet and technology to seek support, guidance and assistance when in
In the past decade, the numbers of displaced
persons using smartphones, social networks and the internet to access services
and advice has been on the increase. A recent report from better lab in Germany
reports that smartphone use is almost universal for Syrian refugees. This is no
more apparent than in the media coverage of what they dub the “refugee crisis,”
which shows refugees accessing services and provisions through the use of their
Techfugees therefore seeks to empower those
displaced through the use of such mobile technology.
We focus on five key areas in which mobile tech holds the biggest potential to
impact refugee lives: access to information, education, identity, health and
community. To cater for the specific needs of refugees and displaced in the
domain, we create hackathons — events designed to bring together technologists,
charities, governments and displaced persons to co-create bespoke and technical
Through those hackathons, Techfugees enables
spaces allowing for constructive dialogues between refugees and locals. We
don’t come with answers and solutions. We come together with questions and
tools to share and design a future together.
An example of such meeting was a hackathon over
the summer with Paris 2024, Paris’ bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic and
Paralympic Games. The event brought together over 50 people, from 20 different
nationalities to ‘hack’ and think together ways of using available technologies
such as apps, messaging platforms and social networks to reconnect refugees to
sport and locals. Half of participants were refugees, while the other half was
made of locals passionate about sports or tech. In total, 15 prototypes were
designed throughout the 48-hour event, with two teams winning an incubation of
six months at Liberté Living Lab and Le comptoir de l’innovation, two Parisian
social tech incubators. The incubation programme will enable them to develop
the prototype further so it can be deployed at local sports clubs as a first
pilot. If successful, the project could be used during and after the Olympic
Games of Paris 2024.
For us techies, we understand digital
technologies as powerful agents to scale solutions and bring transparency in
the process. We look at the way humanitarian aid and delivery of services to
refugees happen in the humanitarian sector and wonder how we could make
processes more efficient, more dignified, and in a way that it empowers its end
recipient. In short, how do we co-create those processes.
There have never been as many refugees and
displaced people in the world, and more than half of them are under 18 years
old. The societal challenge that refugees represent is of global scale and will
not go away. We know there will be more flooding and bigger hurricanes.
To date, we haven’t made best use of
technologies. But with continued instability in the Middle East region and new
challenges in South-East Asia, we will confront greater migration flows. Now is
the time to start embracing tech.
We need to redevelop our understanding of
migration systems and refugee assistance. First by putting refugees and local
communities needs at the centre, instead of assuming what’s best for them, and
decide upon successful and failed experience of humanitarians in the space,
where we go together.
Where possible, we need to create local
capabilities for refugees to come up with solutions for themselves that
contribute to the local community they have settled in. Refugees have talents
and can bring something to society, if given the chance.
The solutions Techfugees community is developing
today will assist the displaced, irrespective of whether their displacement was
by the Syrian civil war or hurricanes Harvey and Irma. They are helping to
advance the Sustainable Development Goals and society as a whole, a line of
code at a time. We hope you can join us on this journey, by coming to Techfugees Global Summit 2017 in Paris.
is the CEO of Techfugees.
Barriers in healthcare: Providers should be as diverse as their patients.
Sara Alavian, 6 Degrees Junior Fellow
How important is it for there to be
diverse representation in medicine? I would consider it be of life-saving
Representation in medicine should be
differentiated from the idea of cultural competency; a necessary component of
healthcare systems that encourages an understanding of individual patients’
cultures and needs in order to provide appropriate care. Cultural competency is
predicated on the idea that our patients are not homogenous bodies that simply
face pathology — a purely biological breakdown — but rather whole persons that
interact with their environments and carry history, personality, and struggles.
While cultural competency has greatly
advanced the cause of health equity, it doesn’t have the scope to imagine a
healthcare system where physicians of all backgrounds — socioeconomic, ethnic,
racial, gender and sexuality — are shaping healthcare agendas. As a concept, it
relies on the assumption that there is a minority population of patients that
has to be catered to, without recognizing the possibility that some physicians
may identify as minorities or marginalized themselves.
To be a physician is to exist in a
position of power and privilege. One is given access to individuals’ lives and
bodies in some of the most vulnerable and intimate ways, and thus is given the
potential of also inflicting harm. On an institutional level, when the
healthcare system is dominated by a particular perspective, blind spots appear
and the potential to do harm is magnified.
However, for marginalized voices to become
more apparent, they first need to gain access to the field. Within the past
year, the conversation around medical school admissions in Canada have started
to shed light on the fact that most medical students come from relatively
high-income households and have limited ethnic and racial diversity. The
challenge of applying to and entering medical school is rigorous and for some
populations it may be well nigh impossible. However, it is these individuals,
ones who can empathize, identify with and share the struggles of their
patients, that need to be in medicine the most.
The implications for representation in
medicine for our communities are far-reaching. When marginalized populations
see themselves and their needs reflected in the healthcare system, their experiences
in accessing care are enhanced and their outcomes are better. As more diverse
voices participate in political discourse, the conversation begins to shift and
expand to include a greater range of lived experiences and priorities. Once
individuals are given the opportunity to seek health and well-being through
safe and appropriate care, the vision of a thriving and inclusive community
where all are able to actively participate in the life of society may become a
Sara Alavian is a 6 Degrees
Junior Fellow. She is a recent settler to Canada and is passionate about
the intersection of politics and health. She is a member of the Baha’i
Faith, a contributing writer to online journal platforms and a burgeoning
advocate for increasing diversity in health professions through
mentorship. Sara is currently a medical student at McMaster
University, with an interest in community and emergency medicine.
When the digital world doesn’t reflect you, add your own voice.
— Sana Malik, founder and creative director of This is Worldtown
In my work as a journalist, I come across this argument
regularly: our world is increasingly polarized and we are using technology to
divide ourselves. It’s a means to prove that niche digital communities are
creating virtual walls, rather than virtual bonds.
I would offer a different view — in defense of digital
storytelling communities across identities that are speaking to their own real,
lived experience, and can no longer be ignored. These are communities that have
always existed, but have not always been allowed to enter the conversation — as
mandated by those with the power to set an agenda that is exclusive.
This has prompted communities and individuals to define and
defy narratives on their own accord, rather than have them defined and framed
for them. When people hear about “niche” community, they immediately think of
the toxic alt-right’s proliferation of hate speech and disdain, which has
spread quickly and dangerously. They overlook the incredibly creative and entrepreneurial
expression bursting out of places that have been mired in negative, helpless
When I look for inspiration on this front, I’ve found media
companies and collectives formed by young people in Pakistan that have grown
into far-reaching enterprises, reclaiming space and negative narratives about
youth in a country pathologized by stories terrorism and violence.
In a similar vein, for young queer Muslims seeking
solidarity and wanting their stories reflected back to them across borders,
these communities and platforms present a critical opportunity. Sometimes, they
are a means of survival. And women from Afro-Caribbean diasporas share some of
the most inspiring and politically charged work I have seen online. Young
people across the world who have long felt marginalized from and misrepresented
by mainstream news are not interested in reductive narratives: they are
creating and celebrating their own futures for the world to take note. And we
need to listen.
There is a decisiveness in this digital age to no longer
produce for the colonial, or “white” gaze — but to do things on one’s own
terms. They create without begging for recognition and room in traditional
formats and media newsrooms. And with this unapologetic production, audiences grow
Meanwhile, traditional newsrooms need to reflect on their
own practice. Some are being influenced by digital storytelling communities
from around the world — from the ways that they report on certain identities
and communities to the language that they use to do so — but they are still
struggling with meaningful gender and racial representation in their own
To break down walls, we need both — greater representation
in positions of power at influential media outlets and full support of the
celebratory works of young people tired of being made invisible, and ready to
define the terms that will dominate the next generation.
A. Malik is the Founder and Creative Director of This is Worldtown, a platform
featuring content exclusively by women of color storytellers from around the
world. Sana is Pakistani-British-Canadian and previously worked in gender and
development in Lebanon,Tanzania, Burkina Faso and the UK. She is currently
pursuing an M.S. in Documentary Journalism at Columbia University in New York.
Stronger guidelines and more transparency are needed to combat censorship on social media.
— Ramzi Jaber,
co-director of Visualizing Impact and Robin Jones, project
coordinator at Visualizing Impact
In the wake of the Occupy movement and the Arab
uprisings, an abundance of tech-positive narratives emerged. The internet, it
was said, could break down barriers between the strong and the weak, serving as
a great equalizer. Pointing to the use of social media to coordinate demonstrations
in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, optimists viewed an opportunity for a new
digital public square that would facilitate communication between progressive
Yet cyberspace can also replicate many of the
barriers and hierarchies that exist offline. In contrast to the belief that the
internet is an open market of ideas, every social media platform has a set of
community guidelines that it moderates at its own discretion. Since platforms
such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are corporate-owned and have little
accountability to their users, these policies can form a major barrier to free
expression. Social media platforms often lack transparency toward their users
and have at times conceded to the demands of governments as they shape their policies.
Moreover, vulnerable groups tend to be targeted on the internet and those with
political and economic power have the opportunity to dictate what content gets
The case of Palestine is a prime example.
Twenty-six Palestinian journalists are currently under administrative detention
by the Israeli government. Meanwhile, political dissent or news about the
Israeli occupation shared online has repeatedly been flagged as “incitement”
and taken down. The notion of incitement is sufficiently vague that legitimate
political criticism is being removed from the internet at the Israeli
government’s request. In 2016, after meeting with Israeli government officials,
Facebook disabled the accounts of three editors from Al Quds newspaper and five editors from Shehab News Agency. Due to
public pressure, Facebook eventually apologized for this “mistake,” but offered
no explanation for why it occurred.
Palestine is merely one instance of a global
phenomenon in which dissenting voices are being stifled by social media
platform policies. In Australia, Indigenous feminist activist Celeste Liddle’s
Facebook account was banned four separate times for sharing a trailer of an
Indigenous comedy show that featured images of topless women. In 2017, a
coalition of 77 social and racial justice organizations wrote to Facebook about
consistent and disproportionate censorship of Facebook users of colour,
including takedowns of images discussing racism. Last year, Facebook censored a
video of a mass arrest of 22 activists at a Dakota Pipeline protest.
How can we break down barriers to free expression
online? It is clear that the community guidelines and content moderation
practices of major social media platforms need a rethink. Users must demand
greater transparency and communication. A clear set of policies must be made
accessible to all and applied evenly and fairly. Moreover, a public appeals
platform for content takedowns with due process is necessary for social media
platforms to be accountable to their users. When content is censored, platforms
must explain why, and users must have the opportunity to challenge these
decisions. An engaged citizenry that values the positive power of social media
as a platform for public expression can help to realize this vision.
is co-director of Visualizing Impact (VI), a non profit that specializes in
data visualization on social issues. In partnership with the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, VI runs Onlinecensorship.org, which encourages social
media platforms to operate with greater transparency in their approach toward
Robin Jones is a research and project
coordinator at Visualizing Impact.
Foster a new, more inclusive European identity.
— Conor McGlynn, 6 Degrees Junior Fellow
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the
Treaty of Rome, the foundation stone of the European Union. In those first
years of post-war Europe, political leaders shared a vision of a unified
continent built on a shared set of liberal values of tolerance, inclusion and
integration, and a drive never to return to the inward-looking nationalism that
created so much bloodshed on the European continent.
This expansive vision of the EU’s founders is at risk today.
Europe is seeing a return of populist nationalism and a strengthening of
narrow, exclusionary identities. This has manifested itself in anti-immigrant
sentiments and in direct repudiations of EU integration such as Brexit, the UK
vote to leave the union. The failing of the original vision risks fragmenting
the continent once again, returning to the borders and barriers of the
In many ways, this wave of anti-EU and nationalist sentiments
stems from a lack of a strong common European identity. The push in the UK to
leave the EU arose because many British people do not feel European; they did
not feel they shared a common identity with the Poles and Romanians who came to
work in their country. The inability to promote social integration alongside
political integration has been perhaps the greatest failing of the European
It is important that strengthening European identity does not
require abandoning national identity, which is a central part of many people’s
sense of self, any more than identifying with a national polity requires giving
up local sources of identity. Greater European cohesion does not come at the
expense of weakening nation states, but rather strengthens them, by giving them
more power to act together on the world stage.
Promoting European identity is challenging for a number of
reasons. Creating a shared sense of identity on a continent with a multitude of
different languages poses significant practical problems. Europe as a whole is
also a religiously and culturally diverse region. These challenges also have
the potential, however, to be Europe’s greatest sources of strength. By
accommodating and incorporating diversity, any European identity must of
necessity be inclusive and expansive; it must be cosmopolitan, repudiating
xenophobia and celebrating difference. A robust sense of European identity
would undoubtedly have helped in how European countries handle the integration
What, then, does a European identity consist in? This is a
difficult question: too nebulous a definition risks the charge that being European
means standing for nothing in particular. Many people have attempted to promote
European identity through a shared philosophical, artistic and scientific
tradition on the continent. This is largely the strategy of the EU itself,
which chose Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as its anthem and which celebrates figures
Leonardo da Vinci, Desiderius Erasmus and John Locke as heroes of a shared
European heritage. It is a shared heritage in these thinkers and creators, and
a shared belief in their values, that makes us European.
But while this idea is commendable, this attempt to ground
identity in “high” culture lacks popular resonance, making European identity
seem instead to be something elitist and exclusionary. This ideal of European
identity needs to be augmented by a popular source of European identity. Such
popular expressions of European identity already exist, albeit to a very
limited extent: The Eurovision Song Contest and the UEFA Champion’s League
soccer tournament are two annual examples where people from different countries
come together (and compete) under a shared sense of being European.
The signatories to the Treaty of Rome had witnessed a Europe
ravaged by deprivation, war and genocide. They envisaged a future where people
all over the continent would stand together under a shared sense of being
European, and where the prospect of war in Europe was unthinkable. This vision
now seems dangerously fragile. The barriers to a common European identity need
to be removed, so that we can ensure peace and security for all people on the
Conor McGlynn is a 6 Degrees Junior Fellow. An
Irish graduate living in Brussels, he works in
public policy and political strategy, previously with the European Parliament
and now in the private sector. Before coming to Brussels, he studied philosophy
at the University of Cambridge and economics with philosophy at Trinity College
Ideology and identity can be limiting — knock those walls down, too.
— Bernard Lim, 6 Degrees Junior
Humans build walls between us. To defend, to protect,
to preserve our sense of self. Otherwise, foreign ideas will poison our minds
and render them strangers in a foreign body. No way!
The walls that exist between us: ethnicity, faith,
political ideals, gender, and many others. The divides that separates us are
built high and steady, but they can be breached.
The internet has facilitated the steady flow of
information and people are growing more aware of information they may not have
learnt in their schools. There is a growing sense that people have rights,
people have power and people understand that their destinies can be changed. But
old antipathies still remain — powerful as they may seem, the walls will come
down when people work together.
First, the wall of ethnicity. Many people still
define themselves by their skin colour or government racial categorization. In
Singapore, citizens are classified according to their “race” — Chinese, Malay,
Indian or other. Discrimination, or preferential treatment, is meted out based on
those characteristics. Walls will only come down, and a common sense of
solidarity emerge, when people define themselves, not by shade or label, but by
the content of their character.
Second, the wall of open-minded thought. People
walled themselves up because they do not wish to expose themselves to other
ideas that may change their manner of thinking. Does God exist? Is capitalism
or socialism the best form of governance in a new world where automation and
the internet are pushing most jobs out of existence? Should we legalize
drugs….or just marijuana? Very pertinent questions. Prepare to take a beating
when society engages in mass discussions on these sensitive topics; they may
change the face of our world forever.
Lastly, the wall of self. The ability to introspect
is a prized one, one that allows humans to interact with their inner mind and
inner heart. There is no bigger obstacle than the niggling doubt in your own
mind telling you, “That’s not suitable for you…this is dangerous, so don’t hear
it…it’s stupid…” Confront your inner demon, your ego, your niggling doubt.
Enlightenment is yours when you cultivate the senses that see through the fog
of misinformation and antipathy.
Grab your hammers, folks. Let’s start KNOCKING!
Bernard Lim is a 6 Degrees Junior Fellow. He is
also a two-time recipient of the Young Community Leader Award, awarded by
Singapore’s former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to youth leaders. Bernard has been active in Singaporean
civil society since 2010. He has represented Singapore in conferences,
including the United Nations ICPD Global Youth Forum 2012, and was awarded the
Women Deliver Young Leaders Fellowship in 2016 for working on water generation
and health in the Mekong Region with the Young South East Asian Leaders’ Initiative
of the US State Department.