Global Festival of Action took place earlier this week in the modestly titled World Conference Centre, which is a beautiful facility built in Bonn as home of the West German parliament just before reunification moved parliament to Berlin. Last year this was the Global Festival of Ideas but now is deemed time for action.
Delegates gathered from around the world and the opening plenary session reinforced a message that this was to be a festival not a conference. Alongside official welcomes from representatives of the German Government, City of Bonn and United Nations we were led in a bout of meditation and a somewhat self-conscious few minutes clapping along with a beatboxer whilst ‘making some noise’ for Y? (a very friendly and enthusiastic rapper from NYC). There were numerous exhortations to blitz Social Media with ‘our message’ and to encourage us Yusuf Omar, a very high energy young man from Hashtag Our Stories demonstrated how it only takes 60 seconds to shoot, edit and post a video on a phone in order to our ‘message out’ there. It was dazzling display achieved on a phone considerably more powerful than mine.
The ‘message’ referred to throughout is the urgency of addressing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The festival made an immediate impact as I arrived not knowing what the goals are and now I do – though, unlike most delegates, I am as yet unable to refer to them by number alone.
1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
9: Build resilient infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.
10: Reduced inequality within and among countries.
11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.
In foyers spaces stands showcased initiatives, approaches and new technologies. I plugged myself into both a 360º VR movie experience and then a full on walk through VR experience which captured the interior of a large block in Berlin that had been occupied and re-decorated by artists shortly before its demolition. It was breathtaking.
In familiar conference style there were plenty of Breakout Sessions to choose from and with Action as the aim many had a practical dimension. I attended the two which looked most like the session I was due to contribute to on Thursday morning – my idea was to pick up some tips of what to do and what to avoid, how many people to expect and how engaged they were likely to be.
At first my plan appeared to have backfired as the incredibly bright and positive photojournalist Ulla Lohmann’s session started by encouraging us to find a unique story that would ideally give us access to unique photographs. Her example was travelling to Papua New Guinea, learning Pidgin becoming adopted by a remote tribe and strike up a deep and trusting relationship with an elderly chief who as determined that he wants to revive an old tradition of being mummified and placed in a niche high above the tribe’s village in order to protect them post death. As a result Ulla was able to photograph a couple of practice embalming carried out on two pigs, before capturing the real thing once the chief died.
Ulla spoke about the ethical dimensions of sharing this story with the world via National Geographic and later gave us insight into how her very positive personality and honest approach allows her to gain access to take the photographs she’s after. As an encore and demonstration on how to construct and pitch a photo story she shared with us shots of her and a team of scientists abseiling into an active volcano. You should check her website out, she is a remarkable woman.
Somewhat rattled I then attended a session that promised to use Design Thinking to develop innovative project ideas in an Open Situation Room environment. Here a women who works for the Swiss Government shared with us a challenge she has been set by her boss to ‘support movements’ in an effort to advance the SDGs. The rapid fire approach of 5 minutes to discuss this, 5 minutes to agree that, 5 minutes to explore the other was frustrating and the dynamics of my group didn’t help. I took this as a warning to be heeded in running my session the next day.
I ducked out of the SDG awards ceremony on Wednesday evening, choosing instead to catch up on some Stan’s Cafe work and go for a run along the Rhine – a beautiful route.
Theater Bonn had invited me to provide the ‘interactive’ element of their session. For 25 minutes participants were shown photos and film clips while Nicola Bramkamp, Artistic Director of Theater Bonn and Andrea Tietz, producer of Save the World explained their belief in art’s power to effect social change. Then Nick Nuttall, Head of Communications and Outreach for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change backed up that opinion, explaining how politicians are empowered to make important decisions by the mood of public opinion, which in turn is shifted by a range of factors, including art projects.
Finally I had a room full of SDG activists to get interactive with. I’d decided to keep things really simple and walk them through one of my approaches to ‘having good ideas’, with their concerns as the subject of their creative thinking. So, having grouped everyone according to the SDG they were most passionate about, I encouraged participants to list challenges they face communicating the urgency of their chosen SDG to the public. Having done this I encouraged them to think of the artistic form that would most elegantly solve this problem; in other words look for the form that most elegantly matches up with the content of what they are trying to communicate. The groups then pitched their favourite idea in a single sentence. And that was 40 minutes.
I’d tried to leave the maximum time for discussion and debate. Some of the ideas that emerged I would happily have pursued and people seemed to enjoy themselves. Presumably the people who got little out of the session zoomed off without saying anything and those who got a lot out of it lingered to explain why and say thank you.
Job done, time to find the U-Bahn station to the Hauptbahnhof to Klön to Brussels Midi to London St. Pancras, walk to Euston train New Street, my bicycle and home by 11 thanks to the hour gained when crossing the channel.