The Commonwealth Secretariat Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Unit, in partnership with the United Nationals Development Programme (UNDP) Sri Lanka, delivered an adapted version of the Faith in the Commonwealth programme from 29th August – 9th September 2022, in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka.
The adaptation, entitled Respect in the Commonwealth, is an iteration of the hugely successful Faith in the Commonwealth programme, with a broadened beneficiary base to include any individual government or organisation – not just youth.
The mission involved two identical back-to-back residential workshops, each four days long, aiming to promote skills and knowledge for diversity, inclusion, and peacebuilding. In total, the project engaged 80 young people, government representatives, NGO staff and activists from across the country.
The networks and relationships formed through the workshops are maintained through online communication and a six-week zoom check-in, taking place on 26th October 2022. Like with the Faith in the Commonwealth workshops, participants forged robust connections that provided opportunities for collaboration, expertise sharing and networking which will continue long after the workshops ended.
These workshops served as a soft launch for the new Respect in the Commonwealth programme. Participants were shown and given access to the Respect in the Commonwealth toolkit, which can support them to lead others in their organisations and communities through the programme.
The CVE Unit was supported by a cohort of six UNDP Facilitators who had extensive experience delivering workshops of a similar type, but whom had never participated in or delivered a Faith in the Commonwealth workshop. An online sensitisation workshop with UNDP local co-facilitators helped to build good rapport within the team and built their confidence to effectively work together to facilitate the in-person sessions.
Together, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the UNDP team focused on fostering a collaborative and creative atmosphere, which aimed to dovetail away from traditional workshop formats and instead placed the participant learning experience at the centre.
In contrary to more ‘traditional’ presentation-style workshops, the two events were highly participatory and dynamic, provoking participants to leave their comfort zones and connect, despite their differences. By moving away from traditional room settings and using multiple languages, body work, creative expression, and translation, we were able to quickly break down perceived barriers between different ethnic groups, genders, government staff, NGOs, and activists.
For many of the participants, and some of the UNDP team, this represented a new way of working and over the course of the workshops a real sense of momentum, purpose, shared vision, and inclusive culture emerged.
The diversity of the participants was, overall, very good with different areas, ethnicities, genders, and political perspectives represented. It was noted that, in some cases participants already knew each other and where possible this should be avoided to ensure strong mixing and focus from the start.
An emphasis was placed on non-formal relationship building and participants were encouraged to connect in the morning through participant-led voluntary activities as well as participant organised celebration events. These non-formal spaces proved popular and helped to strengthen the relationships across difference and build the self-organising capacity of the group.
The initial feedback from the workshops was very positive, with participants displaying a high level of motivation and commitment to this diverse network. The quality of relationships and commitment was elevated by initial ideas for small collaborations and partnerships.
During the first workshop the decision was taken to place less emphasis on designing project and initiatives and more emphasis on relationships and small actions which could build on existing work and reflect changes in strategy.
The reason for this decision was that, because of the crisis, several of the participants indicated that the current conditions were making work with ongoing projects very difficult, therefore, it seemed unhelpful to emphasise the need to create new projects without ongoing mentoring and support. Small actions were planned, and initial follow-up communication indicated that relationships which have been established will be retained for the short to medium term.
Both workshops were essentially the same, however due to the flexibility and fluid nature of the Respect in the Commonwealth programme, they evolved to look quite different due to the different natures of each group. For example, the attendees for workshop one were quick to connect and become comfortable with one another, were hugely enthusiastic, open and eager to engage, with some big personalities – but were less well organised and more chaotic overall. In contrast, the second group were shyer and more reticent to begin with, with a more contemplative and reserved energy.
This affected how the workshop developed, as more emphasis was given to building relationships and empowering participants to feel more comfortable. The second group had a more serious approach throughout the workshop, resulting in a more organised, considered and engaged participation, and potentially more robust partnership building.
Collated feedback from the forms for both workshop 1 and workshop 2 had the following results:
- 100% of participants that answered agreed that they felt more equipped to build relationships across cultures, communities, and religions
- 100% of participants that answered agreed that they had gained new ideas on how I can design a workshop on peacebuilding and community cohesion
- 100% of participants that answered agreed that they had made new connections and partnerships which they would not have been able to do so otherwise
- 100% of participants agreed that the workshop was well structured, had interesting and useful content, and that the facilitators were well prepared and kept participants engaged
What worked well
- Co-facilitation and logistical support: from beginning to end the facilitation and logistics team were excellent, demonstrating a high level of professionalism and expertise.
- The venue was excellent, with places to relax and highly flexible adapting to the needs of the facilitators.
- Mixing participants from government, with NGOs and activists was the key to unlocking a well of energy and motivation. Despite the reticence and shy-ness of some participants over time the sense of a network-growing was palpable.
- Adapting the agenda for each group: the two groups were different in style and approach and adaptations made to the agenda appeared to work in ensuring successful outcomes in both.
- Linking the two groups together through videos and messages helped to generate motivation and a sense of shared culture and purpose.
- Participants had the option to facilitate morning activities and a celebration: this allowed the group to take ownership of the workshop.
- New toolkit activities and content bolstered the learning, with the soft launch of the Respect in the Commonwealth
- Participants had limited time to design and improve their small ideas for action. This was especially the case for the second workshop where relationships and ‘opening up’ were prioritized over action planning due to the initially restrained and introverted energy in the group. More time for action planning with an advisory element could be achieved by adding an additional half day and providing mentor support.
- More than a workshop: ideally the programme would include post-workshop elements to support strategic planning, action, networking, and self-organising in the short-term. This would deepen impact in the community.
- The Respect Network: Linking the participants to other opportunities and the sense of growing network helps to build momentum and forges more long-term commitment to working together.
- A site visit to a community initiative could have been a good stimulus for the group on day 3 of the workshop.
- Amy Coles Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat