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An interview with the Indian education entrepreneur Ekta Sodha

A good school education for $10/month



An interview with the Indian education entrepreneur Ekta Sodha.



”If you don’t come back home and help us with the school, soon there will be no legacy you will inherit from us“.



This call from her mother asking for help was Ekta Sodha’s kickoff in her entrepreneurial career. The two schools established and managed by her parents for 24 years were about to go bankrupt. After ending her postgraduate studies in International Leadership and Management at Newcastle University, Ekta decided to leave her career plans and also England behind. She flew back to India’s western coast, and joined the small family business in Jamnagar.

After deeply analyzing the problems of her parents’ school, she managed not only to upgrade the classrooms, but also the curricula and the teaching staff.

 

“I knew I needed a clear vision, leadership, and a good opportunity management if I wanted to achieve my goal – and of course, a committed teaching staff with the right stamina”.

 

Today –four years later– she manages six schools in the federal state of Gujarat with over 5,000 male and female pupils.

DIGITAL LEARNING, one of Asia’s leading education magazines, places her schools among the top five educational offers in Gujarat, a region with 60 million inhabitants: High educational quality at low prices. Her success has spread out very quickly. As Vice-President of the National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA), an association of more than 39,000 private schools in India, she now shares her vision concerning the best education for children from disfavored families. Her passion drives her to continuously look for new paths. Nowadays she is enrolled in a Ph.D. program with Professor Sugata Mitra regarding educational technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences of Newcastle University, and researching ways to offer technological support to children striving for knowledge and education.

$6-10 for a good school education

The cost for a school place at Sodha’s schools varies from six US dollars at preschool up to ten US dollars per month at secondary or high school level. This includes both learning material and school meal – and, yes, after the deduction of expenses for the school’s own teacher training and equipment with computers (tablets), she still manages to make profits.


Watch the full interview:

 

 

 


 

The Future of Privacy in the Age of Big Data

Exposure Program to Germany

An increasing number of people, devices, and sensors are nowadays connected by digital networks which have revolutionized the ability to generate, share, and access information. Data create enormous value for the global economy, driving innovation and growth. At the same time the ever growing amount of data presents a formidable challenge to the privacy of citizens.

In order to better understand the potential of big data for both citizens and organizations while addressing the challenges to individual privacy the Regional Office of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) organized a study tour to Germany. Digital rights activists, researchers and representatives of business associations from Pakistan, India, Bhutan, and Bangladesh spent one week in Hamburg and Berlin speaking to data protection agencies, think tanks, data scientists and information and communication technology (ICT) companies.

 

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During official appointments participants discussed latest technological developments, how a modern data protection framework should look like, and which ideas could be translated into initiatives in South Asia. The recent European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation which for the first time creates pan-european standards for data protection and a level playing field for companies targeting European citizens made the participants particularly interested.

 

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“The different perspectives presented during the study tour were eye opening and I strongly believe some ideas can be implemented in South Asia to combine openness for innovation and safeguards for individual privacy” said Ruben Dieckhoff, Project Manager South Asia who organized the tour together with FNF’s International Academy for Leadership (IAF).

 

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Further information:

 


 

Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights

There is rise in terrorism across the world, especially the Islamic State, which have taken over large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq. This has led to the refugee crisis – millions of people seeking refuge in European countries including Germany, the venue of the seminar. The future of the Eurozone is in jeopardy. The European Union is grappling with one crisis after another. As a reactionary force, there appears to be a rise in right-wing forces in Europe, in countries such as Poland and Hungary, and elsewhere too; the fear being that long-cherished Democratic rights of the people could be a casualty. There are various other developments all across the world which are threatening the very survival of the little man, the little voter, the little citizen – with a free voice.

And against this tumultuous backdrop, a group of young lawyers, politicians and activists from 23 countries descended at Gummersbach for the IAF Seminar on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights: the Liberal Approach. It was like getting a bird’s eye view of world affairs and then testing the times against the concepts of Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.

We tend to become too practical and concentrate on actions without pausing to think about and clarify our understanding of concepts which ought to be the driving force behind our actions. What our very skilful moderators and the group discussions did was to clarify my own concept of what Rule of Law means. We learnt the various concepts of Rule of Law, from the thinnest (Rule by Law) to the thickest (Social Democratic Rule of Law or the fattest, as our liberal moderator preferred to call it), Rule by Law having hardly any safeguards and Social Democratic Rule of Law being a point where the State itself assumes the role of the Father, mother, guardian and regulator. The liberal approach is to prefer a liberal Rule of Law where the State is neither too intrusive, nor too withered away. The citizens are allowed to breathe and grow – the State only creating the fertile ground. I seemed to agree to the approach to a great extent.

The work group requiring us to explain the Rule of law and fundamental rights situation in our own countries enabled me look at India, my country, with an objectivity which I hitherto lacked. I returned as a citizen of my country and much in love with it, yet with the awareness of its deficiencies.

The discussions on fundamental rights and the three generations of Human rights was the one I greatly enjoyed. We poured all our ideas on to the floor and with the help of efficient marshalling of discussions by the mdoerators, we educated ourselves about democracy and democracies and rights and their extents and the general world situation of rights. What I learnt was that the liberals vouch for the first generation rights first and later move on to the second and third generation rights. I disagreed with Dr Rolf, our moderator and said that in my opinion, the first and second generation rights should go hand and hand. What the discussion culminated into is not important – but I took away from the debate a far enhanced understanding of the essentials of democratic thought and endeavour and I am much grateful to our erudite moderators. (Doctor and I have promised to continue our debate by email). To aid our understanding we were introduced to the Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, both of which will be of great help to me in future.

The underlying issue which overshadowed the seminar was the refugee crisis. Important questions about the right to freedom of movement (how free and unrestricted is it) were raised and we deliberated on them. Coming from a country having its own share of migrant and refugee problems, I was able to share my inputs. How far should refugees be allowed unrestricted access to countries like Germany? How far will they be able to blend with german culture? What could be the repercussions if they couldn’t. What security risks could be posed by refugees (with reference to the recent Paris Terror Attacks). We analysed threadbare, the problems – and possible solutions – rationing of refugees, establishing camps in their own countries run by the more developed countries. We also considered the legal aspects, which have helped sharpen my own understanding of refugee and migrant issues, being a lawyer engaged in refugee related work in India.

For 12 days, we were like family. It seemed barriers between cultures, religions, territories had all melted and the fact that we were all human beings possessing the same characteristics of humanity took precedence.

The excursions to Cologne and Strasbourg only increased the bonhomie and also gave us a chance to explore new places, meet new people and witness cultures first hand. We also made an interesting visit to the International Institute of Human Rights where we also became aware of the obstacles language could pose when working in the field of human rights. There can be no Rule of Law and fundamental rights without people. The food and lodging were excellent to say the least. Apart from the seminar proceedings, we had freewheeling yet engaging discussions at the bar and while travelling, sharing experiences from our respective countries. In the modern world, learning is exchanging.

The best aspects about this seminar were its emphasis on practical realisation of all that we were discussing and secondly, the freedom of expression it gave us. The world is becoming intolerant towards diversity and conflict thought yet here we were given an absolutely free forum where we could simply explain and express ourselves in the manner we liked.

Finally, we were asked to prepare project proposals to enhance Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights. We presented our proposals. The moderators were very appreciative.

I went to Gummersbach as a citizen of India and returned as a conscious and vigilant citizen of the world. My outlook has been broadened, the knowledge has deepened, and seeds of truly liberal thought have been planted in my being. I only expect it to grow and guide me in my actions and endeavours towards making the world a better place for ourselves and others.

I am grateful, IAF.

 

by Deepan Kumar Sarkar

 


 

Some impressions from our excursion to Strasbourg and Karlsruhe

 

Liberals and Education in the 21st Century – Common Woes and Diverse Solutions

 

Enlightenment, participation and progress—these three powerful words were not just the title of the workshop on Education at the IAF. They also represented what the participants felt were the key objectives of education in the 21st century. And in light of increasing intolerance and radicalization, they added a fourth—peace.

Heated arguments, passionate discussions and intensive sharing characterized the event that brought together 18 participants from 15 countries, an event that hoped to find some light at end of the tunnel on a topic that was very much close to their hearts. While 11 of the 15 countries had adult literacy rates of over 90%, the quality left much to be desired. The event didn’t begin in Gummersbach but online almost three weeks before. The online phase enabled participants to connect not just to each other but also with the topic in a deeper way. Participants shared their perspectives on the fundamentals of education, collated relevant country wide data on education, and also offered ideas on how they would address the most critical problems they see in their countries.

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Overall the participants were connected by their anger and frustration about the existing state of education in their countries and general mistrust in the state as the only solution—the low and declining standards, lack of quality education universally available to all, low quality teaching, low prestige and lack of interest in supplying vocational training services and the lack of political will to improve education systems. At the same time they were hopeful about innovative civil society solutions (from small budget private schools to publicly listed education providers) and reviving the tradition of civil society provision of education (something that was wiped out with the advent of compulsory education by the state 1)James Bartholomew, Education Without the State: British private and charitable schooling in the 19th century and beyond and James Tooley, RTE & Budget Private Schools-What would Gandhi Think? ). Almost every region showcased inspiring stories of edupreneurship (India, Egypt, Brazil)—individuals who despite the domineering state and the existing conditions were breaking new ground and showing that quality and cost do not always mutually exclude each other.

 

The WHY AND WHAT of education: purpose of education is primarily self development!

1Apart from equipping people for employment in a constantly changing environment dominated by technology and information (the information society), very important functions of education include the ability to learn and think for oneself, to develop one’s powers of reason, to be able to interact with other members of society peacefully and productively, to be able to resolve conflicts using peaceful means, to participate in democracy and public decision-making processes, to share knowledge and work cooperatively in groups. So education serves to meet ALL three objectives—social, political and economic. Seen together, these transcend the classroom and education can thus be seen as part of a life-long learning process with equal importance attached both to early childhood education and adult education. Therefore, the objectives of education are manifold, there cannot be a single definition of “quality” or the “best school or university”.

In order to be successful education must also be a pleasurable experience. More attention needs to be given to incentives not only for learners but for all stakeholders. The focus of all educational institutions should be to encourage independent thought, innovation and excellence.

 

Liberal Values: The Foundation of a Good Education System

2Participants agreed that education plays a very important role in liberal thought and that all values that are important for liberalism have implications for education. For instance, tolerance often needs to be taught. When you talk about choice you cannot exclude education (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “…Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”). There is no one “best school” for all. Subsidiarity as a liberal value implies a decentralized system of education. Reason demands that pupils and student develop their ability to think critically. The idea that every one is equal under the law implies that access to (quality) education must be open to all.

The desire for the respect for individual rights also raised some questions. Can the parents’ judgment about their children’s education always be trusted? Must the state make choices instead, choices for the purported good of children? What if parents send children to schools that are academically poor, but offer other important things like safety, community spirit? And what if parents don’t want to send their children to school and teach them privately instead? Such questions suggest a paternalistic approach liberals do not share. Choice for liberals is an important end in itself even though it may not always lead to the “desirable outcomes” social engineers would like to see. The liberal approach is “to let many flowers bloom.”

 

The HOW of an Effective and Efficient Education System

3The education system of the 21st century must satisfactorily tap into the number of opportunities for education, opportunities that technological and economic progress bring forth in terms of greater demand for skills, greater financial resources for investment, the emergence of edupreneursip, greater access to content, specialization, and an increase of diversity in the classroom. At the same time there are worrying threats to education today that need to be addressed: increasing costs, declining standards, extremism, radicalization, technology overload.

No matter how much one believes in the role of the state in education, private schools and universities are a reality and also reflect parents making conscious choices towards accessing quality education for their children. Teachers of tomorrow, in responding to such challenges, will have to play a greater role as facilitators, coaches, mediators and mentors.

Though there was universal agreement on the objectives of education, it was in the HOW that differences lay: How much of a role should the state and civil society play in critical functions of education? There are radical approaches, e.g. privatization and decentralization of the education system and moderate approaches that are incremental in nature, e.g. how to increase competition in the interests of increasing quality. This is something that was emphasized by Sascha Tamm, an expert working for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). There was an overwhelming agreement that the state has an umbrella role in policy making, financing and regulation and that civil society, on the other hand, must play a leading role in the delivery, curriculum 2)An example of government indoctrination of children from Argentina highlighting the danger of government’s role in curriculum design and assessment. Overall the state and civil society need to work together and cooperate in using each other’s experiences and know how, even in matters such as teacher training.

There was agreement that the principle of subsidiarity must apply to education. There are many examples showing that successful schools are schools that cater to local needs. This is also the case of Germany where school facilities are provided by the municipalities and the legal framework, curricula, and teachers are provided by the individual state governments. The federal government plays a very minor role.

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References   [ + ]

1. James Bartholomew, Education Without the State: British private and charitable schooling in the 19th century and beyond and James Tooley, RTE & Budget Private Schools-What would Gandhi Think?
2. An example of government indoctrination of children from Argentina highlighting the danger of government’s role in curriculum design

Readings on Education

In our current IAF seminar on Education Policies we also distributed a variety of publications on various topics on education. Please feel free to download them here as pdf versions as well:

 

 

 

 

 


 

Freedom of the Press 2015

The IAF International Seminar on Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information 2015 took place from April 19th to May 1 in Gummersbach, Bonn, Cologne and Hamburg. Twenty-six participants from twenty-five countries world-wide explored the current state of media freedom in their respective countries and identified core threats like political oppression, religious fundamentalism, self-censorship and digital surveillance.

Media, unfortunately on the decline in recent years in a number of countries, was identified as an indispensable part of liberal democracy driving political liberties and fundamental rights. The optimism still linked to social media and the versatility of new mobile digital devices has been seriously cautioned by new authoritarianism and an increase in physical violence towards information-doers and practicing journalists in war-torn or conflict-prone societies. Digital spying and surveillance motivated by commercial or security interests add a new dimension of global danger to the freedom of information and the protection of privacy.

Visits to the Deutsche Welle in Bonn (read more about our visit here) and to leading German media houses in Hamburg complemented the academic part of the 12 days programme. The participants met various interlocutors who shared their practical experiences, insights and professional concerns.

In a final proactive work group the participants identified and drafted a number of concrete interventions and projects to enhance media freedom in their countries and regions in accordance with the concurrent UN World Press Freedom Day 2015 theme:

Let Journalism Thrive! Towards better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age.

 

The group visited the German news magazine DER SPIEGEL during their excursion to Hamburg as part of the ongoing IAF seminar “Freedom of the Press”. There, they met with Matthais Streitz, Managing Editor of the Editorial Board and responsible for SPIEGEL ONLINE mobile. The picture shows the group in front of “Sagen, was ist.” (“Say, what is”), the maxim by the founder Rudolf Augstein.

 

Further information:

 

 

 


 

IAF group visits Deutsche Welle

An international delegation of young leaders from politics, media, academia and civil society visited the Deutsche Welle in Bonn.

There, the participants in the momentarily ongoing IAF seminar “Freedom of the Press”, which is being held from 19 April until 01 May 2015 in Gummersbach, had the opportunity to meet with a larger group of members of the Deutsche Welle.

The group was welcomed by Klaus Bergmann, Deputy Head of International Relations, and received an interesting overview to the upcoming Global Media Forum 2015 by Ralf-Werner Nolting and Annelie Gröniger, both Manager Global Media Forum.

Ingo Mannteufel, Head of DW Department for Europe and Russia, Philipp Bilsky, Head of DW Chinese service, and Nina Wieczorek, Assistant DW Sales and Distribution introduced the visiting group to a variety of issues, such as the program activities, the language services, the media offers and distribution strategies, giving them a detailed insight to the DW’s role and mission in the world.

The seminar participants were thrilled to hear more about the DW Academy projects from Holger Hank, Head of DW Akademy Digital Innovation & Knowledge Management, and Andrea Küppers, DW Akademy Training and Communications, such as the Media Freedom Navigator (soon to be launched). The visit was concluded by a lively Q&A, a quiz and …many new and personal contacts to be followed up on.

 

 

Further information:

 

 


 

It’s Liberals’ Time to Think

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

– A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Never has an opening paragraph of a Dickens classic resonated more with liberals around the world, because let’s face it: it has not been an easy time for most of us. With populism, nationalism and extremism on the rise, times have been tough for those committed to realising more freedom, more choice, more equality, more human rights. Not only have times been tough, votes have been few. This rather stark reality is particularly present when 25 liberal young leaders gather from across the world at a single seminar, their country’s flags on the table in front of them an unambiguous reminder of the difficult reality they face.

There is practically no region in the world right now not dealing with a growing connectedness and a deepening divide, of more entrenched human rights and increased brutality and volatility. The reality is, we live in a time of paradox and complexity, and our inability as liberals to respond to it with clarity, have cost us votes. While the power of the individual lies at the heart of what we believe to be true, I believe that it is our behaviour towards each other that hamper us most from crystallising a compelling message to our voters, that stops us from being a powerful force of positive change for the world.

But, back to the seminar for a moment. What happens when liberals from 25 different nations join minds during a 12-day seminar, some of whom hail from countries where the ideas liberalism represent are under immense threat, or not at all allowed. Having taken the first step of moving them from their usual environments to a neutral place, and the second step of surrounding them with fellow inspiring minds, how do you then best get them to interact with their own challenges?

Well, you give them time to think. And the best way to give a group of highly opinionated individuals time uninterrupted time to think, is within the framework of Nancy Klein’s body of work, The Thinking Environment.

At the heart of the profoundly life-changing Thinking Environment lies this premise: The quality of everything we do depend on the quality of the thinking we do about it first.

If we can presume that to be true, and most people do, we need to ask the logical follow-up question: If the quality of everything we do depends on the thinking we do about it first, under which circumstances are people able to think best for themselves? And the truth, Nancy has discovered, is that our ability to think well for ourselves depends almost entirely on the way we are treated by those around us. In other words, if we can create a particular type of environment for people, they will think well for themselves.

Enter the 10 components of the Thinking Environment, the mighty protectors of our ability to think well:

  1. Attention;
  2. Equality;
  3. Ease;
  4. Appreciation;
  5. Encouragement;
  6. Diversity;
  7. Information;
  8. Feelings;
  9. Incisive Questions; and,
  10. Place.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, lie the behaviours we have come to know as normal:

  1. Constant interruption: technological or human;
  2. Explicit power differentials;
  3. Urgency, crisis mode, haste and unease;
  4. Constant criticism;
  5. Competition and envy;
  6. The denial of diversity;
  7. Trying to think without having the necessary information at hand;
  8. The denial of feelings;
  9. Limiting assumptions; and,
  10. A place that says ‘you don’t matter’.

These are the enemies of the ability to think well for ourselves. And when they manifest in our own behaviour as leaders, they cause those around us to be unable to think well for themselves.

One of the building blocks taught as part of the Thinking Environment, is the thinking pair. This powerful tool seems deceptively simple in theory, yet in my experience remains one of the elements of the Thinking Environment that people struggle with most. Why? Well, because the Thinking Pair lives at the opposite end of our usual behaviour towards each other.

Here’s how it works. In a thinking pair, one person is the thinker and the other’s role is to offer their attention while the thinker is thinking. The thinker therefore receives a set amount of time during which they have an uninterrupted opportunity to think around a topic of their choice, with the thinking partner’s only role being to provide his or her generative attention as a tool to ignite the thinker’s freshest thinking. Once the thinker has completed their turn, the pair will swop roles.

For most, quite strangely so, the thinking partner is not listening to understand, to respond or to offer advice, the very reasons that often lie at the heart of why we listen to others. In a thinking pair, the thinking partner’s only role, simply and truly, is to offer their best generative attention. Attention that ignites. Attention that is interested in what the thinker is thinking now and where they will go next with their thinking. Attention that is uninterested in interrupting, in offering advice, in responding. The principles underlying this incredibly powerful, and deceptively difficult tool, lies at the heart of the Thinking Environment. It is this knowing that you will not be interrupted, that the thinking partner does not have to understand what you’re saying, that brings an incredible sense of ease during the thinking session and contributes to the thinker’s ability to go where their thoughts have not previously gone. To access fresh thinking.

Back to the seminar. Because of the incredible diversity present in our seminar, participants were paired in Thinking Pairs where no participant had a partner who spoke the same mother tongue. This meant that the person offering their generative attention did not understand what the thinker was saying at all, and could not offer anything else than their most powerful and present attention to the thinker. What magic in this paradox, this ability to give nothing but your genuine interest, and through that immensely powerful way of being both incredibly important in the process and not at all important, ignite in someone else previously unthought-of thoughts.

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Upon reflection, this short session of thinking pairs at a seminar in Gummersbach provides a glimpse of what is possible for liberals around the world. The 10 behaviours known as the 10 components of the Thinking Environment, give us an opportunity to behave in a different way towards each other in the world. To start being differently towards each other so that we’re able to reconnect with our purpose and access our freshest thinking.

What we need most now, is to think well.

Can liberals offer each other this type of leadership, this set of behaviours to access the new ideas and thinking we so desperately need?

Can we step away from our own need to be right about what we believe about the world, our tendency to interrupt, the unease we’ve created for ourselves in the immensely volatile world we live in to a place where our best thinking prevails?

Can we meet each other in the Thinking Environment, as equals, with a genuine interest in going somewhere our thinking have not gone before? Are we brave enough?


by Marike Groenewald, 
Cape Town
October 2014

Marike Groenewald

Marike Groenewald is the Director of Strategic Markets at the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s second largest political party and the Official Opposition in Parliament. In this role, Marike is responsible for engaging with a number of strategic voter markets, including people with disabilities, young professionals, South Africans living abroad and the LGBTI community in the run-up to the South African General Election taking place in 2014.

Marike is also the Director of the DA’s Young Leaders Programme, the party’s flagship political development programme, aimed at developing highly skilled, self-aware political leaders who are in future able to be senior leaders of the Party and of South Africa.

Over the past 6 years, Marike has served in many capacities at the DA’s National Head Office in Cape Town, most of which have been centred around organisational and people development for the Democratic Alliance and focussed on structuring innovative, relevant programmes and courses developing the Party’s talent.

Marike holds a Masters of Law degree, specialising in Intellectual Property and Labour Law, from the University of Stellenbosch and is a published poet.

 

Religious Power and Politics: An international liberal debate in Germany

 

The International Academy for Leadership – or IAF – is the most valuable and arguably also the most popular of the many international programs sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Over the years, a large number of young and also senior leaders from India have attended the courses in the Western German city of Gummersbach. FNF New Delhi’s Omair Ahmed was invited to join the recent workshop titled “Religious Power in Politics. Political Power through Religion?” as a co-moderator. We asked him to share his impressions.

 

“The seminar was filled with argumentative, boisterous and convivial discussions.”

This was only to be expected with such a sensitive topic, and with people from the Arab Spring countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, as well as from countries as varied as Mexico, Malaysia, Russia, Tanzania, the United States, Ukraine, the Palestinian Territories, and India. All of the participants felt strongly about the issue, some of whom asserted that they were ‘fundamentalist’ in their interpretation of faith, though not in a militant sense, while others stated their own ‘fundamentalist’ belief in atheism or non-theism.

The discussion was ably assisted by Arno Keller, a former country director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), and assisted by Sagarica Delgoda, another former country director for FNF. They brought in a great deal of personal experience, from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Germany, trying to get at the root of the idea of secularism and what it means in the modern world. Referring to the multiple ways that ostensibly secular countries such as the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom have official religions, collect religious taxes, have religious political parties and a host of other practices, Mr Keller demonstrated the confusion on the very idea of “secular” for most everyone. Instead he encouraged the participants to discuss the issues and get at main principles and themes. Ms Delgoda spoke about Buddhism as a meniator of values, and how even such a religion could be manipulated for nationalistic sentiments.

While participants from the Arab countries, who had seen revolution and radicalisation recently, were often vocal in their fears and opinions, the important stories of the experience of minority communities in Malaysia and the role of religion in war-making rhetoric in the Ukraine-Russian crisis also figured in the discussion. An exercise by the participants, in which five groups were asked to list the basic values of liberalism, Christianity, Islam, non-theistic Humanism, and Hindu & Buddhist thought threw up a host of overlaps, showing the participants visually how much they had in common. The exercises were an important part of the seminar, as was the trip to Cologne and an interaction with the Rabbi of the Synagogue there. Each member of the group pledged to complete a particular assignment within three months of the end of the seminar, and when they parted, it was with a great deal of new thoughts, as well as with a number of new friends from across the world.

by Omair Ahmed, Delhi/India

 


This article first appeared on www.southasia.fnst.org: “Religious Power and Politics: An international liberal debate in Germany”,
7 October 2014.

 

Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights: The Liberal Approach

6-19 July 2014, Gummersbach, Germany
by Lamiya Adilgızı, Turkey

 

I feel privileged to have participated at the 2014 International Academy for Leadership and its seminar Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights: The Liberal Approach. The program has offered me the best opportunity to study rule of law and fundamental rights interactively and in cooperation with the liberal approach.

The seminar consisting of a very diverse group including lawyers, journalists, economists, civil society workers, young politicians presented me a fantastic platform to discuss the topic both theoretically and practically. What was especially interesting for me was that on one side the lawyers coming from all over the world were urging us to understand that everything should be relevant with legal procedure although others such as human rights activists were taking the side that people’s rights and their will should be prior to the legality. On the other side, media representatives were underlining the role of freedom of speech and freedom of expression saying that they are not only watchdogs but a milestone for the implementation of the rule of law. Underlining their role in well-established democracies journalists and bloggers were saying that without their input it would be difficult to see citizens to be involved in public debates, a move that is critical for the implementation of freedoms and rule of law.

Through this kind of very interesting and informative discussions I was able to gain a wide knowledge on human rights violations and deficiencies as well as political rights, fair trial rights, property rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expressions and etc. in different countries and I did understand that rights and freedoms, democracy and its protection are still under threat and huge risk across the world and sustainable steps are needed to put forward to protect human dignity and global values.

One of the main challenges the participants faced during the discussions was posed by me in the beginning of our tour to Gummersbach when I asked whether the global cultural diversity is a threat to the protection of human rights and whether human rights or cultural diversity should be prior and if human rights are important as a universal value then how we will be able to protect the cultural diversity. The question led to one of the most tense discussions of our group as a result of which the participants agreed that human rights should be prioritized although the cultural diversity should not be dismissed either.

I would like especially to underline the city tours we paid during the program and the guest speakers invited to deliver us lectures – which were amazing and one of the most memorable parts of the program. Visiting various European Union institutes in France’s Strasbourg as well as an LGBT organization in Cologne and also the University of Kehl was of great importance not only from the perspective of learning how different organizations are working to protect human rights but also to dive into the culture of Europe including Germany and France.

During my visit — which was my first visit to Germany — I also got a chance to talk to German people over my anticipated research topic that is about Turks’ integration into German society. The program was a fantastic chance for me to know German society well and learn a lot about German culture as well as to get a wide international network of professionals in human rights issues and rule of law.