PEACE in Action
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
A New Organization of the United Nations
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) is a relatively new organization within the United Nations (UN) system. It was proposed in 2004 by the President of Spain. The Prime Minister of Turkey joined as a co-sponsor in early 2005. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a High-Level Group to explore the roots of polarization between societies and cultures, and to recommend a practical program of action to address this problem. The report of the High-Level Group, which was released on 13 November 2006, provides an analysis and puts forward practical recommendations that form the basis for the implementation plan for the Alliance of Civilizations (AOC).
On April 26, 2007, Secretary-General Ban Kimoon appointed Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal, as the High Representative for the AOC with the responsibility to lead the implementation phase of the Alliance. The AOC objectives have been established as the following:
The AOC Mission Statement sets forth the following functions, both globally and within the UN system, in the following capacities:
The highlights of the initial Implementation Plan included the following:
The Alliance held an International Forum in Spain in 2008; a second one in Turkey in 2009, and a third in Brazil in 2010. A fourth is scheduled for 2011 in Doha.
The principal results of the 2008 forum were:
By the time of the AOC Forum in Istanbul, Turkey in 2009, a number of accomplishments were reported:
Rapid Response Media Mechanism
This program, which was established at the 2008 Forum, was reported to be well-established by 2009. The Global Expert Finder program was connecting media professionals with leading analysts and commentators on international crises and their likely long-term impact. Since the launch, the resource had grown to over 100 experts.
The project concluded a number of partnerships at the Forum with key organizations, including the Anna Lindh Foundation, the European Commission, Search for Common Ground, Gallup, and the International Center for Journalists. An announcement was made to collaboratively launch a Rapid Response Media Mechanism for the EuroMediterranean region with the European Commission and the Anna Lindh Foundation.
AOC Media Fund
In Istanbul, the Media Fund unveiled a three-part strategy, which included:
Media Literacy Education Clearinghouse
It was reported at the Istanbul meeting that the Clearinghouse had attained the collaboration of 33 partner organizations and had become an internationally known Media Literacy Education portal with over 24,000 unique visitors per month.
Youth Solidarity Fund
The initial budget for the Fund was $100,000, and it was used to seed funding to outstanding youth-led initiatives that promote long-term constructive relationships between young people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Over 110 proposals were submitted for the first program. Six projects were accepted and received grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. At the Istanbul Forum, the winners reported results of the projects receiving the first grants. Later, the Alliance launched a new edition of the program.
International Network of Foundations
The network, created at the Madrid Forum, has identified four areas of common interest: intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, education and translation, arts and media, and the engagement of religious leaders in peace building efforts. At the Istanbul Forum, the network outlined future priority activities: knowledge exchange, information sharing, and discrimination in the four focus areas; operational support with a view to developing tools that help identify projects and partners and build capacity; identification of collaborative activities; and advocacy and contributing to public policy.
Doing Business in a Multicultural World: Challenges and Opportunities
In response to a commitment made at the Madrid Forum, a report was produced, developed jointly with the UN Global Compact, entitled Doing Business in a Multicultural World: Challenges and Opportunities. Distributed at the Istanbul Forum, the report explores cross-cultural challenges that companies are facing, highlights good practices and lessons learned, and illustrates why and how business can play a vital role in fostering intercultural understanding.
Education about Religions and Beliefs
Launched in Istanbul, the Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) Clearinghouse collects and organizes resources for learning about the world's diverse religions and beliefs as well as ethics education, tolerance education, and civic education. The clearinghouse features resources on these subjects, including learning and teaching materials, links to relevant organizations, a journal, events listings, a forum, and news that could be useful to teachers, policy-makers, and researchers.
Alliance Fellowship Program
Announced at the Istanbul Forum, the Alliance Fellowship Program facilitates mutual, substantive, and meaningful exposure for emerging leaders from North America, Europe, and Muslim-majority countries to media, culture, politics, institutions, civil society, and religion in each other's countries. This project is being organized in partnership with the British Council, the League of Arab States, ISESCO, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
In collaboration with the Alliance of Civilizations, CISCO launched Dialogue Cafe at the Istanbul Forum. The project is based on a bold but simple idea: ordinary people have more in common than not and, given the opportunity, will explore their common interests even across racial geo-political divides. Dialogue Cafe links diverse groups of citizens from around the world through videoconferencing. Dialogue Cafe's development is being supported by an international multi-sector consortium of partners.
In Istanbul, the Alliance, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, launched PLURAL +, a youth-produced video festival on migration, inclusiveness, identity, and diversity. PLURAL + will invite young people from across the world to participate by sending videos expressing their opinions and visions relevant to these themes. UNESCO and a number of private organizations are supporting the program. A selection committee of youth and experts from the media, migration, and development sectors will identify the finalists and the winner for each of the award categories and age groups.
Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges
This cluster of projects was jointly developed by the Alliance and partner organizations in the wake of the Gaza crisis. This initiative followed a meeting coorganized by the Anna Lindh Foundation and the Alliance of Civilizations in February 2009. A series of joint actions were agreed upon in order to help restore trust in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Mapping Media Education Policies in the World: Visions, Programs, and Challenges
The Alliance launched a unique publication to help create a generation of informed media consumers capable of navigating their way in the complex and often polarized world of news and current affairs. The book, title above, offers the insights of 18 international experts who, through their in-depth analysis, advise on media literacy policies and provide citizens with the tools they need to make sense of the sometimes overwhelming flow of daily news and information.
Alliance of Civilizations Research Network
This network brings together a group of institutions from around the world that will serve as a collective think-tank for the Alliance and will drive a movement to encourage cross-cultural educational exchange. Institutions that are a part of this network share an interest in the four key areas of work of the Alliance (education, media, migration, and youth), as well as other topics such as cross-cultural understanding, good governance of cultural diversity, conflict resolution, and city diplomacy. The Research Network will also provide a base of experts to form "communities of knowledge" in different areas of interest to the Alliance.
At Istanbul, the Alliance signed agreements with seven international organizations with a view to leverage networks and the comparative advantage of its partners. The seven organizations were: the International Organization of Migration, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the IberoAmerican General Secretariat, the Anna Lindh Foundation, l'Organization de la Franco-phonie, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, and the Union Latine.
National Plans and Regional Strategies
By the time of the Istanbul Forum, the Alliance of Civilizations was being supported by a growing community of over 100 countries and international organizations known as the Group of Friends. This network had expanded by 20 percent since the Madrid Forum, enriching the work of the Alliance by providing ideas, insights, and financial support. Members of the Group of Friends have also created their own National Plans to advance the goals of the Alliance. A range of practical initiatives aimed at creating trust and promoting mutual understanding across cultures have been launched.
In Istanbul, National Plans to advance the objectives of the Alliance were announced by: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Qatar, and Slovenia. Bulgaria, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom had already adopted Plans. Regional Strategies for East-European countries, the Euro-Mediterranean region, and the Ibero-American countries were also announced.
Major highlights of the 2010 AOC Forum held in Brazil included the following:
Additional information about a number of the Alliance projects can be found at the Alliance of Civilizations website
The following book is relevant to the AOC's work:
Toward a True Kinship of Faiths
In his preface to the book, His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated his purpose, "May the effort of this book be of benefit to the emergence of a greater understanding between the world's religions, and may it foster in us deep reverence for each other." Knowledge is the foundation of understanding; in this awareness, the beginning of the book establishes this framework by exploring the basic tenets of each of the world's great faith traditions. Skillfully, points of comparison are illuminated, enabling the reader to grasp the threads of truth that run through each tradition. Passages from the sacred texts of the different traditions are woven together to create a tapestry of wholeness and truth. Differences are examined as unique expressions with the understanding that all religions address the same human needs and questions, and all turn to compassion as the guiding principle for living a good life.
In today's world, we are more aware than ever before that no person is untouched by what happens in the rest of the world. The challenges of environmental degradation, economic gain and loss, and nuclear proliferation have provided an even greater necessity for understanding. Technological advancements and instant communication allow for greater cultural familiarity. It seems that the world has become a smaller place. And its inhabitants are positioned as never before to move forward as global citizens. The essential task of humanity in the 21st century is to cultivate peaceful coexistence.
His Holiness explains that coexistence requires "the ability to recognize the truth in the interconnectedness of all things, even in our disagreements....The process entails both returning to the basic simplicity of our shared human nature and looking out with the widest possible perspective. The shift of perspective alone can open the door of our hearts." He offers a plan that will allow individuals to travel to the essence of his or her individual religious teaching and arrive at an understanding that we are all simply human. As we understand the spiritual perfection of all beings, we can embrace a compassionate understanding based in genuine respect. This is the hope for the future.(This review of the book is by Claudia Abbott, the Editor of Science of Mind magazine. It was published in the November 2010 issue of the Science of Mind magazine. The magazine's editorial offices are located at 573 Park Point Drive, Golden, Colorado, 80401-7042; their phone number is: (720) 496-1370; their website: www.scienceofmind.com}