The 5 Most Fascinating Learning Trips I’ve Ever Had

Standing in front of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland

Standing in front of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland

I consider myself very lucky, and very blessed, as I’ve had the pleasure and honour of having some amazing learning trips around the world.

Today I thought I’d share my Top Five learning trips. Hope you find them of interest:

1) South Africa – March 2015:

Of course anyone who works in the reconciliation field must visit South Africa to learn from their experience. I returned from there just a few weeks ago. It was probably the most impactful and inspiring trip I’ve ever had. My fellow Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse (BFRCD) board members and I met with some truly inspirational people.  Meetings included a fascinating cross-section of South African society, from politicians and senior ANC members, to academics, activists and business people.  We actually met people who wrote parts of the South African constitution. Here are some of the major take-aways:

  • Change can happen even in the most repressive regimes, but it takes time, and requires a long-term perspective.  And lots of patience.
  • No action is too small when wanting to make positive change.
  • Reconciliation is better than revenge.
  • Democracy is an on-going process, not en event.  South Africa still has many challenges, but they are certainly better off than they were during Apartheid.

I wrote 29 pages (double sided) of notes there.  I hope that one day soon I’ll write a more detailed blog post, or maybe even a book about what we learned from there.

At the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town

At the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town

With one of my all time reconciliation heroes, Roelf Meyer

With one of my all time reconciliation heroes, Roelf Meyer

At dinner with David Makhura, premier of Gauteng province.

At dinner with David Makhura, premier of Gauteng province.

2) Northern Ireland – May 2013:

A unionist mural in Belfast

A unionist mural in Belfast

Noor, Amin, Ehsan and I posing with reformed activists.

Noor, Amin, Ehsan and I posing with reformed activists.

The BFRCD and the Causeway Institute for Peace-building and Conflict Resolution International in Northern Ireland have a memorandum of understanding where we exchange visits between the two countries. The main purpose of the trip is to learn from the Northern Ireland experience.

My BFRCD colleagues and I went to Belfast in May 2013. We met with politicians, activists, civil servants, law enforcement officials, academics, and former IRA and Unionist terrorists! I remember hearing about the IRA bombings growing up in the eighties and nineties, and I never dreamt I’d ever be sitting face-to-face with a former IRA member.

With my BFRCD brother Amin and Ehsan outside the Legislative Assembly.

With my BFRCD brothers Amin and Ehsan outside the Legislative Assembly.

BFRCD board members Leena, Amin, Noor, Ehsan and myself at the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly.

BFRCD board members Leena, Amin, Noor, Ehsan and myself at the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly.

The biggest take-away from Northern Ireland was that even though strong opposing political and sectarian views still exist, the vast majority believe in resolving their differences peacefully. This is called “negative peace”, where the underlying issues are not resolved, but there is an absence of violence (See the article I wrote about conflict resolution a while ago here)

3) EO Istanbul University – September 2012:

 

PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan welcoming speech for EO Istanbul University 2012.

PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan welcoming speech for EO Istanbul University 2012.

Entrepreneur Organisation (EO), is a global network of over 10,000 entrepreneurs, of which I’ve been a member since early 2006. Twice a year EO holds it’s learning conferences (dubbed “universities”) and in keeping with EO’s mission of conducting once-in-a-lifetime events, this university was just awesome.

The speakers were just amazing, one of which was the remarkable serial entrepreneur and futurist Peter Diamandis, who spoke about the history of the X Prize. The opening speech was given via video by non-other than Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan! Another memorable event was how they closed the grand bazar early for us so that we could have a chandelier dinner right in the middle of it. The trip also included a cruise on the Bosphorus and dinner in the ancient catacombs.

I remember a fellow EO member asking me how many employees I had, and I told him I had about 23. When I asked him how many he had, “ten thousand” came the reply. I was flabbergasted! “How do you manage 10,000 employees??” I asked. “With great difficulty” he replied.

4) Future International Leaders Programme – May 2013:

This is a programme created by former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague to “promote lasting partnerships with a new generation of talented people from countries that have increasing economic and political power.”

Meeting Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former Chief of Staff, and chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland

Meeting Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff, and chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland

Lunch with William Hague.

Lunch with William Hague.

I was honoured to be one of 10 people selected to visit the UK as part of this programme. Participants included Mexican politicians, an Egyptian Salafi activist, an Iraqi oil executive, the Qatari head of the cyber crime unit, a Chinese activist and a Japanese politician. During the visit we met with politicians, members of the House of Lords,entrepreneurs, a think tank, the former president of the supreme court, a female chief constable, and had lunch with William Hague himself! I have to say he was a very impressive and well spoken man.

We also visited the offices of the Telegraph, the McLaren headquarters, and Windsor castle. This was probably one of the most educational trips I’ve ever had, and will forever be grateful to the British government for inviting me. The most memorable part for me was striking a friendship with Hirotami Murakoshi from Japan. I actually visited him in Japan some months later.

At the McLaren HQ.

At the McLaren HQ.

Yes, 10 Downing Street.

Yes, 10 Downing Street.

5) The Global Media Forum in Berlin – June 2011:

This, at the time, was probably my most significant international speaking event. I was invited by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation as an Arab blogger to speak about the Bahrain crisis. I met some really fascinating people and learnt a ton about how the media operates.

Global Media Forum in Bonn, 2011.

For example, there was a lot of discussion about the difference between journalism and advocacy. One panellist explained that journalism is about translating events as one sees them, but advocacy was more about championing a cause. But more than one panelist stressed that if a journalist is advocating a cause that they should make that clear, and still be transparent and truthful.

There was a lot of talk of there being no such thing as impartiality to begin with. But it was stressed that “truthfulness” should always be sought after.

Conclusion:

I’m a ferocious reader, and certainly learnt a lot from books and other publications, but nothing actually beats going to another country and learning from the experts first hand.

I’m thankful everyday for my experiences, and look forward to continued life-long learning.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: