Doha Forum

In Diversity-Equity-Inclusion, Leadership on January 3, 2012 at 10:50 AM

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Forum in Doha, Qatar. I was invited as a representative of the Diversity Collegium think tank. It was a great honor to represent the Collegium, an extraordinary group of thought leaders and practitioners in diversity and inclusion work, along with Lynda White. As representatives we were asked to serve on international panels examining multi-sector and multinational efforts at diversity leadership.

The Forum included heads of state, former heads of state, and other high level government officials. There were corporate CEO’s and Chief Diversity Officers (CDO’s), leaders of NGO’s and universities, and other thought leaders in intercultural affairs. It was truly an impressive gathering. It was also very much a UN event, complete with translation headsets, exhilarating multilateral dialogue, and jam-packed sessions.

For our part, Lynda and I served on two panels. Lynda’s session focused on corporate innovations in diversity and inclusion, and mine on cross-sector collaboration. The panel on which I served provided a wide range of perspectives from government, corporate, NGO and university representatives. It was moderated by Jean-Christophe Bas (UNAOC Senior Advisor for Strategic Development and Partnerships) and included the CDO from Weyerhaeuser, a Director of the Diversity Council Australia, foreign ministers from Turkey and China, and a university director from the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies among others including myself.

Our remarks were focused on work done by the nations and organizations which we represent, and our experiences with cross-sector diversity and intercultural relations work. I spoke about the work of the Diversity Collegium, and my experience at the University of Malawi developing curricula in partnership with government, NGO and sponsor partners and the potential impact of such partnerships. I cautioned that traditional partnerships, which too often tend to include university representatives as researchers or grant recipients rather than partners in thought leadership and practice, are problematic in that they tend to put educators in subservient roles guided ultimately by government or corporate interests. Having said that, I did my best to emphasize the potential for social, cultural and cross-cultural impact when schools and universities are included as partners with government, NGO, and corporate partners with interests in access, equity and social justice.

More interesting, to me, was the dialogue which followed our remarks. Questions, comments and challenges from those attending our panel session were very lively. The challenge to acknowledge poor corporate citizenship and participation in efforts that were counter to our stated goals of diversity, inclusion and intercultural dialogue was the most emphatic challenge put to the panelists. Other critical issues that were brought up were the inclusion of youth in decision making, the importance of partnering with small and often ignored nations, and a challenge to engage politically rather than attempt to produce non-political dialogue were among the most remarkable.

Perhaps most telling was that following our session, the majority of attendees and panelists stayed in the room, continued the dialogue and discussed future collaborations. Collectively the two panels which Lynda and I served on spurred ongoing dialogues, including the likely formation of a UNAOC working group to examine existing cross-sector diversity and inclusion efforts and propose a way forward to further collaboration and cooperation. We’ll see where this dialogue takes us; so often it ends there. In this case I am more optimistic than usual. The UNAOC is providing real space for continued dialogue and planning. We will stay intentionally engaged in the process and hopefully see constructive impact in the years to come.

As always, it was the discussions that happened between sessions and after the days’ events which were most interesting and provided the most potential for continued dialogue and collaboration. I had great conversation with colleagues and friends, old and new. I had the chance to spend time with Lynda in a new setting; meet and start to get to know Effenus Henderson, the CDO at Weyerhaeuser; spend time getting to know Katriina Tahka from the Diversity Council of Australia; and connect with George Martinez, the founder of the Global Block Foundation and Hip Hop Ambassador for the US to Latin America.

I had interesting conversations with Dr. Bernadette Dean, the Principal (President) of St. Joseph’s College for Women in Pakistan; Fakhrinur Huseynli, a project manager for the Institute for Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding from Azerbaijan; Peter Gorgievski, the CEO of the Global Dialogue Foundation; Jesse Hawkes, the Executive Director of Global Youth Connect; and Scot Osterweil, the Creative Director of The Education Arcade at MIT. I’m not a big fan of name-dropping, but man, these were some interesting folks. And there were so many more, it was a jam packed experience. In particular I remember a couple of interesting conversations with a reporter living in Doha, who grew up in Dubai, and whose family is from the US – I wish I’d gotten his card.

In addition to our sessions, the Forum included many interesting panels and dialogues. Most memorable and impactful for me were a couple of plenary sessions which included the highest levels of government, corporate and NGO representatives. It wasn’t so much that what was said was profound or earthshaking or even innovative. It was the simple fact that these national and international leaders were well versed on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and that they were very publicly promoting salient ideas for change which could have global impact.

From Ban Ki Moon (UN) to Gordon Brown (UK), Jorge Sampaio (Portugal) to Michel Temer (Brasil), Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser (Qatar) to Bingu Wa Mutharika (Malawi), it was a very interesting dialogue at very high levels. From my perspective, it was even more important that there were also folks engaged in the dialogue who are practitioners and youth who are directly affected by the issues being discussed and the results of such dialogues.

Having been a part of many forums and conferences over the years, with lots of great dialogue and promise, I noticed the shortcomings and recognize the unlikeliness of follow-up and follow-through. Experience has also taught me that events such as this are just that, events. Anything of substance to come from this experience is up to those who participated to continue to build relationships, develop goals and plans, and ultimately to follow-through on what was learned and connections made. Again, I’m more optimistic than usual. Maybe it’s jet lag or the new year, or that awesome look of hope and excitement that I see in my daughters eyes. Whatever it is, I am hopeful and more importantly I am committed to staying engaged with the working group between now and early 2013 when the next Forum will be held in Vienna, Austria.

Finally, it was an interesting experience to visit Qatar. It was my first visit to the Middle East, and my first experience in a nation ruled by a monarchy. Sheikha Moza, the second of three wives of the Emir of Qatar and Ambassador to the UNAOC, served as the host of the Forum. She attended the plenary sessions everyday, and was treated with great deference. Doha was a very diverse and multicultural city, full of new and over-the-top construction. The national convention center, where the forum was held, was very impressive with it’s many fully teched out halls and beautiful architecture including the two intertwining Sidra trees that make up the fa├žade. Just across from the center was Education City, which isn’t quite as ready for their closeup as is portrayed on the website. It does sound promising though, with multiple international universities represented on what is essentially one campus. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on that project.

During the short time that I had outside the Forum I was able to meet some folks, visit the market, and take in a bit of the scenery. Nothing too out of the ordinary, folks were pleasant and the food was great. It was interesting that the vast majority of the population, something like three quarters, are immigrants and most of the population of Qatar are not of Arab descent. It is certainly an interesting place, and I hope to return one day and have more opportunities for an out of conference experience.


Finding Strength and Having Fun

In just joe-joe, Leadership on March 8, 2011 at 4:31 PM

I am aware of my blessings, and I am grateful. I appreciate every opportunity to work hard, to find truth, to love and be loved. I understand that life promises only change and challenges, the rest is up to us.

People that I love and respect have told me that we are never given more than we can handle, and that every challenge brings an important lesson. I’m not sure I completely buy into this, but for the sake of my own edification I do try to learn from those life experiences that I have no control over.

I have learned a lot this way. What I am learning, or maybe re-learning, lately is that we all have a breaking point. Some of us can handle extraordinary stress and pain, and others less. Regardless, we all have a point where and when it is all just too much. It takes a lot to get me close to that point, but it is there.

When I get to that point it seems that there is a range of emotions that hit me, from a dangerous anger to deep sadness.

I’ve also learned that my flight mechanism is apparently broken. My fight instinct works just fine, but I never seem to be able to just flee. That may not be healthy, but I’m okay with being a fighter. I care deeply about people, and believe strongly that our world can be better, and sometimes we need to fight to protect those we love and to promote what we see as justice.

Though I sometimes struggle with this, I have learned from mentors like Marvin and Liz that it is important to choose your battles. Fighting every injustice is not sustainable, not effective, and not healthy. The next step was learning from Stuart and Col. Joe that even when you’ve chosen and fully engaged in a battle, you have to consider whether that is a hill you are ready to die on. Sometimes the answer should be yes, and the right thing is to go all out. Other times the best thing for all involved is to live to fight another day.

I have learned these lessons, and have found some balance as a “soldier,” as my wife says. It is the challenges that offer no opportunity to fight that are often most difficult for me. The most obvious example is the loss of loved ones. Even the strongest soldier, the greatest strategist, or the most powerful spirit cannot defend against the pain brought on by the passing of someone they love deeply. There is no fighting, except to keep one’s sanity.

I recently wrote to a friend about all that has been going on personally and professionally. I said, “When it rains it pours, I guess” and that I am, “focusing on finding that rainbow that comes after a big storm.” First of all, I apologize for how incredibly corny that sounds. That being said, I do try to keep my weight up (stay strong) and remain actively hopeful.

As cheesy as it was, I meant what I said at the time. As the day went on, it brought yet another major challenge my way. I was at that point when I had to consider that I may have been getting close to my breaking point.

In fact, what’s going on isn’t going to break me. It just isn’t, and I know that.

It took Dad telling me to “have fun” over and over and over again for it finally sink in, but I have finally found perspective and learned that there is a time to let down my guard and simply enjoy living. So, even as I’m trying to find the strength to handle the current challenges, I’m having fun and enjoying life! Thanks Dad.


Posted by Joe-Joe McManus

for the drjoejoe blog


In just joe-joe on January 1, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Happy New Year everyone! Ok, I realize that Mom and a few friends and family are the only folks who actually read my rambling blog, so “everyone” might be a bit of a stretch. It sounds better than saying happy new year Mom, and the few random folks who accidentally clicked on a link to my blog though, so I’m going with Happy New Year everyone!

Anyway, as I sit here, waiting for Makaila and Kecia to rise, I am feeling thankful for all of my blessings. I also can’t help but think of those who are no longer with us. I miss my Dad, my brother Kacey, my grandparents, and so many friends and loved ones that have passed – just wishing they were here. That makes me think of Grandma’s Rule – If there is one good thing in a day, it is a good day. Grandma has helped me through many a difficult day with this simple rule. I suppose it can be applied to years as well. Last year brought us our daughter Makaila. She’s a happy, healthy and curious 7 month old who makes my heart jump every time she smiles at me. She certainly made my year, and more.

FAMU - orange & green!

Mak with her favorite monsters

There is value in looking back, appreciating the beauty and being thoughtful about how to improve on or address the challenges. The beauty of this past year, as always for me, came from family and friends. Of course there’s Mak, who at the same time brings me great joy and great worry everyday. This past year was also my first full year of marriage. Kecia would have to make the call on how I’m doing at the husband thing, but I can say that I’m doing my best and I’m actually enjoying it. Kecia is the best wife I’ve ever had! Yes, she’s also the only one, but she’s great nonetheless.

One of the blessings that came with Mak was her magical ability to make people visit more often. Mom has visited more this past year than she had in the previous 4 years since I moved to New York. My brother B-J and my nephews even visited for the first time, just to meet Makaila – under the guise of a surprise 40th birthday party for me. Actually, that was a great day. Kecia surprised me with friends and family, the best gift for me. It was low-key, low drama, and full of folks pretending they were there to wish me a happy birthday but really wanting to meet our brand new 1 month old daughter. I figured that out when I unwrapped my gifts – lots of onesies, baby toys, and even diapers. Since I’m not quite at the Depends stage yet, I figured it out. It was awesome!

I’m grateful for the blessings that 2010 brought, while at the same time recognizing that it was a challenging year as well. Financially and professionally it was tough for so many of us. So many hard-working folks out of work, and many more underemployed. Still more folks had to stay in positions where they were not appreciated, treated poorly, or had to take on the work of others that were let go and not replaced because leaving just wasn’t an option. I fully appreciate being employed, but for me last year was the most difficult and frustrating year I’ve ever had professionally. I’ll resist the urge to vent, since that wouldn’t be prudent.

I hear myself saying, let’s get it together and keep it moving. That’s my way of working through the rough spots to get to the good stuff. Last night was what it’s all about – the good stuff. I spent time with my wife and daughter, watched Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve, texted and FB’d with friends, and talked with Mom on the phone. And at midnight Kecia and I kissed, sipped our sparkling cider, and ate honey buns to bring in the new year, while Mak slept in the next room. Certainly not the most exciting New Year’s Eve story, but I woke up this morning feeling appreciative and looking forward to the coming year.

Every year brings challenges and heartache for us all, but it also brings joy and opportunity. I am far from a cockeyed optimist. I consider myself a pragmatic realist. The way I see it, life is very short and if I spend too much time following my natural instinct to dwell on losses and obsess about past failures I’ll miss out. I’ll miss out on opportunities to improve my life, and I’ll miss out on those beautiful fleeting moments that make it all worthwhile. Speaking of which, I hear Makaila waking up – so it is time to go enjoy one of those moments right now.

As we begin a new year together, I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous new year full of beautiful moments that make it all worthwhile. Happy New Year!


Posted by Joe-Joe McManus

for the drjoejoe blog

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