Last week, Doha Debates relaunched in the city where it was born — Doha, Qatar. We hosted a reception at Qatar National Library to share our innovative concept for the series with members of Qatar Foundation leadership, students and educators from across the country.
Bringing together powerful new voices and viewpoints to solve global challenges is our mission, and that core goal was highlighted at the event by Her Excellency Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, QF’s vice chairperson and CEO, who recognized Doha Debates as an urgently needed platform for dialogue, exploration of perspectives and rigorous exchange of ideas.
“In a time when sound bites and fake news risk drowning out analysis and discourse, and crucial issues are often viewed through a narrow lens, the importance of enabling and promoting 360-degree thinking is clear,” she said. “Doha Debates allows such thinking to thrive. Its new concept continues the proud Doha Debates tradition, stretching back to its inception 14 years ago, when it was the only platform of its kind for Arab youth to speak out about the world’s most pressing matters and share their perspectives. But it also represents the evolution of this platform and what we stand for as a culture, as a nation, and as Qatar Foundation.”
Digital programming is a creative part of Doha Debates, brought to life at the event in virtual exchanges that we hosted and curated with our partner Shared_Studios. Shared_Studios is the design team behind the iconic walk-in Portals of communication — a network of gold-colored shipping containers with video-conference equipment for people to step inside and speak across the world. With more than 40 Portal locations worldwide — from refugee camps to universities, art galleries, transportation hubs, and public parks — the Portals are designed to connect people who might not otherwise meet, through virtual face-to-face conversations. Guests at our event connected in real time with students in Herat, Afghanistan, for candid conversations highlighted by an impromptu jam session with Doha Jazz and Afghan youth!
We were excited to introduce Ghida Fakhry, our debate moderator, and Nelufar Hedayat, our correspondent, at the event. Both Ghida and Nelufar shared personal stories and visions for Doha Debates, telling guests how it relates to their own experiences and goals. “As a refugee from Afghanistan who’s made London home,” Nelufar said, “I’m familiar with what it’s like to have your story written by other hands. That’s why Doha Debates speaks to me.”
“Doha Debates will galvanize people with diverse perspectives to take action for real solutions,” Ghida said. “We must change the way we address the world’s most pressing challenges. And the timing couldn’t be more important with the current state of discourse and the widening polarization all around us.”
“Doha Debates will give us an opportunity to engage each other on some of the most vital and urgent issues we face,” Ghida added. “Our deep respect for difference, including difference of opinion, will guide our debates. Our aim is to inspire action. We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines. We must engage, we must listen, we must act.”
After our launch, the Doha Debates team attended the Doha Forum, where Ghida moderated a timely discussion on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals with H.E. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, president of the Club de Madrid and former president of Latvia, as well as Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.
Political perspectives and personal visions were the focus of the conversations, but what most energized us around the dialogues was the unveiling of our first-ever Portal in Doha, known as Doha_Portal, in partnership with Shared_Studios. Forum attendees entered our walk-in Portal and engaged in video conversations with people around the world — in Gaza; Kigali, Rwanda; Erbil, Iraq; and Herat, Afghanistan.
Guests in the Portal included 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad, who spoke with youth in a UNICEF camp in Erbil, Iraq; Her Excellency Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, Qatar’s spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who engaged with youth in Kigali; and Qatar’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, who connected with young people in Gaza.
At a time when lives and communities are in the balance around the world, and facts are under pressure by misinformation and polarization, the launch of Doha Debates is more than a milestone for Qatar and a journey for us. It’s a path forward. It’s a step toward common ground. And it’s the embodiment of what this critical moment in history calls for: a forum for honest conversation.