#Doha2Paris: Expanding Our Perceived Limits for Dialogue

Jennifer Geist
December 13, 2019

What do you want and need from your government? 

Do you trust your government to provide this for you?

Do we need to trust our government in order to thrive?

These were just a few of the many complex and emotional questions that students of the #Doha2Paris university student exchange grappled with at the sixth Doha Debate “Loss of Trust in Governments” held at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum on November 12, 2019. Some answers led to more questions, but the exploration of trust at this challenging time revealed a sense of optimism and desire to come together, get creative and collaborate for a better future.

Can society thrive without trust in governments and institutions: yes or no?

Twelve students from several universities in Doha flew to Paris to join eight more of their global peers from the American University of Paris for four days of leadership training, dialogue, debate and cultural exchange. Between them were 12 different nationalities and eight native languages, though thanks to high proficiency in English, all were able to articulate a wide range of perspectives on some of the most difficult questions of our time. The results were extraordinary, hopeful and inspiring!

In the room, there were so many different nationalities, cultures and perspectives, so it was so cool to see how they all differ but at the same time all these individuals want security from their governments.
Beatrice Zemelyte

As the facilitator of this exchange, I could clearly observe that this diversity was key in cultivating a genuine curiosity, which in turn fostered ease as we practiced active listening, suspension of judgment, and respect for difference. Beginning with a leadership workshop, students explored their own styles, from collaborative to directive, visionary to evidence-driven, illuminating the value and contribution of all styles for any endeavor, including planning a pancake breakfast (which we did!). In truth, a leader is not only the person standing up front and compelling the group to follow them, but also the person who can imagine the possibilities, or develop powerful reasoning, or even foster a feeling of belonging and ownership. A good leader is someone who engenders trust by taking responsibility, regardless of their leadership style. When considering the question of what we need from government to thrive, each of these aspects of leadership are critical.

I started to think that we don’t all view the situation from one perspective, we are humans, we are different and we are born to be unique in our own beautiful ways 🙂 This workshop was a start for nurturing future leaders, increasing productivity in youth as well as help them in making better decisions.
Sara Aldali

Though everyone had a full command of English, the diversity of first languages required that we unpack the meaning of key words, such as trust, in order to identify the personal values that light our path in life. This is not a common conversation, and can reveal surprising truths. For example,  values are a hidden driver of behavior and attitude. We can care deeply about the same things while holding different core values, and this was cause for curiosity rather than disconnection amongst the group.

Generally, I think that this kind of exercise is essential so that we can try to reconcile our differences with others and move towards a more open and understanding mindset.
Tasneem Yousef

Dr. Govinda Clayton guided us through the art of making a safe space for asking questions to deepen dialogue and cultivate trust. Discussion with the goal of truly understanding one another and being understood is a skill that requires the ability to self-regulate, recognise triggers and maintain focus. Students were particularly inspired by this session as it not only offered concrete skills for better communication, but also prepared them to better understand the “Majlis” style of debate in which the goal is to find common ground and develop solutions that serve all stakeholders.

Interests manifest in different ways but that doesn’t mean that interests between certain people don’t overlap, and this is the key approach to finding a collective solution.
—Salwa Sadek

The opportunity to meet directly with the Doha Debates executive team, Amjad Atallah and Jigar Mehta, deepened the students understanding of what the Majlis style of debate is and why it was chosen to serve the mission of the organization.

[The Majlis] truly gives a platform to voice the opinion of others while being more modernized and interactive debate, as opposed to the traditional Oxford style debate.
—Kevin Jarussi

#Doha2Paris was a unique student exchange. In just four days these 20strangers became friends by exploring their differences and acknowledging each other’s intrinsic value to humanity. What impressed me most was the ability of these students to bond immediately, to reflect on their experience and to integrate what they were learning with who they are as people. This was especially evident in their mutual affection, camaraderie and the buzz of conversation during our large group meals. (French cuisine helped too!) The students from Paris were gracious hosts and tour guides, full of stories and local insights.

I believe everyone would agree that to explore the Paris Peace Forum for a day and then participate in the Doha Debates live show was an extraordinary culmination of this exchange program. To investigate the world by understanding ourselves and the diverse perspectives of others, communicate honestly about our ideas, and get involved as players on the global stage is what 21st century learning and global citizenship is all about.

The Doha Debates show was a truly interactive experience, the topic of loss of trust in government was presented by different perspectives. As these different minds show their perspectives, students challenged these with questions. I learned more about the significance of blockchain, as well as how a random selection of people to engage in the government allows individuals from different political, racial and economic backgrounds to voice their opinions and votes in the government, as opposed to the standardized politicians and government officials working in the system. The Paris Peace Forum was a perfect opportunity to see Sheikha Hind’s discussion on how artificial intelligence can be used to develop the educational system for the youth.
—Al Anoud Al-Aqeedi

The work of Doha Debates is to expand the perceived limits of our dialogue, and create a safe space for young people to truly explore the possibilities, to collaborate across diverse perspectives, and to innovate for the collective good. My big takeaway from the #Doha2Paris student exchange is this: While I am still grappling with the question of whether I can currently trust government and other social institutions, I am certain that this next generation of changemakers will shepherd our world to become a better place for everyone, holding our common humanity as sacred, and they are worthy of my trust. 

Watch our live debate on loss of trust: