Our ambassadors share their stories
What does it mean to open your mind and change the way you think about an issue? For our newsletter Room for Discussion, we caught up with four members of last year’s Doha Debates Ambassador Program, who shared their stories with us over video calls. Although the ambassador program is designed around complex global issues like the refugee crisis and climate change, Nicolas, Dana, Ahmed and Jiahao found that it also changed the way they think about issues closer to home and to their hearts.
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“Understanding all the different stakeholders and all the different components attached to a given issue is one of the big things that I picked up from the program”
“One of the big themes that we discussed [in the Doha Debates Ambassador Program] is issues being very complex instead of just complicated. So what does that mean? We talked about [complex issues having] many different stakeholders, right? Many different components in a web. And being able to have that mindset of not just looking at things very superficially—you know, looking at things as they come—but also understanding all the different stakeholders and all the different components attached to a given issue is one of the big things that I picked up from the program.
“I was thinking about how this manifested [in my own life] regarding public transportation. Where I come from, it’s very suburban Ohio in the United States. It’s a place where, if you don’t have a car, you literally cannot participate in society. And it is a place that is just critically lacking [in public transportation usage]. And in talking with a lot of people about this issue—especially among young people, especially among those in urban [areas]—it’s very easy to see the benefits of public transit.
“And certainly there are! A lot of us even go a step further to denounce the automotive industry, denounce highways, denounce everything. But [after the program,] I was sort of thinking about this in a different way, analyzing why there are such ardent supporters of the automotive industry and all of that. And so [I was] thinking again about these bigger connections—you know, there’s just so many different other components rather than Americans being like, ‘Oh, we like cars.’ For one thing, the automotive manufacturers have a humongous industry and are promoting jobs even in my community—Toyota recently opened a new factory close to where I’m from in Ohio. Without these companies, there would, first of all, be a legitimate decrease in these jobs, and for people who are very skilled mechanically.
“Another factor to look at would be [an even] bigger element—the balance of powers between different states, different regions within the United States. What I mean by that is, for example, public transit—it’s much more prominent in the bigger cities in the West and East coasts, but it’s just not feasible everywhere. If we just hard impose public transit everywhere, then it would lead to much more power concentration within more urban areas, and take a lot of power away from more rural areas—which maybe won’t receive these fundings for more public transportation or whatnot.
“And in looking at these different stakeholders of this whole problem, that’s sort of how I’ve come to see things. And I’m certainly—definitely!—still a great advocate for public transportation. But [the ambassadors program] helped me to better understand the [other] issues surrounding it. And it’s led to a reduction of the hardlining and more appreciation for different systems, different places.”
“I want to create a Majlis everywhere I go”
“I’ve learned a lot of things in regards to having critical [conversations] and leading tough conversations. [The] Doha Debates Ambassadors Program has been really instrumental to me throughout my day-to-day work.
“Before joining the ambassadors program, I was one of those individuals who were unwilling to have difficult conversations. [After the program,] I was involved in a conversation one day, and it was around gender roles, with all the biases and mythologies that comes with this particular topic. So [a colleague] mentioned that they are not going to do some tasks, as they are more suitable for girls and not for men. That was totally uncomfortable for me.
“[Before the ambassador program,] I was unwilling to have such conversations with people who are unlike-minded. [But] after the program, I just jumped in the conversation. This time I wasn’t avoiding the conversation, but rather I wanted to hear them and listen to them. So [before the program], when people were talking about gender roles, I kept quiet. This wasn’t really something that I could have done before. So I listened to [my colleague].
“Sometimes conversations feel difficult because we are hung up on our own perspectives. And this is something I learned from the Doha Debates ambassadors. So I had a goal in mind [and] I worked on my listening skills. And then later on we walked together to brainstorm on a solution that is acceptable to both of us.
“[This colleague] actually used to call me a quitter when it comes to conversations like these, because I wouldn’t stand a chance to even listen to what [the other person is] saying. So Doha Debates Ambassadors Program actually helped me to engage in a conversation. And, you know, it’s not about me trying to bring people to my cause or to my understanding, but rather it was me trying to understand what he wanted to say, and also work together towards finding a common solution.
“So the ambassadors program taught me how to be mature, and to know that sometimes it’s not what you know that matters, but rather your counterpart’s opinions as well. So it’s not about who wins, but rather what’s true, and how we can embrace the shift towards finding a common solution.
“[One thing that stuck with me]—it’s the Majlis. So the idea of the Majlis—like setting up the groundwork for a discussion and the psychological safety that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, they’re welcome share them without thinking that they’re going to be bullied. So I wanted to create that whatever I go: I want to create a Majlis, to set the groundwork for a discussion, to understand [another person] the way they are. It’s not about who wins, but how can we find a common solution.”
“Sometimes conversations feel difficult because we are hung up on our own perspectives. And this is something I learned from the Doha Debates ambassadors.“Nicolas Kamanzi, 2021 Doha Debates ambassador
Dana Al Ali
“Maybe I need to change my perspective”
“When we started the ambassador program, they kept talking about how to change our perspective, and having to listen to the other side, and how to get your message across. I’m from Qatar—Qatar has a big stray [animal] issue. There’s a lot of abandonment, a lot of neglect that happens. And I grew up just loving animals. I had gone onto social media when I was around 13 or 14, and I had come across a couple of Instagram posts about these really bad [neglect] cases. Obviously I was a little younger, and I didn’t have proper income for me to help out. I would follow up on [them], and it was just heartbreaking. Until a couple years ago—I finally had an income and kind of just started, little by little, picking up cats.
“I had started a cat colony near my house, so we were feeding and TNRing [trap, neuter, release] any injured cat that came there. And I was like—why don’t I show people what we do, to raise awareness? So having that kind of perspective, having seen or getting messaged [about cases of neglect or abuse]—and my first cat was bought from a pet shop. She had big problems with her heart. So I figured that [her health issues were because of] breeding. And just having had all these negative experiences—this phrase of “adopt don’t shop” was stuck in my head.
“So naturally I started to think about [the issues of strays and breeders]. When Nelufar [Hedayat] came [to speak to the ambassadors], she had talked about [learning how to listen]. I saw that in myself a little bit, and I was like, “Yeah, maybe I need to kind of change my perspective.”
“[I’d talked to] people about shopping for or adopting [pets], and I found myself in that situation where—not that I was cutting them off, but I was just immediately disagreeing. Like—”you don’t see what I see,” that type of thing. And you need to open up your mind to different negative things and positive things.
“You have to kind of consider the different backgrounds as well. Like most Qataris, or people that have grown up in Qatar, they know that the only place to go to get a pet would be a pet shop. And that mindset is changing a little bit, but you know—you just have to consider all these things. You can’t just blame the person.”
Ahmed Daniyal Nawaz
“Once I got his perspective—then I understood”
“I’ll start off by telling you what specific part from the program really hit me, and that was when we had the session by Dr. Govinda Clayton about communication. [There were] two points that really hit with me: Point number one was to differentiate the idea, or the point of discussion, from the person. So don’t think of them as one. If you get an idea that you’re against, don’t become against the person, and remember it is just the idea you’re discussing, not the person. And number two is: Go in the person’s shoes and think from their perspective.
“And so these two examples are what I will bring to [this story]. I was with a friend [who shared] with me—basically, he [has a family member] who is very old. So we were discussing, and he was talking about the way that family member treated my friend when he was young. And he had that kind of internal—I would call it resentment.
“So he was talking to me about that, and it was something he had deep in his heart, and he’s had it for a long time, [he didn’t] plan to remove it. And to me, [that] was very surprising and something that I would definitely not expect to hear. Both of us come from the religion of Islam, and in our Muslim Islamic faith, respecting our elders is regarded with utmost importance.
“So from that perspective, I was keeping [Dr. Clayton’s talk] in mind and I’m like, ‘OK, what is this going on? Can someone actually develop these feelings? Can someone have that kind of resentment that they’re ready to take it in for the rest of their life and not forgive?’ And he actually said, ‘I’m not going to forgive my [family member] at all.’ So right off the bat—I was very much against [this] from the start. And I could have probably started telling all these different things from a religious point of view, from a moral point of view.
“But then I remembered to dissociate the idea from the person. So I didn’t directly go attack him, which probably I would’ve done beforehand, because beforehand, I was very compulsive in these kind of discussions that I’m passionately or emotionally involved [in]. So because of [Dr. Clayton], I let him speak. And I said, ‘OK, tell me about what’s going on,’ because I want to get his perspective, understand why he has this feeling.
“Once I got his backstory—his perspective—then I understood—OK, now I can see what ground he has to have those kind of feelings. Then, after that discussion, I started to tell him what I think about the situation. So I didn’t directly go and start attacking him. But instead I said, ‘You know what? After hearing your side and your reasons, I can see why you have that kind of feeling.’
“I didn’t oppose him. I didn’t question him. And I didn’t push him too much, because it was a very personal matter. And after two days, I get a long message saying, ‘I’ve been thinking about it. And what you’ve said has really made me think about it, and I’ve decided that this hate that I have inside inside of me, I’m going to remove this.’ And that was really, really enriching, and really kind of—I felt gratitude that I was able to make a change in someone’s life. And it had actually happened during the Doha Debates Ambassador Program.”