There’s nothing like kick-starting the week discussing defying topics such as Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership from Europe & USA perspectives.
And why stop there? Mix them up with the key issues of gun violence, politics, security and education, and you’ll have the INCLEADERS (Inclusion Leaders Network) Annual Forum 2018. Wait! Gun violence… a key issue in Amsterdam? We’ll get there.
A diverse audience packed out the Pakhuis De Zwijger’s studio on a Monday evening, 12 March, to welcome a line-up of American and European speakers. That was the promise but was not fulfilled. To manage expectations, the host and panel moderator, Kamran Ullah, made an early announcement: “two European speakers cancelled at last minute”.
With no Europeans on the panel, inclusion was going to be discussed mainly from an American viewpoint. Probably not the best approach before an audience in Amsterdam.
Some lessons and food for thought
The meeting kicked off with a short introduction by Ahmed Larouz, INCLEADERS co-founder and author of 180 Amsterdammers. Raumesh Akbari was next. The Tennessee General Assembly’s state representative talked about the importance of activism and even highlighted the positive side of Donald Trump’s election. “Sometimes a disruptive situation is necessary to move forward. It potentially changes the dynamics of the political system, as people are encouraged to react and be engaged in the process”.
Akbari’s view on diversity was undoubtedly the brightest of the evening. She compared it to a puzzle. Separately, the pieces do not make sense. But once put together, they make the full picture. If one is removed, the puzzle is incomplete. Therefore, the things that make us different (different pieces) are the ones that make us stronger.
“It only takes a person to make a difference in the system” - Akbari
As to the American context, Akbari underlined the value of having a seat at the table: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”. Another encouraging note: “It only takes a person to make a difference in the system”. As Akbari sees it, the power of ordinary people cannot be underestimated, as they become extraordinary every day. The secret is to combine activism with a policy change.
Getting gun violence under control
If there was one topic that clearly didn’t resonate with the audience was the one of gun violence. Nonetheless, the progress on reducing it in the U.S. is interesting information to have. The details came from Ricardo Estrada, CEO of Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago. The figures Estrada presented are daunting and mirror a grim reality.
The United States has a population of 327 million people and an equal number of guns. In the Netherlands, instead, almost everyone owns a bicycle. In Chicago, there were 468 homicides in 2015. How many murders were registered in Amsterdam during the same period? “Eleven!”, someone shouted from the audience. Another voice in the front asked: “Why not send the police of New York, LA and Chicago to Amsterdam, as the homicide figures here are so low?”
Although Estrada welcomed the suggestion, the views outspoken pointed to a single solution: to reduce the number of firearms in the U.S.
In Chicago, there were 468 homicides in 2015. How many murders were registered in Amsterdam during the same period? “Eleven!”
So, what does it mean to be an INCLEADER?
After an intermezzo by Noam Vazana, the programme continued with a discussion panel. Alex Johnson, Lora Berg and Mischa Thompson took the stage to answer all questions, even the most uncomfortable. First, the introductions. Johnson is the senior policy advisor for Europe & Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations.
Berg is a senior resident fellow overseeing the Leadership, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative of The German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives team. Thompson is a policy advisor at the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission).
“What do you do?”, asked a man to the panel with an undisguised Dutch straightforwardness? “I don’t get the sense you work with grassroots. I see too much talk, but I don’t know what you do. I have the impression you sit the whole day in your offices and do nothing”.
The response came from Johnson. Part of INCLEADERS’ mission is precisely to create opportunities to empower grassroots and communities. Challenge to the audience: everyone should use their voices to empower their community. However, this is no easy task. Thompson pointed out three essential elements to make people pay attention: money, votes, and advocacy.
Despite the explanation, at the end of the meeting, a question hanged in the air. How can INCLEADERS make an impact on such a diverse city as Amsterdam? What specific problems must be tackled to make Amsterdam even more inclusive and liveable to its citizens? Again, there’s no simple answer.
But more than talking about diversity and inclusion in general terms, listening to local communities, spreading awareness, and supporting citizens with innovative solutions is necessary. That is also our mission at A City Made By People and its Made By People Lab.
All imagery to the courtesy of Jaap Kroon Fotografie
Words by Amsterdam correspondent Carla Vicente