Making Dialogue Work

Aug 14, 2015 | Civilisation, English, Italy, TheColumnist

by Paolo Frizzi and Lawrence Chong

The global movement of dialogue is in dire need of innovation to become more effective to overcome stalemates in the politics, business and religion.

Raul Castro, the diminutive Cuban President is not a man of faith, but this September, as Pope Francis becomes the third pontiff to set foot in Havana to celebrate a diplomatic coup with him, he might just start turning his eyes to God. The decades-long stalemate between Cuba and the United States ended because the Pope, a leader of faith and not a diplomat, initiated an opportunity for both sides to meet discreetly and dialogue. The breakthrough will lift millions of Cubans out of global isolation and punishing economic conditions. Both President Obama and Raul had been looking for a way forward to advance relations but existing diplomatic instruments seem geared towards reinforcing stalemates and not achieve breakthroughs.

From global relations, politics, businesses to religions, you can see the debilitating consequences  of stalemates when people adopt stubborn positions without the willingness to listen and to reconcile with each other. Over time tensions rise and conflicts ensue: The rise of ISIS is fed on frustrated Sunnis who feel that they have no role in their country and on young believers who believe that the world will not tolerate their existence. This crisis is unnecessary and should not be allowed to continue. While huge amount of resources has been dedicated to the art of war, the tools and avenues for dialogue have largely remained unchanged.

Obviously in the case of the Pope, the initiative worked because of his personal charisma, supported by his massive organisation, allowing him to follow up with both parties to ensure a meaningful conclusion. However given the widespread breakdown of relations in societies and organisations in the world, you can’t depend on a super influencer like him. Therefore, there is a pressing need for innovation in dialogue; to bring the skills of dialogue down to the grassroots. At the institutional levels in politics and religion, there are global structures such as the United Nations, Religions for Peace, to facilitate dialogue. Then there are the numerous civil groups and private initiatives for intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

However, if you were to do a deep scan of the budgets and the organisational scale of these institutions and groups, they are not funded sufficiently for sustained breakthroughs in dialogue. One reason being: how do you measure the impact and effectiveness of dialogue? This question alone  show how hard it is to secure funding so most of the time, so many groups are left with organising events which are the most visible forms of dialogue achieving some measure of impact. But events do not go far enough because what is lacking is capacity and tools.

We spend more on preparing for wars than to prevent them.

Here is the inconvenient truth, while the world spends USD$1.7 trillion dollars a year on military spending, sufficient enough to destroy the earth many times over, the combined budgets of organisations involved in the cause for dialogue most probably stand at 1% of global military spend. Hard power is certainly needed to maintain security but you need soft skills too, to creatively overcome stalemates and actually prevent or minimise the rise of conflicts.

The other limitation facing organisations who promote dialogue is that they tend to attract like-minded individuals who already believe in the method of dialogue. For dialogue to be effective, it is more important to have the skills and tools to dialogue with the person who is on the opposing side or someone who does not believe in the process of dialogue. This requires training, research and complex organisational skills.

We need effective organisations of dialogue to effectively shape a world for peace

After being involved with the global interfaith and intercultural movement for almost a decade, the problems are clear when it comes to why these organisations of dialogue are stymied but the solutions few. Therefore combining our years of experience in business design, intercultural and interfaith dimension, we are pleased to announce the formation of a new specialist unit named: Consulus DialogueWorks

The purpose of this specialist unit will be to help transform existing organisations or government agencies involved in dialogue to be more effective through business design.

In order to understand the complexity of today societies and markets, as well as to address the global challenges that such organizations are facing on different levels, there is a need for a more organic and innovative business and organisational framework. We believe that Consulus DialogueWorks can help organisations involved in the cause for dialogue maximise the positive effects of their work by exploring wide-ranging relational dynamics among religious, cultural, social diversity, in terms of practicality and functionality. The crux of the matter is, how to enhance those relationships, make them effective to prevent tensions, build understanding so as to ensure sustainable development.

Our experience tells us that inter-religious and intercultural frameworks are crucial tools from which to develop feasible models and tools to sustain practical co-existence and partnership inside organizations and among individuals, not only for reconciliation to counter rising tensions but also to widen innovative and productive opportunities. A pro-dialogue environment has in the end proven to induce creative growth for businesses and economies in the world.

Enough talk, time to make it work.

Paolo Frizzi is the country director for Consulus Italy and Lawrence Chong is the CEO of Consulus

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