Celebrating DOEN Foundations 25th anniversary in Uganda, we brought together most of our East African partners. Imagine a diverse and colorful group of people who dedicate their lives to improving their communities. People working on cultural initiatives, people introducing renewable off grid electricity in rural areas, people supporting Small and Medium Enterprises or smallscale farmers: they blended together wonderfully from the start. Everyone was interested in hearing about what's happenings in different sectors. The atmosphere at this two-day meet-up was often described as 'magic'.
Given our aims to connect people from these wide variety of backgrounds and start meaningful conversations about their work, we decided to work according to the 'Art of Hosting' facilitation methods. Art of Hosting aims to address complex challenges through dialogue and co-creation, starting from the idea that every individual has a lot of wisdom and knowledge, and it is just a matter of creating a good setting to bring that knowledge about and connect.
We found two brilliant people that are very experienced in this: Jackie Cahi and Mutheu Maitha.
We only had two days, so we jumped right into it, with a storytelling exercise called 'appreciative enquiry'. Sitting in small groups, sharing something about your work that you're really proud of with a few strangers, proved to be a great way to break the ice. When some of these stories were then told to the whole group, not by the original teller, but retold by someone else, we experienced the first magical moment. We were humbled by stories of people using their own war time experiences to do something for the good of their communities. And others about turning on an electric light in a house for the first time and seeing the people’s faces.
Other workshops followed, in which we got to know each other better and discussed questions or dilemma's we face in our work, brought up by the participants. This led to a wide variety of urgent issues to tackle, ranging from how to connect our networks in solar energy, how to operate in a changing ecosystem to the use of sjamanism in accelerator programs and the role of race and gender in innovation.
The surroundings were very conductive to a comfortable and relaxed meeting. The gardens of the Humura Hotel in Kampala allowed for discussions in small groups. It's a great feeling when you know you're with a group of like-minded people, and you don't have to explain why you do what you do, and what drives you. Even though these 50+ people are active in different regions, working on different topics, from different perspectives, they understand the underlying motives and commitment. Everyone involved, ranging from individual artists to investment funds, from DOEN staff to our co-organisers Bayimba Festival and the Unreasonable Institute East Africa, participated actively in the program, which gave the start for true collaboration beyond the traditional borders and power relations.
During the sessions and the breaks we heard a lot about future interaction and potential collaboration. There are a lot of possibilities. An earlier example was the collaboration between the energy company M-Kopa and the Progreso Foundation, a NGO working with coffee farmers. During the meeting Unreasonable Institute worked with African Writers Trust on a new business model, filmmakers were inspired to start telling stories about solar energy in rural areas and the Kenyans decided to establish regular meetings ‘where business meets arts’.
Next to the networking and sharing of knowledge we had a selection of creative workshops offered by some top-artists from Uganda: a traditional dance meets urban with Batalo East, paper bead making with Sanaa Gateja and aperformance by Xenson. These creative sessions in three groups were another great moment to dive deeper in the Ugandan context, reflect and in getting to know the other participants in a non-verbal way. With everyone actively participating, just going with it without reservations, improved the atmosphere even further.
We ended the meeting with an intimate circle meeting in which participants shared what they would take home. This showed the very personal involvement and once again, magic, that had happened these two days, leading to some emotional moments. That was taken to a next level, when a group of the Ugandan participants stepped into the circle, to thank everyone for coming to their country, which made them felt seen and appreciated. Then they sang Happy Birthday to the DOEN team and presented us with beautiful presents, that are now adorning our Amsterdam office, to remind us of the great event and the wonderful people in our network.
We finished the event by going to the Bayimba Festival together, where DOEN hosted celebratory drinks and more people from our network joined in the festivities. Other entrepreneurs and NGO's joined, together with other donors and a representative from the Dutch embassy.
As we are finishing up the last tasks of the event, we're also looking into our potential follow up activities. We hope the participants will share their experiences and learnings within their organisations, as we also do within DOEN. We are collecting feedback on the event, including ideas or hopes for collaboration between different parties, which we may be able to facilitate. We're looking forward to hearing when the Nairobi section is hosting a local follow up in Kenya.
For DOEN the event was an inspirational moment. For our new CEO Anneke Sipkens, it was a great opportunity to meet many important DOEN partners. For us programme managers a long desired first step in connecting great people in the different thematic areas we work in. We all returned home in high spirits. We've gotten to know these great people even better than before. Bringing together frontrunners from these different sectors strengthened our overall vision of a green, socially-inclusive and creative world. These three elements are equally important to this holistic vision. We hope that this event is the first step towards a cross-sectoral network, in which different initiatives strengthen each other whenever possible. Who knows what new, innovative projects are taking shape, and in the future we can say, it started at DOENs 25th anniversary event in Kampala. It was magic!