Online conference offers new experience of world citizenship

August 8, 2010

BRASILIA, Brazil — For the 20 people gathered at Guitty Milani's home, the path to world peace begins with small actions.

"When we talk about making the world better and transforming it, people normally don't know what to do. But the important thing is that if each one does a share, the result is really big and can really change the human mind," said Geraldo Faria, a systems analyst.

The discussion here on Tuesday 3 August was just one element of a global "e-conference" that is likely to have spawned many more such meetings internationally.

The World E-Conference on Culture of Peace and Sustainability, from 2-6 August, was conceived around a website, which features speeches by prominent experts on peace and sustainability, including the Dalai Lama and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, along with author Hazel Henderson.

"We are trying an experiment with global cooperation, seeking to connect both individuals and organizations with large networks, so that we can develop a new experience of global citizenship and global governance," said Carlos Emediato, coordinator of the conference and founding member of Globalnet, a Brazilian-based international network of organizations dedicated to the promotion of a culture of peace.

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The World E-Conference on Culture of Peace and Sustainability offered an online mix of keynote talks by prominent thinkers, exploratory films, and artistic expression.

"This means focusing on some very concrete problems in the world and seeing how local communities can cooperate to help solve these problems," he said.

Tahirih Naylor, a Baha'i International Community Representative to the United Nations, was featured as a keynote speaker in the e-conference. Her talk, titled "Significance and Opportunity," discussed in broad terms the challenges facing humanity as it moves towards global civilization.

"Having passed through the stages of our collective infancy and childhood, we find ourselves, as humanity, in a turbulent transitional period, approaching our full physical capacity, but not yet informed by the wisdom and judgment that comes from maturity," said Ms. Naylor.

By embracing humanity's inherent "spiritual qualities," we can overcome the traits of "ego, greed, apathy and violence" that stand in the way of creating a new global culture of cooperation, she said.

The Baha'i community of Brazil was actively involved in the event's organization. Iradj Roberto Eghrari, a Baha'i serving on the conference's executive committee, said the idea to hold an online event, with local satellite meetings, came about primarily as a cost-saving measure.

"We wanted to hold a global conference to mark the end of the UN International Decade for the Culture of Peace," said Mr. Eghrari. "But the costs were too high. So we decided that instead of spending money on one big conference, we should spend that towards the betterment of society itself, and then have an e-conference so that everyone can have discussions about their experiences and ideas locally but in a shared way globally."

At least three other discussion programs – in the cities of Canoas, Belo Horizonte and Manaus – were held and others were expected to be organized spontaneously as people became inspired by the website.

At the gathering in Brasilia, 12-year-old Jade Lima, certainly got the point: "To change the world, it's necessary to start from an attitude of love," she said. "It's like planting a tree. Small attitudes can change the world."

The conference site also showcased a number of videos depicting how communities around the world are striving to put new values into action. Individuals and groups were encouraged to download or stream the presentations and discuss them. They could then post their thoughts on a conference blog. The content will remain available online for a few days after the conference ends.

Presentations submitted by the Baha'i International Community to the World Conference on Culture of Peace and Sustainability included short films highlighting the work of educational initiatives at the local level. One profiles the Cambodian Organization for Research, Development and Education – CORDE – where young people learn English, take classes related to moral education, and assume responsibility for educating the next generation of children. Others feature Baha'i-inspired endeavors such as a literacy project in Guyana, an educational initiative in Honduras, and the programs of Fundación para la Aplicación y Enseñanza de las Ciencias – FUNDAEC – which, for more than three decades, has empowered young people in Colombia to arise in service to society.

Other international partners sponsoring the conference included the Global Ecovillage Network, Green Cross International, the International Festival of Peace, the Playing for Change Foundation, the World Cafe Foundation, and the World Peace Prayer Society.

National level partners included: Asociacion Educar (Argentina), Associacao Palas Athena (Brazil), Bioneers (USA), the Dhammakaya Foundation (Thailand), the Institute for Planetary Synthesis (Switzerland), the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (South Africa), Mil Milenios de Paz (Argentina), Resurgence Magazine (UK), the Tamera Community (Portugal), UNIPAZ - Hollistic International University (Brazil),and the Women World Summit Foundation (Switzerland).