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First We Are, Then We Post
The challenges of communication for global communities
by Cecilia Barja Chamas

Three yellow emoji with surprised faces, followed by the hashtag #GDLPresummit, ranks among the most liked tweets of GDL. Lines below this popular tweet, a screenshot shows more than 50 GDL members smiling at the camera; it was our global reunion being held virtually because of the global pandemic. This snapshot reminds us how right the researchers and philanthropy leaders Katzmair and Tchozewski are when they write:

“It’s not a matter of choice: you can’t not have a network, just as you can’t not communicate”.

Yet, there are as many different types of networks as there are ways to communicate in the universe: the number of options is endless. This is why the first question in communication is not what to communicate, but rather who, why and how: who are we within GDL, why are we together, and how do we aim to bring about change?

Who are we and why are we together?

The Global Diplomacy Lab (GDL) is a members-driven, innovative platform promoting inclusive diplomacy and a trans-sectorial approach. We are a diverse community of 200 creative professionals.

The concept of platform is usually related to social media or web-based communication dedicated to creating interaction within a community. The other two concepts, member-driven and community, have a larger and deeper meaning. It implies commonality, self-regulation, horizontality, a shared sense of personal and group identity, belonging, and ultimately, aligned action. 

Perhaps, GDL is a platform in the continuous effort to become a global community, a resistant and adaptive global network, a 21st century global tribe. 

How can GDL be a resistant and adaptive network?

Let’s come back to Katzmair’s and Tchozewski’s research:

“At the risk of simplification, let’s break the findings down into two success variables: first, the amount of opportunity for individuals and partners to co-create value. Difference and variety breed opportunity. The greater the resources going through the network, the more likely it is that a diverse network will establish itself through self-organization, so diversity is at the same time a cause and a symptom of richness of resources that ‘feed’ the network with energy. On the other hand, the greater the amount of shared identity, of values and goals that partners have in common, the stronger the network will be. Shared purpose and shared stories not only create identity, they also develop trust, one of the most important means to reduce transaction costs in a network. So there is a correlation between the transactional and relational component in a network, the common denominator being the amount of trust between network partners”. (Katzmair and Tchozewski, 2012)

I highlight those sentences, because they point out powerful pillars for any network, especially one as ambitious as GDL: co-creation, shared purpose, shared stories and trust. For brevity, Katzmair and Tchozewsky call these components: MEANING (relations) and MONEY (money, time, knowledge transactions). The authors have identified the following types of networks that are based on these two elements:

Table Cecilia Blog
Table by Katzmair and Tchozewsky

So where do we see ourselves in this chart?

Possibly we oscillate between some of the types, depending on the specific activity, and even depending on the GDL member’s perspective. As its Strategic Document points out, GDL aims to be a diverse network where inclusion and collaboration happens. Moreover, we acknowledge that reconciling interest and building trust is the way to implement Diplomacy 4.0, and consequently communication is the way to achieve it.

How do we aim to bring about change? Communication and Community 

GDL, as most networks, uses several channels of communication, which have been organised as formal, informal, temporary and permanent. All of them aim to nurture continuous dialogue between partners, members, and external stakeholders. Communities are not synonyms of homogeneity. GDL is a diverse community and as a result divergence of opinion will and must happen.

How can we have this exchange with respect, paired with the will to listen and be empathetic? How can we avoid exclusion and hurting people, but at the same time conduct difficult conversations effectively?

This is where the true value of communication proves itself, and the type of communication we have to strategise around. Communication is as much a process as it is a product, or as Dr Mira K Desai, Associate Professor of SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai, puts it: “Let’s downplay the role of the sermon and highlight the role of the prayer”.

Transmission + Ritual = Communication

The GDL prE-Summit was a virtual ritual of coming together, a moment around the fire of friendship, a moment of belonging. As we have learned, designing a communication strategy goes far beyond defining the channels, the messenger and the group norms. Our communication strategy should aim to build rituals by building spaces for meaningful relations among GDL members so we can trust and listen to each other, collaborate and innovate together for the greater good of society.

The sociologist Marshall Ganz reminds us in his Public Narrative framework that if we share the same values, if we share a vision that really matters to all of us, if our hearts are open, then the strategy and structure will follow. Coherence will come from the common vision rather than from a central leadership that enforces it.

Some ideas for implementing the “ritual communication” could be:
●    D Story-telling 4.0, sessions as a way of weaving complex and simple stories, small impromptu conversations for opening channels and avoiding “gatekeepers”,
●    Diplomacy Circles, based on restorative practice, to allow the gathering of differences, hold space for multiple perspectives and practice fundamental democracy within GDL in which all voices are heard and all interest may be treated with dignity,
●    A GDL Manifesto, to guide our interactions and our future, to act closer to our ideals,
●    Diplomacy Bootcamp, for turning GDL’s aspirations to the members’ daily mission.
All other “transmission” communication – via social media, email or website – will emanate from the “meaning” or “ritual” communication, which is the foundation stone.

Perhaps this is why: First we are, and then we post.

Published on December 16, 2020.

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Cecilia Barja Chamas

Cecilia Barja Chamas has led political processes and cross-sector alliances in Latin America and the United States for 18 years. In 1999, she co-founded the political party “Movimiento Sin Miedo” and was elected to the office of councillor for La Paz at the age of 23. In 2008, she coordinated Magis Americas in New York, mobilising resources for “Fe y Alegría”, a Jesuit network of 3000 schools in 17 Latin American countries.

From 2010 to 2016, she was a member of Fundación Avina in Colombia, leading cross-sector alliances in six Amazonian countries and the peace process in rural areas of Colombia. Since September 2017, Cecilia has been part of the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations, affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a grassroots network that builds relationships between races and religions on issues of common concern such as housing and education. She has a Master’s in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School.

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