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Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou

The Colours of Inspiration: Raising the GDL-Flag

 

Can an artwork created by a group of about 60 people kick off a process of inspirational thinking on a high-level diplomatic question?

 

By Jörg Reckhenrich

Flags envision values, dreams and our understanding of how we connect as a society. This is what came to my mind while preparing for the first of this year's two Global Diplomacy Labs, which was to be held in Accra, Ghana, in June. The topic of this year’s Lab was Africa’s Demographic Dividend, and our challenge holder, the German Federal Foreign Office, had asked us to think about key levers such as education, health care and policy making which positively influence demographic and economic development. The issues at hand seemed challenging and quite abstract. Together with Ivana Petrov, my colleague on the elective advisory GDL board, I discussed several questions: how can we kick off an intensive exchange on what we think and feel as GDL members about the topic of this year’s Lab? How can we make the abstract more concrete? How can we start to align our understanding and, last but not least, what is our identity, what holds us together as a group?

Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou

Thinking about these issues, I came up with the flag exercise “The Colours of Inspiration”. The goal was to connect the approximately 60 Lab attendees at the beginning of the conference, to encourage them to get to know each other and to exchange their ideas and understanding in a creative and playful way. I sent the concept to GDL member, Firmin Adjahossou, our conference host, to discuss it. We thought about wild ideas such as taking the design of the flags as an exhibition to the reception at the German Embassy, hoisting the flag design as a real flag at a prominent place, t-shirts… ideas were there. What we didn’t expect was that all those dreams would become true in the end. We handed over the proposal to the preparation team and had a go. While I finalised the flow of the exercise, Firmin started to organise what we needed in Accra to make it happen. With the great support team, Jean Marie Dodo and his crew, everything was well prepared when I arrived in Accra, including a whole selection of fabrics to sew the flag and a professional tailor.

Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou

Starting the conference with a bus tour, we arrived at the Dubois Centre for Pan-African Culture in Accra. After some welcome addresses and an icebreaker, we were ready to start the flag exercise. As I introduced the task, I saw some sceptical faces that seemed to be asking: are we artists – can we draw? However, after a short moment to digest the instructions, the groups enthusiastically started working at their tables. I observed different ways to approach the task: while some groups started with a discussion and a list of keywords, some drew personal designs of flags first, and others searched for graphic designs. There was a broad range of options in the room on how to organise the creative flow. Every table was energetically engaged in discussing the topic and in finding an appropriate idea to visualise what the GDL is all about. Soon we saw the first designs: there was a variety of colours, breath-taking compositions and great graphical drafts. Not more than one graphic element and three colours were allowed in the final design. The tension in the room rose as we aimed for a final presentation of all designs and the selection of the final flag. After 90 minutes we had 12 amazing designs and encouraged the audience to vote for their favourite by applauding. Two groups cheered like hell and drew the audience in. It was a head-to-head decision. Finally, we had a winner: an African symbol for transformation in an orange colour that gives the design powerful energy. As experienced artists were in the group and knew how to handle the painting material and the composition, the flag was ready to pass into the hands of Olivia, the local tailor we had hired.

Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou
Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Hounsou

The next day brought more intensive insights to the conference topic and ended at the residence of the German Ambassador, Christoph Retzlaff. I was both nervous and curious to discover whether the flag would be ready for presentation. The reception started with a welcome address by Christoph Retzlaff and a short interview with the key GDL stakeholders. After the speeches, Jean Marie Dodo tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to turn around. I was amazed. The flag was gently flying on a flag-pole at the bottom of the garden. “How did you make it happen?”, I asked him. The answer: Olivia, the tailor, had worked on the flag the whole day. The rest was simple: the GDL team had asked the Ambassador if they could hoist the flag, and he agreed. Normally there are lots of regulations for flags being hoisted at the German Embassy regarding symbols like this one. But the team was very compelling – a good example of trying out and reaching out for the best. As the design was so wonderfully translated into the “real thing”, a flag of 180 x 250 cm, all participants saw the beauty and the potential of its meaning – transformation. We all celebrated it with a flag hoisting ceremony accompanied by a dance session.

Could it get any better? Yes! GDL member Marty Castro from Chicago was so thrilled about the flag that he ordered a second one. Apart from that? We all received t-shirts emblazoned with the flag design at the end of the conference.

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Eirliani Abdul Rahman is a diplomat turned activist. To raise awareness for survivors of sexual child abuse, she is setting out for an expedition to Antarctica in December. Eirliani will be documenting her inner and outer struggles as she is preparing for this trip, pulling a sled with 200 pounds in food and gear, in temperatures dipping to minus 48° Celsius.

Jörg Reckhenrich

Jörg was born in Münster and studied at the local art academy. From early on he was interested in the ideas of the artist Joseph Beuys and the introduction of the concept of social sculpture. In 1988 he moved to Berlin to study art and cultural management.  He began to exhibit and to work for several art institutes. In 1999, he began working with organizations and business schools transferring creative principles to the world of organizations. Later he attended an education program on systemic consultancy.

Recently, he was trained in positive psychology, which is now a cornerstone of his work. In his art projects he reflects on the human condition. Jörg loves to combine intensive reflecting on art with coaching sessions, focussing especially on personal growth, writes articles and teach on creative leadership. He is married, a father of two children and loves to sail.

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You can learn more about Jörg in his newest blog article. He also wrote this article.



Ivana Petrov (née Ponjavic)

Ivana is a Freelance Project Manager and an Elected Advisory Council Member of the Global Diplomacy Lab. She is an experienced professional with a proven track record of working in public administration and civil society. She worked for the Government of the Republic of Serbia as Communications Officer to the Head of the Negotiating Team for the Accession of Serbia to the European Union. Prior to that, she was Public Relations and Project Manager at the European Movement in Serbia. She also led the media team of the international conference Belgrade Security Forum.

Through the Fellowship Programme for Young Government Officials from Western Balkans, organised by the European Fund for the Balkans, she served as an exchange officer in the Training for International Diplomats section at the German Federal Foreign Office in 2015.

She is a graduate of the Hertie School of Governance (Executive Master of Public Administration) in Berlin, the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Belgrade, and the Diplomatic Academy of Serbia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Firmin Kami Adjahossou

Since 2007, Firmin Kami Adjahossou has been providing expert advice to the leadership of the Catholic Church in Africa (SECAM) on peacebuilding and mediation, development policy, public engagement and political dialogue for the promotion of a just and inclusive society.
He assisted with the setting-up and coordination of SECAM Working Groups on Migration and Development, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Reconciliation and Peace Building, HIV/AIDS; Governance and Democratic Transitions.
Firmin has facilitated and moderated dozens of workshops, conferences, fora and training sessions on various social and political issues.
With his knowledge and skills, he created a network which allows him to cooperate with partners in 38 countries and to engage with the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations.

 

Firmin Kami Adjahossou

Since 2007, Firmin Kami Adjahossou has been providing expert advice to the leadership of the Catholic Church in Africa (SECAM) on peacebuilding and mediation, development policy, public engagement and political dialogue for the promotion of a just and inclusive society.
He assisted with the setting-up and coordination of SECAM Working Groups on Migration and Development, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Reconciliation and Peace Building, HIV/AIDS; Governance and Democratic Transitions.
Firmin has facilitated and moderated dozens of workshops, conferences, fora and training sessions on various social and political issues.
With his knowledge and skills, he created a network which allows him to cooperate with partners in 38 countries and to engage with the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations.

 

Marty Castro

Marty Castro is the President and CEO of Castro Synergies, LLC, which provides strategic consulting services to persons and organisations seeking to have a positive social impact on diverse communities.

In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Mr Castro to a six-year term on the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) and nominated Mr Castro as the first Latino Chairperson in the history of the USCCR. Mr Castro has received numerous awards and accolades for his community service, including the Ohtli Award, the Mexican government’s highest honour presented to those outside of Mexico for service to the Mexican diaspora.

Mr Castro is the recipient of honorary doctorates in Humane Letters from Roosevelt University and DePaul University. He received his Bachelor’s in Political Science from DePaul University and his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

 

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