The Think-and-Do-Tank that Makes Diplomacy Work
"In the two years since I have been a member of the Global Diplomacy Lab (GDL), it has become a big part of my life – both personal and professional."
By Elsa D’Silva
I was invited to apply to become a GDL member in 2017 after my organisation Red Dot Foundation, which strives to prevent sexual violence, was awarded the Intercultural Innovation Award by the UN Alliance of Civilisations and BMW for our crowd mapping platform Safecity. At first, I didn’t really understand its full potential and what we were attempting to do. But then I attended my first lab in Buenos Aires in June 2017. The lab was an attempt to address mass atrocities and genocide prevention in conjunction with ESMA in Argentina, a museum that serves as both evidence and a condemnation of state terrorism. GDL is a network-driven membership organisation, supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and German foundations, and it was inspirational to meet committed, passionate and solution-driven individuals across several sectors, collectively attempting to find answers to difficult problems.
The “think and do” format is very insightful, using theory and practice to generate solutions. In business, we are constantly dependent on large consulting firms to provide us with insights and show us the way forward. However, in the social sector, there is very little collaborative effort involving diverse stakeholders to find solutions. There is clearly a space for this niche offering, and this was highlighted when we represented the GDL at the Paris Peace Forum, where several organisations expressed interest in our work.
For me, the GDL represents an opportunity to work on large social problems that are beyond my personal and organisational expertise. It is a chance to work alongside some of the most intelligent people on the planet with whom I would not normally have contact. More importantly, it constantly broadens my knowledge and skills not only with theoretical knowledge but also through attempts to find practical solutions via idea generation, brainstorming, collaboration on hyperlocal solutions with government and NGO actors and prototype testing.
GDL has also given me opportunities to engage the wider community in discussions on topics that matter to me, such as promotion of gender equality, creation of safe public spaces and preventing sexual violence. I have led a learning session on using social media for good, a workshop on safe public spaces at the Global Media Forum and the Paris Peace Forum with Eirliani Abdul Rahman, a former diplomat turned activist who is passionate about ending child sexual abuse.
As GDL reflects on its five years of existence and strategises to strengthen its impact over the next few years, I am excited to be part of the Strategy working group. I personally will be looking to put “Gender on the Agenda” so that we don’t lose sight of this important aspect. I would encourage each of you to take part in the survey we have circulated and add your valuable input as we flesh this out together. At the end of the day, as a network-member-driven organisation, we each have a role to play and learn in the process. It is a collective effort which makes us unique and impactful.
I am looking forward to working with you closely so that together we can tackle one problem at a time.
Elsa Marie D’Silva is the founder and Managing Director of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. Since Safecity started in December 2012, it has become the largest crowd map on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal.
Elsa Marie is an alumna of the US State Department’s Fortune Program, a fellow with Rotary Peace, Aspen New Voices and Vital Voices, and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader. She is listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women. Moreover, she has won the Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award launched by Dušan Stojanović (European Angel Investor of the Year 2013) and the SheThePeople’s Digital Woman Award in Social Impact.
Prior to Safecity, she spent 20 years in the aviation industry, where she worked with Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. In her last role in aviation, she was Vice President Network Planning.