Spark talks Beirut: Sparking new conversations in humanitarian action

Last Saturday 6th of December, in Beirut, after weeks of preparation, we hosted the first Spark Talks event on how to innovate in a humanitarian crisis context.

02_oneinfive syrianrefugeeLebanon is the home of a large number of local and international NGOs intervening in the Syrian context. 1 in 5 people in the country is actually a Syrian refugee (cf UNHCR infographic), with the weight this situation implies for local authorities and infrastructures.

The objective of the event was to challenge the traditional conference format with a series of short talks and personal stories from creative and innovative social activists, refugees and humanitarian workers, coming from different countries in Middle East. They shared with us their experience and the inner passion driving them to foster change in the region.

To that end, during months, we handpicked the most inspiring speakers of the region, those who are tackling the Syrian crisis through new tools and tactics, and we coached them to deliver a short 10 minutes insight on their approach:

–       James Sadri, from The Syria Campaign, leverages viral videos, social media and micro websites to raise awareness on the Syrian crisis within the European Union. He reminded us that the UK sent 500 people to fight for ISIS, but only accepted 50 Syrian refugees on its soil so far.

–       Jessica Anderson stressed the importance of media nowadays, and explained how Visualizing Impact infographics help counter the fact that most reports are never actually downloaded by anyone.

Etoile light–       James Cranwell, from UNICEF Innovation Unit, displayed the Raspberry Pi project, a small 100 USD tablet built in Lebanon to bring education to those who need it the most.

–       Edouard Elias testified on his experience as a war photographer in Syria, Central African Republic and Lebanon.

–       Kamal Mouzawak, from Souk el Tayeb, showed how war widows from both sides can get over their differences by cooking together, making “Food, not War”.

–       Doreen Toutikian, from MENA Design Research Center and Beirut Design Week, showed how design could be used to develop human-centered design projects, really answering the needs of the population.

–       Anthony Keedi, program manager at ABAAD, shared his vision on masculinity and how gender roles are deeply embedded in our socialization process from a very young age.

All speakers, through different angles, explained the danger of relying on a single story and the need to change the narrative on the existing conflict.


Monaj, on the danger of being an humanitarian worker in Syria

The most moving talk was from Mohammed Aboura, a PRS (Palestinian Syrian Refugee) who told us with acid humor about the absurdity of his current status, sometimes leading him to think he wished he were a dog to have more rights or freedom of movement…

The event was organized by PU-AMI, a French NGO working in Lebanon since 1996 and, after the previous storytelling workshop we ran with them, some of their staff decided to share their own story on stage:

–       Raquel had the courage to talk about the difficulty to be a gay humanitarian worker in complicated contexts, like in Ethiopia, Rwanda or even Lebanon.

–       Monaj, from Syria, explained the danger he faced as a volunteer humanitarian worker in Syria and the loneliness of now living in Lebanon, with a curfew after 7pm, being unable to travel anywhere else than in Lebanon, Turkey or Sudan with his current passport.

–       Maria Cristina, a Cuban freedom fighter who married a Palestinian refugee and joined him in a camp in Lebanon, taught us about resilience and acceptance throughout the ups and downs of life in the Middle East.

Mortada playing

Mortada playing

Some performances arouse emotion in the audience, such as spoken words of poetry from Majd Shidiac, the co-curator of the event, or music from Jawad and Mortada.

The catering was organized by Mommy Made, a local initiative working on women reinsertion.

In the audience, NGO or UN staff, students, journalists or entrepreneurs were inspired by the personal stories shared by the speakers.

Here is an article on the positive feedback received that day!

At The A Factor, we had a great experience running an event for the first time in the Middle East, getting to know more in depth the richness of Lebanese civil society and setting up the scene for a conversation only few had had before!

We also had a great time coaching the speakers and bridging the gap between their different topics, may it be technology, design, social entrepreneurship, activism, journalism or filmmaking.

Connecting changemakers as we love to.

We are now looking forward to new editions of Spark Talk events, would it be in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world, to give more visibility to those who bring solutions in the most challenging contexts!

Here are the photos of the innovation and storytelling workshops and the photos of the Spark talks event.

Videos coming soon!

Thanks everyone for that great event!

Thanks everyone for that great event!