Breaking our bubbles and seeing the sun
Every morning, I wake up in my brand new neighbourhood that no GPS can find; I walk my adorable puppy and impatiently wait for her to do her business; I rush to choose an outfit that borders somewhere between trendy and flexible—to aim to impress my incredibly fashionable boss, and simultaneously leave me with enough time and mobility to run for the bus on my way to work. The routine is consistent and familiar, and my surroundings put me in a bubble without me even realizing it. But every so often in life, something will come along and break through that comfortable bubble—a reminder I am always grateful to receive.
“The fight for open government is often a fight—in the literal sense—for many around the world.”
Last week, I attended the Open Government Partnership Global Summit with my team, which brought together its 79 member countries in Ottawa this year. My bubble burst the morning of my first day in attendance, when the Minister of Transport in Afghanistan stated in his speech that one day, 40 of his colleagues were murdered, on a regular day at work. I looked to my colleagues whom I call friends sitting beside me and was reminded that the fight for open government is often a fight—in the literal sense—for many around the world.
Thoughts from the summit
At 10:30 am, we slip into a talk on ‘local approaches to empowering underrepresented communities,’ just as table discussions begin. Our international colleagues around the table talk about the challenges they face and share examples of successes. A woman from Austin, Texas pauses the conversation to add a thought-provoking point, “Is it really about empowering people?” she questions. “People have the power, we just have to listen to the unheard voices.” Indeed, my two days at the summit alerted me to some unheard voices.
‘People are a part of the process’
“Nothing is more effective than engaging those who are affected.”
The idea of bringing people in to be a part of the process in finding solutions was a common revelation across our table discussions. Who would better identify a viable solution to a problem, than those experiencing the problem themselves? Several around the table gave examples on how they opened up their processes for unconventional groups to weigh in. For example, in efforts to tackle homelessness in Austin, Texas, the homeless were taught how budgets and policies work at the municipal level, so that they were positioned to be able to put forth proposals to the city. After all, they are living, or have lived it first-hand, and nothing is more effective than engaging those who are affected.
‘Keeping up with the world’
To keep up with the world, we turn to the news as our primary outlet. However, the OGP summit reminded me that the news provides only a fraction of the picture of other countries, and mostly on the world stage. The summit gave me the rare opportunity to take an inside look at the actions these countries are taking on a grassroots level to better their communities. It is within this kind of environment where a true exchange of ideas can take place and it reminded me that we should put our ears to the ground whenever we can.
I quickly noticed at the summit that the priorities are drastically different here; while some colleagues talk about hackathons and digital solutions, others talk about issues of poverty and literacy. It made me wonder what it would take to get everyone on the same level of priorities. As the summit progressed, thoughts ran through my head: are we hindering the development of other countries because we are too focused on the advancement of technology, rather than helping the world fulfill basic needs? Or, perhaps on the contrary, achieving successes in the digital age will in turn be able to help bring the world onto the same page more quickly and effectively? The benefits of open government wears many hats, I suppose.
It starts with a knock at your bubble
Being in a ‘comfortable’ space or bubble has more downfalls than one. Throughout the summit, it is mentioned that countries who have been embracing digital for years are now being ‘leap-frogged’ over by up-and-coming digital countries. This is a testament to the fact that being in a disadvantaged position will drive a nation to push for above and beyond, whereas it’s easy to sit comfortably upon mediocrity.
“The most powerful things in the world are the things that remind me that the world is incredibly big, and that my problems and I are inherently small.”
That’s why I will argue that the most powerful things in the world are the things that remind me that the world is incredibly big, and that my problems and I are inherently small. The OGP summit did just that for me, and my team and I walked away inspired to apply what we learned to our own work and our own initiatives.
There is so much in the world we believe we are restricted from seeing, but sometimes it’s simply a matter of opening our eyes.
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