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Digitally connecting and bridging divides

This opinion piece is over 3 years old

Diane Marr reflects on the Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution's International Conference

The familiar warm feeling of connectedness washed over me as I watched a wonderful Zimbabwean woman sing about peace and hope to a captivated audience. It felt as though we were in the room with her, basking in her spirit, when in reality we were thousands of miles away in our respective countries, perched in front of our laptops on Zoom.

This was just one of the many surreal and powerful moments from the International Conference: Connections and bridging the divide that my Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict (SCCR) team held throughout October.

As the title suggests, it was this feeling of connection that we hoped to create for people through free online events that unpacked themes such as relationships, mediation, neuroscience, storytelling, film and the arts.

Although the pandemic may have halted plans of our annual conference in its physical form, we felt it was necessary to overcome this challenge by holding a digital conference as we identified the need for connection, kindness and compassion this year more than ever.

Through harnessing the power of digital, we believe our conference was a truly international and inclusive experience.

A significant difference of adopting a digital approach compared to our usual Edinburgh-based conferences was that it gave us the once in a lifetime opportunity to invite speakers, artists and writers from every corner of the world to hold events that could be attended by anyone, anywhere.

To put this in perspective, we held 11 events hosted by 28 speakers across nine countries that were attended by 355 people from 15 countries over the month.

Of course, with an all-digital conference, there was the consideration of global time differences and the possibility of technical failures, which meant our team had to be prepared at all times. However, some unique positives of going digital is that we able to cross oceans to bring people together in one shared space and moment, all at no cost to our carbon footprint or the organisation’s funds.

Our International Conference broke down geographical barriers to unite voices from the Gaza Strip, Zimbabwe, Australia, Canada and Scotland in peace and hope, which overrules all the differences and challenges we faced by taking our conference online.

Whilst our conference may have come to an end, I believe we have formed connections to last a lifetime. The SCCR team and I hope this feeling is reciprocated by all who were involved, with an attendee touchingly sharing this comment after one of the events; “I will remember and draw inspiration from today for years to come.” Lastly, something that will stay with me forever from our International Conference was the profound generosity of spirit. The team and I were humbled by how readily the speakers offered their time, expertise and stories with our audience, who, in return, opened their hearts and minds. We would like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who joined us to bridge the divide.

Visit the SCCR’s website where audio recordings of the International Conference events will be coming soon.

Diane Marr is senior network development manager for Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution