The Arab World is in a process of radical change and transformation. The revolutions in the Arab world that started with demands for freedom from oppression, for human dignity and social justice have bred hope, but also incredible violence and distraction. The visions for the future of the region diverge radically, ranging from liberal democracy to Islamic theocracy. The original demand of the revolutions are hardly heard over the sound of explosions and bombing in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Tunisia is The Kalifat of the Islamic State is only the most extreme of versions that blend religious extremists with the cold calculus of power politics. While some visions are virtually exclusive and elude any compromise, others require intense negotiations and dialogue from all sides. Such processes need to be structured and facilitated on all levels of society to be successful. In facilitation the available know how in the Arab world is weak, largely absent of ethical standards and often part of the problem facilitation attempts to alleviate.
In November 2014, a group of 24 Arab facilitators from eight Arab countries in the Maghreb, Mashreq and Saudi Arabia met in Istanbul/Turkey to establish a network for facilitators from the Arab World. The idea for such a network had been around for some years. Finally in mid 2014 a small group of facilitators from Jordan, Syria and Egyptian in earnest developed a strategy how the multiple facilitation challenges in the region could be overcome through the formation of a professional network. Prevailing challenges include: an absence of standards, ethics and key qualifications that facilitators for the different types of groups and meetings need to possess. With an education system that emphasizes rote learning and discourages critical analysis, many facilitators do not have the skills required to design and facilitate complex planning or analysis processes. Approaches and tools are largely being developed in the “West” and context-appropriate regional facilitation training and tools are lacking. There is no system governing performance standards of facilitators and no professional development opportunities. Facilitators who undergo one or two training programs have no opportunity to develop their skills further in a risk-free environment. There is no information-sharing of materials or collaboration between facilitators. Instead, a culture of piracy exists where sources are often not credited and knowledge is withheld rather than shared. An unsophisticated understanding and appreciation of facilitation as a process by both local practitioners and clients prevails. Many organizations rely on western consultants that often do not have sufficient Arabic language skills and use tools that are at times inappropriate to the region’s cultural context. Social justice, a key demand of the Arab revolutions is not yet an underlying value in “engaged facilitation”.
In November 2014, 24 Arab professional facilitators from eight Arab countries came together for a four-day training on facilitation skills. The training course was implemented by the Jordan based SAANED for Development and Philanthropy and the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) from Belfast, designed based on the results of a training needs assessment. The training course offered an opportunity to assess the skill and knowledge level of the network members and to identify gaps, and provided the funding base required to bring the facilitators together for the formative meeting. Facilitators from GIZ Go-MENA programmes in the Arab region, Arab foundations, NGOs and independent facilitators attended. The training included a one day meeting where the network was established and a task force was formed to kick-start the network. In May 2015 in a second meeting in Beirut, the network was further consolidated, a detailed action plan developed and task forces formed as implementing mechanisms. The network aims to be more than a community of practice. The members converged on the several objectives of the network, including: Continuously source, compile, develop and share resources (approaches, tools, innovations) for facilitation in the specific context of the Arab World; develop and communicate standards for facilitation competencies - build the capacities of ACFN members in facilitation (with an emphasis on social justice); consolidate ACFN as a Network; and source and share opportunities for professional development and work for ACFN members. The importance of a social justice approach to facilitation in the context of the ongoing deepening of social, religious, and political divisions in the region was confirmed by all network members and integrated into the code of ethics of the network.
The Arab Facilitators Network (AFN) is an important and timely initiative that will improve facilitation skills in the region. This will ultimately benefit both the general public, by improving political, social, cultural, and religious dialogue; businesses, by fostering innovation and competition; and the international and government communities, by encouraging strategic, impact and social-justice driven collaboration.
CEO-SAANED for Development and Philanthropy
Amman, March 2015