Why We Still Have Hope for 2020

Publication Date: February 2020

By: Zabeen Hirji, Executive Advisor, Deloitte and former Chief Human Resources Officer, RBC
David Johnston, Executive Advisor, Deloitte and former Governor General of Canada

So far, 2020 has not been going well. The spread of the coronavirus to all corners of the globe continues, and impeachment proceedings south of the border moved our U.S. neighbours into another quagmire of ugly political discourse. And what initiated this year of tragedy and distress was the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 from Tehran. This was a shocking example of how innocent people are directly affected by the continuing spread of conflict around the world. The individual stories of the crash victims brought home just how connected we all are. Newlyweds returning home after getting married in Iran. Brilliant students heading back to universities across Canada to continue their studies. Violence half-way across the world can hit very close to home and Canadians are acutely conscious that pain knows no borders.

At the same time, the upswelling of Canadian support for the families and friends of our fallen was truly remarkable. Literally thousands of Canadians from all walks of life came together to remember 13 Edmontonians who were among those killed. In so doing, Canadians honoured the cross-cultural ties that we hold dear, and showed the world that comfort and help can also cross borders.

We instinctively know that deepening our understanding and appreciation for one another lies at the heart of peaceful societies. A number of individuals and organizations are working around the world doing just that – building respect and unlocking the potential of diversity. Reflecting on their achievements, we maintain a positive outlook for 2020. But we need these success stories more than ever. We need to celebrate and build on these trends, and not allow ourselves to be discouraged by global upheavals.

Do you know a pluralism champion helping to build a better world? Nominate them for the 2021 Global Pluralism Award as of March 3rd. Learn more at award.pluralism.ca

The Global Centre for Pluralism, a Canadian institution building respect for diversity around the globe, highlighted a number of these trends with their recent Global Pluralism Awards.

By celebrating the actions of these individuals and organizations with the world, we can uncover new knowledge and generate innovative approaches to the challenges we all face. We will not advance wider social progress, and we cannot counter exclusion, unless we practice the ‘diplomacy of knowledge’ in this way – across disciplines, borders and differences.

For instance, a cross border network of teachers is leading the way in the Balkans to help students address the painful and controversial history of the 1990s Yugoslav wars.

Another inspiring example is Zohra, Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra created by the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, and led by 23-year old, Negin Khpalwak, the country’s first female conductor. Under Taliban rule, music was completely banned and women had few educational opportunities. Now, Zohra is being invited to play around the world.

In Lebanon, an NGO, the Adyan Foundation, has launched a series of online videos showing people from different religions interacting together and learning about one another’s faiths. In its first year, the videos reached 38 million people. In a country where religion has often divided people, Adyan’s work to break down cultural and religious barriers and promote openness to others is crucial to building peace.

The French organization SINGA has created an online platform, CALM, where French citizens can sign up to host a recently arrived refugee in their home for between 3 to 12 months. In actions familiar to many Canadians, over 2,000 people have helped house refugees this way, and in the process, made lifelong friendships. This is a hopeful example of everyday people creating welcoming communities, when the daily headlines about Europe tend to focus on xenophobia and divisiveness across the continent.

Many of these organizations and individuals – all recipients of the Global Pluralism Award – have until now been working in virtual darkness, with few resources and little recognition, often at the risk of violent backlash. There is a new urgency for this to change.

In Canada, it is easy to get complacent. We live in a country that generally accepts that our social fabric is enriched by the existence of a multitude of cultures, languages, and faiths. While recognizing that there are gaps and failures that must be addressed on a daily basis, overall, we are proud and celebrate our nation’s multicultural character. This is not the case in many parts of the world. And we know this to be true: diversity is a fact, but inclusion is an act.

Hugh McLennan’s Voices in Time talked about the diligent work involved in cultivating a garden and the important work of the gardener: “a civilization is like a garden cultivated in a jungle. As flowers and vegetables grow from cultivated seeds, so do civilizations grow from carefully studied, diligently examined ideas and perceptions. In nature, if there are no gardeners, the weeds that need no cultivation take over the garden and destroy it.”

To ensure 2020 changes for the better, let us commit to find the skilled gardeners in our midst, to thank them, and to ask: how can I help?

Zabeen Hirji

Executive Advisor, Deloitte and former Chief Human Resources Officer, RBC

The Rt. Hon. David Johnston

Executive Advisor, Deloitte and former Governor General of Canada