Fostering International Dialogue and Youth Engagement in Laos
Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Earlier in November, I had the honour of facilitating a dialogue and representing Canadian youth at the Vientiane Youth Leaders’ Forum in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, which took place on the sidelines of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (the international ban on the production, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions). Laos is the world’s most cluster munition-afflicted country, a legacy of the Second Indochina War (Vietnam War) during which more than 2 million tonnes of ordnance were dropped over the country. Since the end of the war, more than 20,000 civilians in the country have been injured or killed by leftover munitions.

The Vientiane Youth Leaders’ Forum gathered 42 youth from around the world to engage in dialogue. The Forum organizers, Mines Action Canada, invited me to design and facilitate the final session of the week. Working closely with others on the Ascentum team (Manon Abud and Mary Pat MacKinnon) as well as the conference organizers, I designed and facilitated a generative dialogue and planning session on the Annual Plan for the newly-formed “Youth to Youth Network”.  The intention is that this network will sustain Forum momentum and relationships into the future.

Designing and facilitating the session was no walk in the park. Challenges included extremely limited time (2 hours, for a session that would normally require 4-6 hours), varying levels of English language skills, and differing political, economic and cultural realities in each of the delegates’ home countries.

To try and overcome these challenges, I met delegates in smaller groups in the days leading up to the session to review the process, and answer any lingering questions. I also identified ‘champions’ – delegates passionate enough to adopt particular action items and could encourage others to join them to discuss them further during the dialogue. By employing a modified “Open Space” format, participants were able to identify and discuss actions that were most important to them. People could take part in English or by engaging with others who spoke a different language. Dialogue was supported by three multilingual facilitators who helped foster small group dialogue. Despite the challenges of a short event, participant delegates produced and prioritized a rich list of activities on which youth across the Network should focus over the coming year, including the development of an interactive and comprehensive online space for collaboration.

– Stephan Telka –

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  1. Stan says:

    Awesome stuff there Stephan! Am awfully proud to read of your efforts to help change the world…one part at a time! I’ll be sharing this with our friends back in Mommheim! 😀