National Democracy Week Blog
Faiths Forum launched its first ever Democracy Week campaign, the Civic and Democracy Leadership Programme, encompassing various workshops to enhance and expand young people’s arsenal of skills whilst also addressing issues critical to society. 25 university students and graduates developed their leadership skills from experts in their field and expressed their ideas to senior members of government.
The inaugural National Democracy Week, initiated by the Cabinet office and the National Democracy Week Council and various members across the nation was a week long celebration of our democracy and coincided with celebrating the centenary of women getting the right to vote. The aim of the week was to encourage young people who are often the most apathetic towards politics and who feel like they do not have a voice to learn more about democracy and to encourage them to get involved in the democratic process.
The Faith Forum wanted to make a difference and give young people a chance to learn vital leadership skills, get expert insights from high level dignitaries and experts in their field and included trips to important places of power such as No.10 Downing Street. In line with Faith Forum and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG); the week was based around the idea of how to better integrate communities which are often isolated from politics and how get them involved with the political process and help their cause.
We want to thank all our participants who brought with them a passion, a willingness to learn and participate, so they can develop and take away their skills to improve their communities and help others engage in politics.
I genuinely got a sense of direction and how to get to where I want to be in the future
– Surra Mehdi, University of London
Monday 2nd of July
Esmat Jeraj of Patchwork Foundation led the day on self-reflection and how to develop skills through an engaging workshop, the group learnt about expanding their comfort zone and broadening their social skills.
This set the precedent for the week for the whole group to get more engaged and to push their boundaries and participate in public speaking, which is something that many people struggle with yet is an integral life skill.
Another exciting aspect of self-development is understanding yourself through self-reflection. Esmat discussed the dynamics of how different people learn and the various personality types. She then led a discussion on how humans are varied but have similar traits.
The emotional intelligence workshop allowed the young participants to understand how to take control of their emotions and to manage interpersonal relationships which is key for a successful personal and professional life. By becoming actively aware of this skill, they are able to clearly manage, influence and inspire the emotions and perception of others.
Towards the end, the class got to participate in a short test to discover more about their personality, what they’re good at and what they can improve on.
Tuesday 3rd of July
The subject of the day was Strategic Action, Communication and Media Engagement and the focus was on how to create a practical strategy to gain media attention and how to apply for government funds. The guests who led the day were Heider Ridha an investment banker and founder of Bain Social Business Incubator. And Warwick Hawkins who gave practical advice for writing professional applications for government funds. This level of support and insight into how to formulate effective media strategies and to apply for grants and funds was exactly what made our week different and unique for the participants who had their own social enterprise ideas.
Heider Ridha spoke about what inspired him to start his own company. The fact that most of the media was dominated by extremist material and hate speech, encouraged his organization to come up with a strategy to counter the hate and give a platform for Muslims and non Muslims to unite in the wake of terrorist attacks. He left us with a sombre quote to dwell on: “Evil is loud and good often stays too quiet”. To tackle this problem and bring people together, they came up with the successful and world famous hashtag #turntolove.
Heider was a gripping speaker and the participants listened with open hearts and ears to what he said, and after showing them the power of individuals having a large impact through social media, they too felt they could harness the power of social media to create positive change and bring a light on issues they cared about. The major takeaways to enact a successful campaign in the aftermaths of an attack were:
- Mobilise and act fast- Get to the scene of the incident or somewhere nearby to hold a vigil and show a presence.
- Short and simple- Keep it short and simple to convey a message and to allow it to go viral.
- Get the public involved and prepare for media interviews.
Warwick Hawkins MBE, a former MHCLG civil servant, gave an insight on how to apply for a professional funding and explained the structure of government and its intricacies. Many participants had expressed their interest in starting social enterprises and had no idea of how to apply or what the process was. Through group work and simulated interviews they got a unique comprehension of how to interact with government institutions and to successfully get grants. Overall the day was successful and they really gained inspiration and insight.
Wednesday 4th of July
On the third day of the programme, civil servants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government led a discussion on what community means, how the government can better understand communities and how to encourage integration. This workshop allowed the participants to hear from Pasha Shah, a senior policy advisor, on how the government engages with communities across the country in order to create effective integration policy and programmes.
Hearing the MHCLG officials discuss how the government works on community engagement, integration, local government development and hate crime, was thought provoking and allowed our participants to gain a broader understanding on issues relevant in our society but also encouraged them to be critical to better improve communities and offer their own ideas.
In the afternoon we visited St Paul’s Cathedral where the group met Mike Buckley, a freelance consultant and an experienced professional on integration and campaigning, who gave our young participants an insight into the charity sector and how social justice campaigns can become successful.
After brainstorming ways in which change can occur and who can create change in society, participants discussed what they thought about the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper of March 2018 and how this document could be improved to become a better resource for the integration of communities.
To ensure that young people were deliberating on how they could actively make a difference in society, each participant created a plan on an issue they are passionate about changing and how they can carry that vision out to ensure that they make an impact on society and their community. This task allowed young people to understand the strategy behind campaigning.
Thursday 5th of July
The fourth day of the Civic and Democracy Leadership programme was held in the second most powerful building in Britain and where a large amount of political deliberation, policy formation and research occurs, the Cabinet office in Westminster. After a walk through a sunny British summer day we met the officials at the Treasury/ Cabinet office that implement the policies that encourage youth engagement in politics.
The participants and the civil servants delved into what it is like to work for the Civil Service and how to get into the Civil Service through different avenues such as the Fast Stream or Graduate programmes. The youth participants raised salient apprehensions and reservations that people from their communities felt about the government and its lack of diversity hiring. Many young people believe that the civil service was only for those from wealthier backgrounds and that a 1st class degree was needed. The civil servants dispelled some of these fears by explaining that applications contained no personal details about the applicants and they were judged purely on their merit. The overall takeaway was a positive message encouraging them to apply to the civil service fast stream and to know that there are multiple avenues towards a civil service career.
This year’s national democracy week coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of People Act 1918 which allowed women to vote for the very first time. Nancy Williams from the Cabinet Office, spoke about the Suffragette movement and its significance and relevance in society, before leading a lively conversation on the ways we can improve democratic participation from a young age through schools and education projects such as the Parliamentary Youth Engagement Toolkit and the Democracy Ambassador Scheme. Both of which are to be released later this year.
Friday 6th of July
We concluded the Civic and Democracy Leadership Programme in celebration of National Democracy Week by visiting 10 Downing Street to discuss community integration and the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper of March 2018 with Senior Political advisors Jonathan Hellewell, Nero Ughwujabo and Fast Stream civil servant Matthew Lever.
The discussion around community integration sparked questions such as, to what extent should the government be actively enforcing integration or whether they should expect it to be a two-way street where the communities themselves are pushing for change too.
We went on to give our input on whether it should be a legal requirement to have a civil marriage as well as a religious marriage and how this issue relates back to communities.
After a week of honing our skills and gaining new experiences and knowledge, we ended the week creating new projects about gender equality, combating crime levels, integrating communities of different faiths and planning the next masterclass to follow up from this leadership programme. By creating and presenting our ideas and reflecting on the week, it’s apparent that every participant has gained key skills and attributes that demonstrate their development and growth throughout the course to become aspiring young leaders of the future.
The programme provided awareness and practical steps on how to engage in democracy and represent our community
– Mehraj Sheikh, SOAS
Members of Faith Forum (Left to Right): Remi A.El Farsi (intern), Jasvir Singh OBE (Co Chair of the Faith Forum London and,Director of the City Sikhs Network), Archana Shah (intern), Razina Patel (intern), Haider Alkhateeb (International Centre for Integration & Cohesion and lead facilitator of Faith Forum’s National Democracy Week.)