In the Context of Evaluating the Second Season of the Iraqi Social Forum
Ali Basim Al-karkhi *
Istanbul – February 2016
I worked as a volunteer with the Iraqi Social Forum in both its first season in 2013, and its second, in 2015. During the second session, I attended the initial preparations and workshops, and saw first-hand how the ideas discussed and debated were transformed into concrete action, coordinated at the event’s inception, developing further as the event went on, and reverberating still later after the session itself had ended.
Below is a summary of what I take to be the core of the work done by the Iraqi Social Forum, and some particular points that drew my attention during the 2015 season:
The team that works to prepare the Forum’s activities is managed horizontally, that is, in a way that allow everyone to join and contribute to the planning collectively, unlike festivals or other events which are organized by teams working independently and hierarchically. The networking committee that manages the Forum embraces everyone working under the ISF’s ‘roof’, ensuring that activities and aims are understood so that each can take part in fully, making his/her own contribution to the work.
In this way, each feels responsibility for his/her role, and is motivated to take it seriously. This leads to greater creativity and strong sense of community where participants are driven by a desire for personal success, but always as it relates and contributes to the larger goals and aims of ISF. This sense of personal responsibility becomes an important challenge to the individuals involved, which is reflected in the success of all of ISFs work. It seems to me that the most important characteristic of the Forum is its ability to identify clear objectives and give information in a way that contributes to fruitful, productive — and fun — meetings.
For instance, in addition to workshops, the Forum provides entertainment such as Artistic shows and theater, which helps to make clear the issues at stake while shaping the content of the ISF’s mission. This is distinct from the other kinds of entertainment for, as a part of the ISF session, it has a meaningful purpose, which can be invested directly in the service of the social issues with which the ISF is most concerned.
I make these observations because, in my view, the excellent focus consistently shown by the Iraqi Social Forum is one of the key factors leading to its successes. At the same time, this focus and broad involvement also helps in the areas where it has been less successful, illuminating the areas which require more attention or a different approach. Therefore I think it’s important to continue to work according to the format referred above, while always taking into account new developments and changing circumstances ‘on the ground’.
With respect to the activities of the second season, we might consider the first Baghdad Marathon as the headline, and the most successful of its activities. If we listen to the echoes of the marathon and how people responded to it we can get a sense of the extent of its influence.
As for the seminars, booths, and theater, that shaped richer content to the content of the event, we can look again to the manner in which the event was organized and managed. We should not ignore the extraordinary circumstances faced by the preparatory team and the Secretariat of the Forum during the period of the second season, which profoundly impacted their capacity to plan. Nevertheless, despite the exceptionally difficult circumstances that emerged, the work on the event continued. Next time, in light of this experience, we have to study all the possibilities we might need to develop as alternatives so as to avoid any potential emergency that might arise.
It is important to support the volunteers who worked with us in the second season if we want to maintain the spirit of connectedness and unity we cultivated as we worked together. They have reservoirs of knowledge accumulated through long acquired experience — ultimately, they are the foundation stone for success.
In a country the size of Iraq, and given the many problems it faces, we should, at the very least, be seeing an increasingly larger role for civil society. Its activities can help fill the gap between what is available and what is required, between the problem and the solution, between chaos and reform. Still, a clear deficit remains — to give just one example, other than those events organized by the Iraqi Social Forum, we see relatively few festivals and events with similar objectives. Given this, the Forum must share its fertile ground and gather ever more people and groups to help construct a monument for peace and unity that can resonate under the deafening silence of the skies!
As for the focus of the third season of the Forum, perhaps the most important factors for success is an early start for preparations, as the time span we have in front of us now allows for the organization to establish optimum visibility. With more people watching aware of the ISFs work, more will surely participate in its efforts, and the ISF can complete the march of success it began in the past two seasons. With greater understanding of its needs and requirements this far in advance, it can create just the atmosphere it wants and needs, one of high quality, and efficiency and again, of fun. The element of time is currently on our side and we must exploit it fully.
*Student in the Fourth stage / air conditioning and refrigeration engineering (Dijla University)
– Role in ISF: volunteers to manage and update the forum social sites and pages.
This paper has been prepared for the strategic meeting between the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) and the Iraqi Social Forum.