Brilliant minds in a hipster heaven: what I learned from the Open Global Partnership Democracy Summit
Author: Ambroise Lescop
It was a chill, grey morning in the main harbour of Tallinn, one of the northernmost capital cities in the world. The wind was blowing and I was waiting for the bus in front of the interesting modernist building of an Adventist church. I started getting nervous, and impatient; asking myself if my bus would ever come and if my navigation app had maybe just invented a new bus line that actually didn’t exist. The chill Estonian weather wasn’t my main source of concern, though. In fact, I was afraid to be late for the grand opening of an event I was really excited to attend — the Open Global Partnership (OGP) Summit.
I had applied to participate in May, as a representative of the Young European Ambassadors. Despite the high number of applications and the strict selection rules, our beloved initiative made it through and I was then sent to Tallinn, to stand for us and see what could be learnt from the meeting and from confronting with so many brilliant minds. I was somewhat nervous, though. Would I be able to find new partners for the initiative? Who would be there? These questions and many others were fusing through my mind as I finally saw the bus arriving.
I got to the former factory complex the summit was to be held in just on time for the first conference. I would later on have the time to admire and enjoy this fascinating place, a hipster’s dream made out of wood and bricks, a place where a food truck neighboured an art and photography bookstore, a woman with her baby on her back was preparing fresh pickled cucumbers for the attendants, and from which you could admire a beautiful view on the old city of Tallinn with its mighty stone walls. The place was buzzing with people; guests, speakers, and facilitators of the events — the latter being recognisable with their blue jumpers proudly stating that “they had all the answers” (which, in fact, they didn’t).
The big room welcoming the opening conference was full. I managed to find a spot between a Kenyan and a Tibetan delegation. On the stage, the speakers introduced themselves: among them were three prime ministers — and two more on tape. The things were settled: I had found myself in a place full of brilliant minds. The next sessions and guests were on a similarly high level; and although I tried to favour the ones with EaP-related topics, the offer was so interesting that the choice was hard to make.
Between each session, there was a fifteen-minute break, during which I snooped around, recyclable cup of coffee in my hand, looking for people to talk to. That was roll of the dice; sometimes, I would come across people whom I knew would make interesting partners for the YEAs; and other times I would met people whose topics and centre of interests, although equally fascinating, were of no use for us. In any case, each of these encounters was truly enriching. I had, among others, the occasion to learn how the European Law Students Associations (ELSA) had become a safe place for Ukrainian students to talk and think about the future of their country and the difficulties they are facing; how a project was working on the digitalisation of rural Armenia; or how an Estonian youth organisation was holding its meetings in a sauna.
One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about the role of civil society in the rebuilding of Ukraine during and after the war. The testimonies of Ukrainians and their willingness to rebuild the country, as well as their resilience, were both heart-warming and terribly dramatic. The Ukrainian delegation eventually won an honorary award. At the end of the day, other awards were handed out; rewarding countries or cities, political actors or figures from civil society for their work toward a better society. The ceremony was followed by a “networking hour” during which vegan finger food was offered; however, a good part of the attendants disbanded shortly after, exhausted after such a long day.
The second (and last) day followed a similar pattern; the testimony of the Nobel-prize winner Maria Ressa about her experience as a journalist in the Philippines especially stuck with me due to its reminder of how gruesome today’s world can be.
To sum it up, the OGP Summit was an amazing opportunity and I feel very honoured to have had the chance to take part in it. I met a few valuable contacts and made countless other interesting encounters. Moreover, I learnt so much during the different plenary sessions. Because, at the end of the day, democracy, and especially digital democracy, is what makes our voices heard, and meeting other people who seek to promote and defend it is the best way to foster peace and friendship across nations. Funnily enough, the president of the OGP Summit concluded her speech saying that we were “stronger together” — and I think that this coincidence says a lot about the coinciding goals of the YEAs and the global forum for democracy.
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