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Global Flipchart #20

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March 2021

The Pandemic-a blessing in disguise for expanding Social Inclusion!

By Shalaka Gundi

As I reflect back upon what I lost and what I gained during the last year, and especially during the various stages of lockdown during the Covid 19 pandemic, one thing stands out – what I lost locally in terms of opportunities to connect face-to-face, I gained in terms of global virtual connection!

In short; I learnt to be more socially inclusive….

A lion’s share of creating these opportunities came from IAF’s amazing series of virtual sessions, conducted by various regions and chapters, and expanded globally to welcome participants from all over the world. Whether it was ‘Facilitating Authentic Participation’ by Martin Gilbraith, The Facilitation’s Summer Festival, IAF EME Facilitation Talks, IAF Asia’s ‘One Asia’ event during the Facweek; each session was an eye-opener of sorts. Apart from the actual theme of the session, it was the cultural diversity of the facilitators and the participants that sensitized me towards many things - different ways the facilitators articulated and expressed, connected with people, even the pace, volume and tone with which they spoke was quite varied. The responses from participants came from their own unique personal, cultural, social and geographical contexts. This made me realize the infinite diversity of perspectives that people from around the globe hold and how enriching it is for me as a facilitator and a participant to be able to experience these and broaden my own perspective.

My experience as a first-time evaluator of the FIA also gave a wonderful opportunity to interact with evaluators from different parts of the world and understand how they interpret different aspects of the IAF Competencies. My socio-cultural boundaries were greatly stretched as I tried to understand the context of the FIA submissions and visualize the importance and impact of their work on the target community.

A significant part in expanding my boundaries of perception to make me more ‘Socially Inclusive’ was played by the ‘Social Inclusion Group’- A Special Interest Group with a representation from more than 10 countries across continents within the IAF Community. I understood how the term ‘Social Inclusion’ meant different things in different contexts, was kept abreast of the socio-political situations during the pandemic in different countries and the amazing work all the facilitators are doing in their respective countries to improve Social Inclusion (primarily of marginalized groups). A highly engaging and moving experience was the session ‘I Can’t Breathe’- a session designed by the pioneers of this group to sensitize us to our own blind-spots that create biases and possibly ‘exclude’ certain people based on these biases.

As a facilitator too, I learnt to be socially inclusive when facilitating work-shops for participants from different countries-by doing a bit of study about the language, climate, culture etc. of the participants, by being mindful to speak clearly and slowly for the benefit of non-English- speaking participants, being patient with technology and network glitches, using simple and neutral words while giving instructions etc. My experience as the facilitator for a session for audience primarily from Russia and as a FlowGame host for the IAF Malaysia Executive Committee as well as for the Social Inclusion Group was an enriching experience, giving me the opportunity to be present, sensitive, mindful and neutral; in short-to be as inclusive as possible.

Technology played a major part in connecting people across boundaries and IAF as a Global Organization truly lived, and continues to live it’s value of Inclusion. May this river continue to flow, grow and expand into a better space for everyone!

It is rightly said-Variety (Diversity) is the spice of life; and without diversity, there is no inclusion!