Christine Petré
Last updated: 17 November, 2014

North African changemakers gather to tackle the region’s leadership challenge

Close to 100 participants from six countries joined forces in Tunisia to take on the region’s leadership challenge, aiming to identify concrete solutions to critical issues. Here are some of the key lessons learned.

The three-day Hammamet Conference 2014, running for the third year and hosted by the British Council, aimed to foster a climate of dialogue. Inspiration and empowerment were buzzwords among a dynamic mix of participants, ranging from senior diplomats to young activists, entrepreneurs to academics, all with a shared passion for the North African region. This international platform is unique, “the only of its kind,” explained Nigel Bellingham, British Council Tunisia Director.

One of the main discussions was how to get more young people involved in leadership positions and become active parts of their civil societies. “The importance of involving young people is essential and a shared problem for all countries in the world,” said Lord Lothian, co-chair Hammamet Conference. The conference underlined that leadership exists on many different levels and leaders from different sectors can (and should) exchange ideas. “Now more than ever do we need partnerships and cooperation,” emphasised Dr Atia Lawgali, co-chair of the conference. “We need to open up and learn from the world.”

Focus needs to be on the long-term effect added Baroness Usha Prashar, underlining the importance of creating an atmosphere of respect; “Friendship builds dialogue, which leads to understanding.”

The role of media, the education sector and culture were also important topics on the agenda. Algerian-French Karim Amellal, founder of the video database SAM Network, described how media is gaining an important role in the Algerian society, underlining how grassroots media and bloggers play a vital part in all societal transitions. While most people tend to speak with worry of what impact technology and media can have top-down, people sometimes forget about the influence it has bottom-up, highlighted Amellal. 

The education sector also constitutes an essential platform for promoting leadership. Some of the challenges facing North African higher education include: autonomy, financing and level of quality, but also the worrying trend that with a higher education degree you are less likely to have a job. “The unemployment of university degree holders was a determining factor in the Arab Spring,” explained Professor Jelel Ezzine emphasising the need for youth employment.

Mohamed El-Sawy, founder of El Sawy Culturewheel, mentioned the importance of culture in developing effective leadership and that culture can act “as a catalyst for change.” Artistic director Hakeem Onibudo and founder of Impact Dance shared an inspiring speech about how culture built bridges by bringing together break-dancers from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan. “Don’t focus on problems, actually don’t use the word problems,” he said, “use ‘challenge’ and focus on the solutions,” he encouraged a mesmerised audience.   

Many of the participants were pleased with the conference, arguing that exchanging know-how and networking are invaluable gains. “The sharing of expertise has been the most valuable about the conference,” explains Tunisian youth consultant Hend Hassassi, adding, “the networking with people from so many different sectors is also one of the best things.”

“Tunisia is an inspiring case for Libya,” said Hajer Alsharif, co-founder of Together We Build It, an organization focusing on Libya’s democratic transition, confessing she would return to Libya inspired. 

Some of the insights from the workshops included four steps for fostering leadership:

* The need to create an online discussion platform.

* Identifying future leaders and provide training and support.

* Establish networks, connecting people.

* The importance of education and creating a culture of leadership at an early start.

The conference, “merely a stepping stone for the future,” emphasised Lord Lothian, left participants pondering over important questions such as, how do we implement a culture of dialogue if dialogue is considered a failure?

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