By Órla Masterson
This week I had the privilege of joining a WIP forum online to discuss issues which may arise in our (hopefully soon to be) post Covid-19 world. The WIP (Washington Ireland Programme) promotes leadership and personal development through debate and discussion. As their website states, the programme is founded on a key principle of supporting leaders committed to building a future of peace and prosperity for the island of Ireland. Last month, their April Forum was held online and focused on issues surrounding the core theme ‘Sticking Together, staying apart Social Cohesion in a post Covid era.’
In preparation for the forum which was set to take place over four days the forum organisers ensured all participants were well informed on the upcoming topic. They encouraged us to select one of the proposed themes on which to focus for our time working with the forum. This would allow participants to be separated into different groups in order to work together and cooperate on solutions for their theme in question. Having read through the preparation material, I selected to focus on Theme One: ‘How might we best support at risk groups facing high levels of unemployment during the next financial crisis post Covid?” We also were sent some inspiration material such as images of volunteer work which took place during Covid to encourage ideas which we reflected on in our first forum meeting.
While everyone is starting to feel tired at the prospect of Zoom calls, the forum was designed to ensure engagement and promote participation amongst attendees. I logged onto Monday’s first call after what felt like the Monday-est of Mondays, not knowing how exactly a forum of almost 80 participants were going to work together to collaborate on new ideas for social cohesion. However, the organisers had ensured this first workshop focused solely on inspiring participants and facilitating discussion to allow us to get to know each other. Using MURAL (an online collaborative whiteboard), we were able to create sticky notes and shared poster boards to discuss certain issues. This interactive platform even allowed for a digital ‘walking debate’ with light-hearted statements such as ‘Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza’ (it does!) to more serious issues like ‘people who aren’t vaccinated shouldn’t be allowed to travel internationally’. The walking debate allowed us to express ourselves and hear the opinions of others, perfectly establishing relationships and respectful discussions which would prove helpful throughout the week.
Tuesday and Wednesday’s forums focused on innovation. Our group was helped along by our facilitator Margaret who divided us into groups of three or four to work on our ideas. Members of each group proposed ideas and then provided feedback to each other in a ‘round robin’. This allowed us to narrow down our focus area. My group chose to look at the arts, and technician workers in particular, who have been badly impacted by the Covid pandemic. Our group all agreed that it has been frustrating to see the treatment of arts workers, so we wanted to tackle the absence of a unified group to represent workers in this sector. We proposed a cooperative called TechEIRE to represent this at-risk group of workers and also to allow them to diversify their income streams through ad-hoc work within the organisation.
Thursday was pitch day, in which we came together put forward our ideas and listen to the innovations of other groups. Four groups in total spoke on the theme of supporting at risk groups, while four others spoke on the theme of continuing goodwill post pandemic. Using google slides to bring to life the ideas, each group had clearly considered the long-term benefits of their projects and the specific people who would benefit from the initiatives. It was remarkable to see the development of ideas in just four days from inspiration to pitching.
The next WIP forums will take place in August and September later this year, and I thoroughly recommend anyone with an interest in social issues and developing their own initiatives to apply to take part!
For more information visit: https://wiprogram.org/