Tag Archives: interfaith

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Activism and Change

Reblogged with permission from IFYC.org

On my recent speaking tour in Italy, I presented six lectures in eight days to NGO representatives, ethnic media journalists, and minority community leaders to discuss best practices for social web tools and movement-building in general. In an earlier post I wrote about some of the big conversations that I had with Italians, but now that I’m removed from the tour by a few weeks, I’ve ferreted out a few more reflections about what I saw and heard.

1. The extensive history/proliferation of civil society organizations (NGOs, regional/city nonprofits, etc.) in the United States is not mirrored in Italy, with the exception of faith-based institutions. The Catholic Church has done that heavy lifting for a while, apparently. American social sector development as of late has revolved around the buzzword “collaboration,” and this movement is gaining traction in Italy, too. Italian nonprofits are finding each other and working together. Organizations promoting dialogue and/or action with the “other” will have to struggle at first, but there is plenty of room to grow.

2. At times during Q&A sessions, my audiences were quite vocally frustrated with the glacial pace of reform in Italy. They described cases of personal and community discrimination. They heaped scorn upon Italian media for its complicity in promoting xenophobia, and wondered why other Italians weren’t interested in having simple dialogue with them. These conversations could just as easily have taken place in America. I felt that frustration, which seems a dominant undercurrent in young people globally. We’ve got all these tools and all of this intelligence and the capacity to network across vast distances to solve huge problems, but we’re held back by old (and generally white) men.

3. The Arab Spring offered a glimpse of these frustrated young people employing social media to organize, share, and connect. Let’s not forget the other examples of the powerful nexus of protest movements, youth, and social media: Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Colombia, England, China, and Occupy. The increase of social web density across the world will have an incredibly powerful impact on how we run future mass information campaigns. This is not only about “flattening” and democratizing media; I think that the real change zone will be bringing people together around issues of common concern. I spoke about this in a web video filmed during my last lecture in Milan. In a place like Egypt, for instance, which has clear minority and majority populations in terms of religion, class, and education, social tools allow people to promote a common cause (in this case, revolution) without having to agree personally on everything else. Digital coalitions, perhaps?

It’s like an analogy of interfaith work: We may not all have the same idea of what happens when we die, but we can certainly work together on the important things before then.

I was stunned at the readiness of the young Italians that I met. They won’t stop agitating for full representation and civil rights. They may have Moroccan or Senegalese or Romanian ancestry, but they are Italian through and through. I especially sensed (and observed firsthand) young Catholics’ eagerness to work with their fellow Italians across faith lines. The country’s de facto gerontocracy, and the frustration that young people feel as a result of it, has brought them together just as much as issues of civil rights. There is change in Italy’s future, and it will come from the second-generation children of immigrants.

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Social Networks and Social Narratives In the Digital Era

Update: You can see some photos of me looking terrifying during the talk here, courtesy of Paolo Ricotti of Giornale dei Lavoratori.

I usually finish public presentations with a bit of an endorphin rush and energy for some hours afterward. It would appear that I’ve found a way to extend that feeling: consecutive translation from English to a foreign language.

I’m in Milan in northern Italy traveling as a Speaker and Specialist Grantee on behalf of the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Information. Whew. I was summoned through my involvement with the Interfaith Youth Core‘s Alumni Speakers Bureau, and sure enough, I’ve already found myself talking quite a bit about interreligious dialogue.

My inaugural presentation on my inaugural day in Italy was held at the headquarters of ACLI (Christian Associations of Italian Workers), a network of organizations committed to work and social development like peacebuilding and entrepreneurship. My handlers from the US Consulate met me and walked me out to a local trattoria for a wonderful lunch. ACLI’s training department head was there, as well as a local imam (the funniest imam in Milan, as he was introduced to me), representatives from Yalla Italia, and some other consular staff. My recommendation: Check out Yalla Italia (with Google Translate installed). They are doing amazing work to publicize and connect the various immigrant communities in Italy. YI and its people totally rock.

I had some wonderful conversations at lunch (so much food) and on the walk to ACLI. As it was told to me, 12.5% of Italy’s GDP comes from businesses run by immigrants. That’s incredible. All the more incredible is Italy’s lack of useful or comprehensive immigration laws. Most immigrants aren’t citizens, which means that they can’t vote, which means that they can’t “elect their own”, which means that their representation stays nonexistent in the Parliament, which means that the immigration laws don’t change. Some of my meetings on this journey will focus on immigration reform and the messaging that goes along with it.

My presentation at ACLI was well-attended, with a wildly diverse audience: NGO folk, independent journalists, young and old people, and civic leaders. I talked a lot about storytelling and social narrative, pausing after every few sentences to wait for my amazing translator to catch up with me. The Q&A was twice as long as the presentation, which I view as a win. It felt that they “got it”.

I faced some tough questions, though, many about the frustration that organizations and individuals feel when using social networks and not seeing immediate return on their time investment. The density and penetration of the social tools that I take for granted in the US are different here. I had a blast, and as I mentioned earlier, I found that consecutive translation, aside from giving me a pause to gather my next (brilliant?) thought also extends the “speaker’s rush” that I feel. Part of my positivity comes from knowing that I’ve also learned a lot in a short period about the ways that the social web organizes people here. I’ll apply those learnings at my next meeting.

I leave in the morning for Rome and a non-stop schedule that will take me from there to Florence then back to Milan. Hopefully I will be able to check in like this after each meeting. Until then, ciao!

“My Ignorance” – my guest post at Project Interfaith

The interfaith super-heroes at Project Interfaith in Omaha asked me to provide a guest post about my path to interfaith leadership. Here’s the intro – follow this link to the rest of the post:

I grew up rural. That’s the important part of this story. I lived in a farming community about two hours west of Chicago. I was a Catholic; Catholicism was my received faith. Some of my friends were Catholics. The rest were from various Christian denominations. We didn’t talk about religion.

When I went to college in the suburbs, I fell away from the faith (I imagine that this happens to LOTS of college students) and continued on my way. Since I was finally in a place with a diversity of religious expression, I quickly realized that my views of other religions (especially Islam) were informed largely by my friends’ parents and their favored false information outlet: FOX News. The realization of my own ignorance pushed me to do some learning on my own…

Interfaith iPhone/mobile app: FaithNews – Multifaith News and Events

During the Faiths Act Fellowship, I was hosted by Islamic Networks Group (ING), an educational organization that promotes religious literacy and mutual respect. When the Fellowship ended, I came on board as a consultant. One of the first projects that I wrapped my head around was a mobile app. The CEO wanted a mobile app focused on multifaith/interfaith happenings in the world. As we talked about features, the list of “things this app will do” grew and grew. And so, after months and months of research and development, ING is proud to present “FaithNews – Multifaith News and Events“, now available for free download at the App Store. Here’s the description that we use:

Did you ever want to wish your neighbor happy holidays, but weren’t sure when his or her religion has holidays or what to say? Have you ever blanked on the Hebrew word for charity? Are you planning a luncheon and need to know when Ramadan ends so you can feed your Muslim guests? Multifaith News and Events has all that and more.

It’s not simply a calendar of holy days, or a dictionary of important religious terms. This app comes with over 200 interesting facts – some trivial, some wildly important – about the five major world religions represented by ING’s Interfaith Speakers Bureau: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The general concept for this app is to allow users to easily acquire daily news and information surrounding religion and interreligious issues.

These include:

  • Daily aggregation of news articles on religious pluralism from several different news publications. Topics include religion in the workplace, religion and civil rights, 1st Amendment (freedom of religion) issues, etc.
  • Multifaith calendar highlighting religious days of observance. Holidays will contain brief descriptions as well as links for more information.
  • List of religious events and conferences around the country.
  • Basic and often surprising facts about the world’s five major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam. For added interest, related facts will link to each other; for instance you can easily see how fasting works in both Judaism and Islam.
  • Information about Islamic Networks Group and its educational programs.

Designed and developed by Magnicode, Multifaith News and Events is the go-to app for interreligious information, events and more.

The Denver Dispatch of Doom Vol. 19 (iPhone app and [sorta] new job edition)

Hello dear friends,

Jackie has convinced me to return to oatmeal as a viable breakfast food, and I have to say, it’s an amazingly filling meal. Add some peanut butter, and it might be the best thing since…toast and peanut butter?

Well folks, it’s been a long time since the last Dispatch in late November. I’ve been delaying this release because I wanted to be able to inform you all about the exciting interfaith-focused mobile app that I developed with Islamic Networks Group. If you recall, they hosted me during the Faiths Act Fellowship year, and after that program wrapped, I came on board as a consultant. FaithNews – Multifaith News and Events (the app) took many, many hours of work and research, and is now available in the iTunes App Store. We hope to create Android and Blackberry versions in the coming month(s). So download it (it’s free), check it out, and spread the word!

My contract with Ashoka’s Changemakers ended in December. It was great working with such a dynamic group of social-entrepreneur-geniuses, if only for six months, and I encourage you all to check them out! I’ve since joined Spotted Koi LLC, a business and website consulting firm, as a Project Manager. I take client requests and questions, translate them into Internet-ese, and pass them to our team of developers. I also occasionally crack a figurative whip to keep them moving.
But the most exciting part of this Dispatch is announcing my (sorta) new job. In October, I rejoined The 1010 Project as Director of Communications and Fundraising. It was nice to return to such a great team with a refreshed vision and a new program in the Global Entrepreneur Academy. Brian Rants, the Executive Director, recently left the organization to take a new position at an amazing company. With his departure, I have been promoted to Director of Operations! The Board is slowly beginning the search process for a new ED, but in the meantime, I make all kinds of high-level decisions and manage a bunch of super interns. Now before you say, “Who would think it safe to give Tim such responsibility?” I want to reassure you that my level of professionalism has skyrocketed in the last year, largely due to my sweet girlfriend’s influence and stern voice. 🙂
Final piece: Late January found me in Boston for State of Formation‘s Executive Committee retreat. We spent two rad days planning our expansion and vision for the coming years. Honestly, if you want to see some high-energy, meaningful dialogue on topics of religious and spiritual formation, head on over.
So that’s that. Life in Denver continues to reward, and as I travel around, I’ll be sure to try and visit with as many of you as I can. Tim misses you all terribly; you can tell because when he’s feeling forlorn, he speaks in the third-person.
In the meantime, keep up the good work, always tip your server, and remember: If it does not appear to be broken, do not attempt to fix it.
P.S. Today’s Poetry Break is brought to you by e.e. cummings, because why not.

Tim Brauhn
Denver, CO
Connect: Facebook LinkedIn Flickr Twitter

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

I don’t mean to brag…Part Deux

The other day, I wrote about how strange it is that charity workers must be exceptionally vocal about their good works in order to affect policy and, more importantly, fundraise. I sensed an inherent contradiction between selfless service and active self-promotion.  The post attracted a number of opinions, and I engaged in a few protracted conversations about the relationship between one’s faith-drive to do charity work and religiously-prescribed humility.

The theme of these conversations seemed to match up with one of the reasons that the Faiths Act Fellowship is so important: the world doesn’t believe we exist. Here’s where it gets interesting…

There are plenty of organizations that toot their own horns – we know this because we see/hear it happening all the time. A few hours ago I was at a small reception at Westminster Abbey (guests of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, of course) listening to one of the church’s officials describe the social justice work that the Abbey is involved in. The question regarding the other post about how loud to be in charity work was brought full circle when the official described the “behind the scenes work” that goes on, especially in regards to asylum-seekers. It was like a bolt from the blue.

Some of the best faith-based or faith-motivated charities maintain a very low profile. We don’t hear a lot about them because their work is behind the scenes, and their donors don’t need flashy postcards or constant email contact to stay loyal – they donate because it is right and good for them to do so. There have been multiple occasions where I’ve stumbled upon the websites or work of such organizations having never heard of them before.

This realization matches up with the work that the Faiths Act Fellowship is engaging in because even though I’m sure that most of us would rather work behind the scenes, we must be in the public eye to advocate for malaria eradication. Furthermore, we hope that our work will stand as an example of the good things that religion can help to achieve, not just on an interfaith basis, but on a faith basis in general.

Perhaps one of the reasons that people have negative views of religious people is because the bulk of the really active ones, those who are sacrificing lives of comfort for the life of service, are content to stay in the shadows and work. It’s not that religious people aren’t out there changing the world for the better, they simply aren’t bragging about it. I find this to be a reassuring thought.