The Swedish Institute (SI) is a public agency that promotes interest in Sweden. One of the major goals for establishing the SI is to create mutual relationships with other countries around the world. In order to achieve that, awareness of and interest in Sweden must increase. The SI believe that contacts and strong networks increase sharing and application of knowledge and innovative ideas to all areas; whether they be trade, culture or even politics. That has set the ground for the birth of the Young Leaders Visitors Program (YLVP), a program that uses social media at its core in order to lay a foundation for dialogue, mutual understanding and knowledge-sharing among young opinion-makers from different Arab countries and Sweden.
The Danish Cartoons highlights Cultural Barriers
Being the northern neighbor of Denmark, Sweden felt the heat of the aftermath of the cartoon facade. Cultural barriers and common misconceptions aggravated the cartoon problem and left the Danish government with no clue of how to handle the rage of Muslims around the world while at the same time maintaining their own values of sacred freedom of speech. Denmark has most probably been very -let’s say- unlucky, but what are the chances that a similar problem would hit Sweden next time? There are obviously big cultural and moral differences between countries around the world, differences that may just spin out of hand and turn into a huge financial and economical loss.
Would stronger communication channels and networks help?
The huge risk of a similar problem necessitates better communication channels and stronger networks. That is exactly where the YLVP program excels. Started in 2008 – with yearly iteration in mind – the YLVP brings around 25-30 young entrepreneurs from different Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries and Sweden together in an attempt to build a stronger network. The selection criteria of the participants focus mainly on their level of engagement with their local societies through different media outlets (newspapers, blogs, film making, …etc) and their passion towards human rights and human development related issues.
The Young Leaders Visitors Program Focus Areas
The program focuses on improving the participants’ leadership and social media skills in order to empower them with the needed tools to maximize their reach. It tries to build knowledge related to theoretical and practical perspectives on democracy and human rights issues through lectures, seminars and workshops by prominent speakers. Moreover, the YLVP provides practical experience through assigned projects run throughout the program in combination with study visits to Swedish authorities, organizations and institutions that work in the spheres of culture, society, business and politics.
Through lectures, the participants are encouraged to start their own blogs and twitter accounts. They have daily tasks that involve reporting their experience in Sweden (which is part of the SI mission of sharing Sweden with the world), and researching /coming up with ideas for a future social networking platform that would help improve the level of freedom of speech around the world.
Social Media to empower young leaders for positive change
The result is a passionate network of young leaders with strong social media skills that help them share and support each other through their own endeavors in their respective countries. One can listen to the conversations of those young leaders over twitter by searching for the #ylvp hashtag and by reading their blogs.
“Via the Young Leaders Visitors Program, the Swedish Institute is embarking on the highly important task of strengthening the blog movement in the Middle East,” says Javeria Rizvi Kabani, the YLVP Project Manager at SI.
By strengthening the blog movement in the Middle East, the Swedish Institute has guaranteed better open channels of communication with people in the region. Thank you Javeria for acknowledging the strength of social media in taking the relations of different nations to a whole new level.
Below is a list of some of the blogs of the participants in the YLVP program
- Hiba Farahat, a Lebanese artist and graphic designer & Charlotta Åsell, Freelance journalist based in Sweden with a history of radio and print journalism: http://sunscreen08.blogspot.com/
- Wael Abbas, an Egyptian human rights activist, blogger and journalist: http://misrdigital.blogspirit.com/
- Ulrika Östman, a Swedish journalist and TV-producer at national public service broadcaster: http://ulword.wordpress.com/
- Jasmine Elnadeem, a young Egyptian blogger: http://selnadeem.wordpress.com/
- Sara Eldemerdash, a young Egyptian blogger: http://daughterofgodraa.blogspot.com/
- Mira Gabi, a Palestinian human rights activist and blogger: http://myintifada.wordpress.com/
- Malik Shishtawi, a Jordanian young entrepreneur and blogger: http://www.tootblog.com/
- Mohammed S.Kayali, a Syrian media student and blogger: http://mskayyali.blogspot.com/
- Rami AbdelRahman, a Jordanian living in Sweden, he is an independent global journalist and media researcher: http://ramiswall.blogspot.com/
Would Social Media help in breaking cultural barriers? Would people use it smartly to communicate their differences rather than promote racism and share anger and hatred? Sweden has set a precedence for using social media to communicate its values with the world and promote human rights and freedom of speech. Do you think other countries should follow?
Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.