Building dialogue into action at the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue

It is now that we must act to mobilise our collective wisdom about intercultural dialogue into concrete action to help address some of the world’s most challenging and intractable issues, including mounting discrimination, growing inequalities and rising incidences of violent conflict. This was the message of the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held in Baku, Azerbaijan on the 2nd and 3rd of May 2019.

Hosted by the Government of Azerbaijan, in partnership with UNESCO, the UN Alliance of Civilisations, the UN World Tourism Organisation, ISESCO, and the Council of Europe, the Forum brought together many stakeholders including government officials, heads of international organisations, NGO leaders, academics and leading practitioners.

Discussions were structured around three key themes – the management of diversity, youth and intercultural leadership, and displacement and human security – selected by an expert committee, co-convened by UNESCO and the Government of Azerbaijan, for their relevance and timeliness in the context of current global challenges. Emphasis was placed on sharing knowledge of the drivers and benefits of effective dialogue, aiming to open new avenues for more effective collaboration, and more concrete commitment to joint activities in favour of dialogue on the ground.

At the Forum’s opening ceremony Nada Al-Nashif, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, stressed the need for such innovation, recalling ‘If we are here today, then we are heeding the call of Baku – because we understand the imperative for action. The fast paced global transformation that the world is currently experiencing requires that we step up and respond – with relevance, sustainability, agility and courage’.

Key recommendations for action from the Forum included the need to promote more positive and inclusive language and discourse around diversity, as well as encourage more ethical leadership to manage it for everybody’s benefit. The importance of reinforcing equality and social justice considerations as fundamental prerequisites to make intercultural dialogue effective as an instrument to sustain peace was also underlined, and in this respect emphasis was placed on ensuring vulnerable, marginalised and non-represented groups – including women and youth – are systematically included in efforts to promote dialogue.

UNESCO convened six events at the Forum, including the plenary session on the management of diversity, an Academic Forum on ‘interreligious dialogue and the governance of religious diversity’, two breakout sessions on youth, intercultural skills and peacebuilding, and a photo exhibition entitled ‘Youth Eyes on the Silk Road’. UNESCO also facilitated a Youth Space on ‘youth and intercultural dialogue’, where young participants at the Forum explored how they could collaborate to lead and support dialogue activities in their communities.

Follow-up to the Forum will be assured by an expert group, with which UNESCO will continue to strongly collaborate.