From dance workshops and photography exhibitions to engaging dialogues centred on human migration, art, leadership and the facets of climate change, the inaugural Borderless Citizen Project, a three-day conference, attracted participants from far and wide. With a deep understanding of the need to sustain conversations on social, cultural and environmental reforms, the Borderless Citizen Project, which is an initiative of the British Council Canada and Harbourfront Centre, in association with the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, explored global migration through the lens of culture, leadership and public policy.
Beginning 18 November through 20 November 2019, the Borderless Citizen Project featured series of workshops, panel discussions and keynote addresses from influential and international leaders. Senator Ratna Omidvar, an independent Senator for Canada and Fiona Salzen, Board Trustee of the British Council, both served as co-chairs and Omidvar closed the three-day event with an impactful panel on solutions to global citizenship.
The conference opened with a keynote address from Prof. Eyal Weizman, founding director and principal investigator of Forensic Architecture, who received a standing ovation from the audience following his address. Weizman, an author of over 15 books and a revered scholar, enthralled the audience with his unique insight to using architectural techniques and technologies to investigate cases of state violence and human rights violations.
More standout professionals took to the stage to lead discussions on varying topics that corresponded with the event’s theme; some panellists also shared their own personal stories of witnessing or overcoming hurdles to migration, which struck a chord with the audience. The ambience in the hall was relaxed, conversational and transformative; gauging from the smiles, nods and sighs that greeted the panellists’ responses to questions from the audience, it was quite evident that the audience’ thirst for knowledge had been assuaged.
“This is a very important conference for me because I am in a migration class. My biggest takeaway from this conference is that we cannot live excluding ourselves from those who have come through our borders; we have to integrate,” said Nyanquoi Suah, Attendee and Graduate Student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
Clayton Thomas-Müller, an activist and panellist at the Borderless Citizen Project believes the audience was motivated. With a focus on capturing conflict and natural disasters around the world, Thomas-Müller addressed disconcerting downsides of global climate change in his panel-led discussion on Migrant Justice and Indigenous Self-determination.
“When we think about climate change and the fact that we have to completely transition off of fossil fuels, it’s pretty daunting and scary but we should instead, look at it as an opportunity to rebuild an economic paradigm that is rooted and enshrined in dignity and justice for all,” said Thomas-Müeller.
Lua Shayenne, a renowned Artistic Director and Choreographer, expressed delight with the outcome of her dance workshop, where she led participants in percussive movements at the Borderless Citizen Project. Shayenne, however, is curious in knowing what the next course of action will entail.
“The question I ask myself is how can the symposium activate social change aside from being a one-off event with talks and workshops,” said Shayenne.
"If we do everything within our power to advance inclusion, diversity and equality, then we have succeeded" — Mariya Afzal.
Mariya Afzal, Country Director, British Council in Canada believes providing a platform for engaging discussions on topical issues can help change the narrative.
“The overarching goal of the Borderless Citizen Project is to change the narrative, to allow the audience to think, reflect and apply the knowledge learned here to stimulate change. We don’t claim to have all the answers and I don’t believe anyone does, but if we do everything within our power to advance inclusion, diversity and equality, then we have succeeded,” Afzal stated.
While it might be far-fetched to hope that the Borderless Citizen Project on its own, can end global issues and complexities revolving around migration and climate change, it is a step in the right direction. Sustaining conversations of this nature will help shape the way we talk and think about global issues.