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  • Writer's pictureDaniele Kielmanowicz

6 Degrees Citizen Space 2016

Policy Shift participated in the inaugural edition of 6 Degrees Citizen Space, an initiative presented by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), an organization that aims to inspire inclusion and encourage active citizenship in Canada. The 6 Degrees conference took place in Toronto between the 19th and the 21st of September, dedicating 3 days to exploring inclusion and citizenship.

Source: Institute for Canadian Citizenship by Adrew Williamson

John Ralston Saul (left), writer and moderator, Richard van der Laken (in yellow), graphic designer and entrepreneur, Monia Mazigh (right), author and National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and the Hon. Ratna Omidvar (far right), Canadian Senator and international expert on migration.

Engaged citizens and leaders from across the globe gathered in Toronto to be part of this urgent discussion on social inclusion, bringing up new ideas on immigration, refugee crisis responses, citizenship, diversity and belonging. The 6 Degrees Citizen Space included the participation of politicians, journalists, social entrepreneurs, humanitarian leaders and artists, sharing their own ideas and conceptions of inclusion. In addition to the panel discussions, the debate incorporated creative methods in the form of performances, indigenous music and the Sydra Project, a virtual reality film that tells the story of life inside a refugee camp through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl.

Main Discussions

The 6 Degrees conference began with the 14th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, which honors the legacy of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, Canada’s political leaders between 1848 and 1851. Both leaders were also great contributors to Canada’s modern democracy built on values such as diversity, inclusion and non-violence. This year, Naomi Klein, an award-winning journalist, climate activist and author of international bestsellers, was selected to deliver the 14th Lecture. Klein spoke about climate change, citizenship and her latest work as an activist in the writing of the Leap Manifesto, a call for a Canada based on climate and social justice.

The LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture was followed by panel discussions on inclusion. While diversity seems to be an inevitable reality, inclusion is seldom a choice in many countries and societies. For example, the panel referred to Canada as a successful experiment of social inclusion and a model for other countries to follow. Another interesting question addressed in this section was whether better language and discourse could result in better thinking. Part of the discussion centered on exploring the power of public language to influence how we talk about belonging and the way the media portrays and shapes the agenda.

The next panel focused on immigration and exodus. Currently, large-scale displacement and re-settlement frequently appears on the front page of the news. Although for many people leaving home is not a choice, violence and disorder have pushed millions on the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean to search for a better life in northern countries. Likewise, this pattern is equally present in other parts of the world. The debate centered on how to reframe the refugee crisis in a way that we can better deal with it.

The following topic of discussion was prosperity and the economic benefits of immigration. During the 6 Degrees conference, two remarkable reports addressing the correlation between immigration and prosperity were launched. The first one entitled “New Canadian Entrepreneurs” talks about the under appreciated contribution of immigrants to Canadian prosperity, whereas the second one, “Open for Business: Immigrant/New Canadian Entrepreneurs in Canada”, focuses on the correlation between immigration and entrepreneurship. It shows that new Canadians are highly entrepreneurial and the longer they stay in the country the more business and jobs they create.

Finally, at the closing session His Highness the Aga Kahn, the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism the second-largest branch of Shia Islam, was the inaugural recipient of the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship for his lifetime commitment to the ideals of belonging and inclusion. The Aga Khan expressed his understanding on pluralism and his commitment to improve people’s standard of living on a global basis during his speech:

“This is why I would emphasize, as Adrienne Clarkson has always done, our responsibility to improve the quality of life in places throughout the world where that quality is unsatisfactory – fighting poverty, improving health and education, expanding opportunity – as the first manifestation of a healthy pluralistic ethic. Pluralism means responding to diversity not only at home, but on a global basis, creating genuine “visions of opportunity” wherever constraints or reversals are in the air”.

Source: Institute for Canadian Citizenship by AK Faoro

His Highness the Aga Khan and Adrienne Clarkson, who served as Governor General of Canada.

The Canadian Experiment

During the conference, the Canadian experiment on multiculturalism was often invoked. If Canada is the preferred destination for those seeking a new country to call home, what exactly makes Canada a better place for immigration? In Canada, immigration and citizenship are inseparable steps of the same process, just as engagement and marriage. By 2011, 85.6 percent among all eligible immigrants became citizens, while in Australia during the same year 74 percent of all eligible immigrants became citizens (Open for Business, 2016). Therefore, from the moment of their arrival, immigrants are aware that soon they will become citizens with full rights and obligations. As John Ralston Saul argues in one of his essays from the series called “Expanding the Circle” that was published as part of the lead up to the inaugural 6 Degrees, this approach changes everyone’s attitude toward inclusion and integration. It is a matter of having the opportunity to become an accountable citizen.

Cross-cutting initiatives on social inclusion

During the conference, a few initiatives and ways to promote inclusion were presented. Below are three innovative ideas to promote social inclusion in a practical way:

1) Fundación Iguales:

Luis Larrain, a Chilean activist and President of Fudación Iguales, explained why same-sex marriage is central for promoting inclusion and extending the rights of the LGBT community. He argued that since this measure has proven to be possible in over 20 countries, including Canada, it can be applied in many other countries. Also, marriage equality does not only benefit gay couples or their loved ones, but the entire society by respecting minority rights and accepting differences.

2) Pluralism in leadership

Ratna Omidvar, a Canadian Senator, is also an internationally recognized expert on migration, diversity and inclusion. She argues that leaders should lead by example and believes that pluralism in leadership is key for improving social inclusion in daily life. Mr. Omidar is the Executive Director of Global Diversity Exchange and she is also involved in organizations such as DiverseCity onBoard and the Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC), which are committed to build leadership capacity and promote pluralistic leadership in Canadian institutions.

3) Designing Humanitarian Crisis Responses

Richard van der Laken is a graphic designer running What Design Can Do, a project that seeks to design responses to humanitarian crises worldwide. In the context of the refugees crisis, he created a digital platform called Reframe Refugees, which was presented as part of the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge 2016, and addressed the demand for images while creating a source of income for refugees. In this digital platform, refugees can upload their photos and share their stories, which are offered for purchase to media companies and their payment takes form of donation to aid refugees.

What’s next?

One of the key takeaways of this first conference was that inclusion should be addressed from different perspectives, while focusing on one policy at time. The inaugural 6 Degrees was only the first chapter of an extremely important discussion that needs to continue, not only in Canada but in many other countries across the world. For the 6 Degrees Citizen Space, this conversation will continue next year, from 25-27 September 2017 in Toronto.

For more information on the 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2016, please visit their webpage:

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