– United Diaspora Conference 2019

Saadia Gardezi (Pakistan, MPhil Modern South Asian Studies, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham)

“What is Home”? This was one of the questions being grappled with at the United Diaspora 2019 conference organised by Common Purpose. Common Purpose organises leadership events focusing on developing countries. They connect business leaders across different sectors and use the host city in a very creative way to facilitate learning (e.g. you go for walks with your fellow programme participants). For some at the conference, “home” was a shifting category. They lived in the UK, but identified as Nigerian, Indian, or Lebanese. For some, “home” was wherever they were happy. For another few, “home” was the planet – they aspired to be global citizens. Ultimately, there was no resounding agreement on what “home” is but we did agree on the practical implications of this ‘place’ – for right to work and travel, immigration laws and pursuit of well-being and happiness. 

Conference attendees participate in the ‘Leading Beyond Authority’ session.

This year’s event was the first edition of United Diaspora. As Alison Coburn, the Chief Executive of Common Purpose International explained, their organisation was already working in countries with a significant diaspora population, and therefore they recognised the common challenges different diasporas in the UK face. From 30th April to 1st May, we had two lovely venues for our discussions: on the first day, we had the privilege to spend our day on the top floor of City Hall in London, overlooking the Tower Bridge and the City. On the second day, we were in the beautiful building of Bank of America. During the morning of the first day, we got to know as many people of our group (of roughly 90 leaders) as we could by introducing ourselves and switching tables frequently. In the afternoon, Julia Middleton, the Founder and Innovation Head of Common Purpose gave a talk and participated in a panel discussion about Cultural Intelligence, as a tool to understand one’s own and others’ core values. According to Julia, these values are “stable and unshakeable, and can be contrasted to our flexible values. Giving them an equal space in our interactions with people, and interacting with other keeping in mind the framework of flex vs core, can help up navigate  and understand values of people we wold not understand if we had too many unchangeable core values”.

Project Dastaan – co-founded by WHT Scholar, Saadia Gardezi.

Estzer Kabos, a Hungarian WHT scholar had the opportunity to discuss her work to bring people back to Hungary; to reverse the country’s ‘brain-drain’, with an Armenian expert in the field who has been successfully working on such an initiative for more than 20 years. I was delighted to talk about my own project in defining ‘home’ – Project Dastaan. The project aims to film stories of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 in virtual reality. Both of these projects are in areas that require the input and support of the diasporas of our home countries. For this reason, we found the event to be extremely helpful. It was impressive to see 90 young and mid-career professionals take time off for two days from their demanding professional careers to be at the event.

By the end of the conference, we all realised what Common Purpose knew already: that we are much more similar than we think. However, when confronted with real problems, or migration, asylum and employment, our core values take over, and have created a world where we are not being flexible enough to find common ground.

About the Scholar

Saadia Gardezi

Modern South Asian Studies (), 2019
St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham Scholar