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United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

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A New Organization of the United Nations
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) is a relatively new organization within the United Nations (UN) system. It was proposed in 2004 by the President of Spain. The Prime Minister of Turkey joined as a co-sponsor in early 2005. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a High-Level Group to explore the roots of polarization between societies and cultures, and to recommend a practical program of action to address this problem. The report of the High-Level Group, which was released on 13 November 2006, provides an analysis and puts forward practical recommendations that form the basis for the implementation plan for the Alliance of Civilizations (AOC).

On April 26, 2007, Secretary-General Ban Kimoon appointed Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal, as the High Representative for the AOC with the responsibility to lead the implementation phase of the Alliance. The AOC objectives have been established as the following:

  1. Develop a network of partnerships to reinforce their interaction and coordination with the UN system;
  2. Develop, support, and highlight projects that promote understanding and reconciliation among cultures globally, especially among Western and Muslim societies; and
  3. Establish relations and facilitate dialogue among groups that can act as a force of moderation and understanding during times of heightened cross-cultural tensions.

The AOC Mission Statement sets forth the following functions, both globally and within the UN system, in the following capacities:

  • A bridge builder and convener, connecting people and organizations devoted to promoting trust and understanding between diverse communities, particularly ­ but not exclusively ­ between Muslim and Western societies;
  • A catalyst and facilitator helping to give impetus to innovative projects aimed at reducing polarization between nations and cultures through joint pursuits and mutually beneficial partnerships;
  • An advocate for building respect and understanding among cultures and amplifying voices of moderation and reconciliation which helps calm cultural and religious tensions between nations and peoples;
  • A platform to increase visibility, enhance the work, and highlight the profile of initiatives devoted to building bridges between cultures; and
  • A resource providing access to information and materials drawn from successful cooperative initiatives which could, in turn, be used by member states, institutions, organizations, or individuals seeking to initiate similar processes or projects.

The highlights of the initial Implementation Plan included the following:

  1. Help develop a Media Fund to promote productions across cultural, religious, or national issues;
  2. Help develop a project aimed at expanding international student exchange programs;
  3. Establish a rapid response media-based mechanism to provide platforms for constructive debate during times of increased tensions around cross-cultural issues;
  4. Develop an online clearinghouse of best practices, materials and resources on crosscultural dialogue and cooperative projects;
  5. Develop a "Group of Friends" network to support the objectives of the Alliance; and
  6. Organize an International Forum to broaden the influence of the Alliance.

The Alliance held an International Forum in Spain in 2008; a second one in Turkey in 2009, and a third in Brazil in 2010. A fourth is scheduled for 2011 in Doha.

The principal results of the 2008 forum were:

  • Announcement of a Global Youth Employment Initiative, called Silatech, with an investment of $100 million from H.H. Sheika Mozah bint Nasserel-Missned and partnerships with the World Bank and the corporate sector, notably with CISCO, which will begin with 5 pilot country programs in the Middle East;
  • Announcement of a multi-million dollar AoC Media Fund that will be a first-of-its-kind nonprofit large-scale media production company focused on normalizing images of stereotyped communities and minorities in mass media through partnerships with major Hollywood production, distribution, and talent management companies. The Fund was launched with an initial commitment of $10 million, and an estimated target of $100 million.
  • Announcement of national and regional strategies for cross cultural dialogue by governments and multilateral organizations to advance AoC objectives in their respective countries and regions.
  • Establishment of partnership agreements, with various multilateral agencies and organizations, which contain specific terms that will enable the AoC to leverage networks, contacts, and competitive advantages of partners in the implementation of its programs. Five agreements were signed -- with UNESCO, ARABIC STATES LEAGUE, ISESCO, ALECSO and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) - and a letter of intent with the Council of Europe.
  • Launch of the AoC Clearinghouse, beginning with a theme of Media Literacy Education, which will catalogue media literacy programs and related government policies in different parts of the world; and announcements of partnerships with several universities that will serve as nodes to enliven this clearinghouse by initiating exchanges and posting materials on the latest development in media literacy education.
  • Launch of a Rapid Response Media Mechanism beginning with an online resource that will feature a list of global experts in cross-cultural issues who are available to comment or to talk to journalists, particularly in times of major cross-cultural crises.
  • Establishment of a Youth Solidarity Fund aimed at providing grants to support youth-led programs in the areas of intercultural and interfaith dialogue. Moreover, a decision was made to strengthen the network of youth participants that attended the AoC Forum and broaden the network to include other youth.
  • Creation of a global network of philanthropic foundations and private funders, which will share information, raise awareness of ongoing initiatives, identify mutual needs, and explore ways to leverage existing resources for greatest impact.
  • Discussions at the policymaking level that highlight the importance to move the Alliance forward in 2008, such as: developing joint multi-stakeholders initiatives at the regional level aimed at promoting a better inter-cultural understanding and preventing the mounting of tensions and the rise of extremism; contributing to the upgrade of the inter-cultural dialogue among the two banks of the Mediterranean Sea; and launching a number of activities within the framework of active and city diplomacy.
  • Establishment of an Alliance network of good will ambassadors made up of prominent, high-profile, internationally recognized figures drawn from the worlds of politics, culture, sport, business, and entertainment to help in promoting the work of the Alliance, highlighting priority issues and drawing attention to its activities.
  • Commitment by the United Nations Global Compact to producing a publication aimed at raising the visibility of best practices in the corporate sector toward supporting cross-cultural relations.
  • Signing of an action-oriented statement of solidarity and joint commitment by diverse religious leaders toward the goal of advancing shared security and peace and providing youth with guidance to counter extremist influences.

By the time of the AOC Forum in Istanbul, Turkey in 2009, a number of accomplishments were reported:

Rapid Response Media Mechanism

This program, which was established at the 2008 Forum, was reported to be well-established by 2009. The Global Expert Finder program was connecting media professionals with leading analysts and commentators on international crises and their likely long-term impact. Since the launch, the resource had grown to over 100 experts.

The project concluded a number of partnerships at the Forum with key organizations, including the Anna Lindh Foundation, the European Commission, Search for Common Ground, Gallup, and the International Center for Journalists. An announcement was made to collaboratively launch a Rapid Response Media Mechanism for the EuroMediterranean region with the European Commission and the Anna Lindh Foundation.

AOC Media Fund

In Istanbul, the Media Fund unveiled a three-part strategy, which included:

  1. conducting research to increase understanding of the impact of media on attitudes and behavior through a research project at Harvard University, MIT, and the New School University;
  2. raising awareness of the research findings through a global media-industry-targeted campaign to garner additional support of media industry leaders for the Media fund; and
  3. producing and distributing content in film, television, and news media to promote greater crosscultural understanding.

Media Literacy Education Clearinghouse

It was reported at the Istanbul meeting that the Clearinghouse had attained the collaboration of 33 partner organizations and had become an internationally known Media Literacy Education portal with over 24,000 unique visitors per month.

Youth Solidarity Fund

The initial budget for the Fund was $100,000, and it was used to seed funding to outstanding youth-led initiatives that promote long-term constructive relationships between young people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Over 110 proposals were submitted for the first program. Six projects were accepted and received grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. At the Istanbul Forum, the winners reported results of the projects receiving the first grants. Later, the Alliance launched a new edition of the program.

International Network of Foundations

The network, created at the Madrid Forum, has identified four areas of common interest: intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, education and translation, arts and media, and the engagement of religious leaders in peace building efforts. At the Istanbul Forum, the network outlined future priority activities: knowledge exchange, information sharing, and discrimination in the four focus areas; operational support with a view to developing tools that help identify projects and partners and build capacity; identification of collaborative activities; and advocacy and contributing to public policy.

Doing Business in a Multicultural World: Challenges and Opportunities

In response to a commitment made at the Madrid Forum, a report was produced, developed jointly with the UN Global Compact, entitled Doing Business in a Multicultural World: Challenges and Opportunities. Distributed at the Istanbul Forum, the report explores cross-cultural challenges that companies are facing, highlights good practices and lessons learned, and illustrates why and how business can play a vital role in fostering intercultural understanding.

Education about Religions and Beliefs

Launched in Istanbul, the Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) Clearinghouse collects and organizes resources for learning about the world's diverse religions and beliefs as well as ethics education, tolerance education, and civic education. The clearinghouse features resources on these subjects, including learning and teaching materials, links to relevant organizations, a journal, events listings, a forum, and news that could be useful to teachers, policy-makers, and researchers.

Alliance Fellowship Program

Announced at the Istanbul Forum, the Alliance Fellowship Program facilitates mutual, substantive, and meaningful exposure for emerging leaders from North America, Europe, and Muslim-majority countries to media, culture, politics, institutions, civil society, and religion in each other's countries. This project is being organized in partnership with the British Council, the League of Arab States, ISESCO, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Dialogue Cafe

In collaboration with the Alliance of Civilizations, CISCO launched Dialogue Cafe at the Istanbul Forum. The project is based on a bold but simple idea: ordinary people have more in common than not and, given the opportunity, will explore their common interests ­ even across racial geo-political divides. Dialogue Cafe links diverse groups of citizens from around the world through videoconferencing. Dialogue Cafe's development is being supported by an international multi-sector consortium of partners.


In Istanbul, the Alliance, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, launched PLURAL +, a youth-produced video festival on migration, inclusiveness, identity, and diversity. PLURAL + will invite young people from across the world to participate by sending videos expressing their opinions and visions relevant to these themes. UNESCO and a number of private organizations are supporting the program. A selection committee of youth and experts from the media, migration, and development sectors will identify the finalists and the winner for each of the award categories and age groups.

Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges

This cluster of projects was jointly developed by the Alliance and partner organizations in the wake of the Gaza crisis. This initiative followed a meeting coorganized by the Anna Lindh Foundation and the Alliance of Civilizations in February 2009. A series of joint actions were agreed upon in order to help restore trust in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Mapping Media Education Policies in the World: Visions, Programs, and Challenges

The Alliance launched a unique publication to help create a generation of informed media consumers capable of navigating their way in the complex and often polarized world of news and current affairs. The book, title above, offers the insights of 18 international experts who, through their in-depth analysis, advise on media literacy policies and provide citizens with the tools they need to make sense of the sometimes overwhelming flow of daily news and information.

Alliance of Civilizations Research Network

This network brings together a group of institutions from around the world that will serve as a collective think-tank for the Alliance and will drive a movement to encourage cross-cultural educational exchange. Institutions that are a part of this network share an interest in the four key areas of work of the Alliance (education, media, migration, and youth), as well as other topics such as cross-cultural understanding, good governance of cultural diversity, conflict resolution, and city diplomacy. The Research Network will also provide a base of experts to form "communities of knowledge" in different areas of interest to the Alliance.

Partnership Agreements

At Istanbul, the Alliance signed agreements with seven international organizations with a view to leverage networks and the comparative advantage of its partners. The seven organizations were: the International Organization of Migration, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the IberoAmerican General Secretariat, the Anna Lindh Foundation, l'Organization de la Franco-phonie, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, and the Union Latine.

National Plans and Regional Strategies

By the time of the Istanbul Forum, the Alliance of Civilizations was being supported by a growing community of over 100 countries and international organizations known as the Group of Friends. This network had expanded by 20 percent since the Madrid Forum, enriching the work of the Alliance by providing ideas, insights, and financial support. Members of the Group of Friends have also created their own National Plans to advance the goals of the Alliance. A range of practical initiatives aimed at creating trust and promoting mutual understanding across cultures have been launched.

In Istanbul, National Plans to advance the objectives of the Alliance were announced by: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Qatar, and Slovenia. Bulgaria, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom had already adopted Plans. Regional Strategies for East-European countries, the Euro-Mediterranean region, and the Ibero-American countries were also announced.

Major highlights of the 2010 AOC Forum held in Brazil included the following:

  • Dialogue Cafe Network: the first two Dialogue Cafes have been inaugurated in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro.
  • Global Youth Movement: it was announced that the first conference of the Movement will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan in October 2010 at the invitation of the Azerbaijani government.
  • The Alliance Fellowship Program has been expanded to include an exchange of young leaders between the Arab world, Europe, and the United States in November 2010.
  • Announcement of the Alliance of Civilizations Summer School -- "Bridging hearts, opening minds, and doing things together" (held in August 2010 in Aveiro, Portugal). This was a multi-state initiative to celebrate the International Year of Youth.
  • Launching of the third round of the Youth Solidarity Fund, an initiative to provide seed funding to youth-led projects that promote crosscultural understanding.
  • It was announced that the 2nd Global Model United Nations, organized by the United Nations in partnership with the government of Malaysia, will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malayasia in August 2010 on the themes of the Alliance of Civilizations.
  • The creation of the United Nations University International Institute for the Alliance of Civilizations, based in Barcelona, Spain.
  • Launching of The Online Community on Migration and Integration in partnership with the International Organization for Migration.
  • Presentation of the new Global Expert Finder website, a free online resource of experts and opinion leaders, which supports the work of journalists.
  • Presentation of a new resource for journalists of the Mediterranean region ­ in collaboration with the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) and the European Commission. It is to be fully developed in the context of the joint AOC ­ ALF ­ European Commission strategy and in the framework of the future Action Plan implementing the AOC Regional Strategy for the Mediterranean.
  • Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) and partnership agreements were presented/signed:
    • Renewed MOU with UNESCO;
    • MOU with IRICA;
    • Action Plan implementing previous MOU with OIC and ALESCO;
    • Letter of Intent with the ILO; and
    • Finalization of the preparation of the MOU with the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and the World Bank.
  • The Rio Forum further confirmed the global scope of the Alliance of Civilizations and provided new and existing partners with a platform to collaborate with each other on substantive projects in the field of intercultural relations.

Additional information about a number of the Alliance projects can be found at the Alliance of Civilizations website

The following book is relevant to the AOC's work:

Toward a True Kinship of Faiths
How the World's Religions Can Come Together

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Hardcover $25 ­ Doubleday Books

In his preface to the book, His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated his purpose, "May the effort of this book be of benefit to the emergence of a greater understanding between the world's religions, and may it foster in us deep reverence for each other." Knowledge is the foundation of understanding; in this awareness, the beginning of the book establishes this framework by exploring the basic tenets of each of the world's great faith traditions. Skillfully, points of comparison are illuminated, enabling the reader to grasp the threads of truth that run through each tradition. Passages from the sacred texts of the different traditions are woven together to create a tapestry of wholeness and truth. Differences are examined as unique expressions with the understanding that all religions address the same human needs and questions, and all turn to compassion as the guiding principle for living a good life.

In today's world, we are more aware than ever before that no person is untouched by what happens in the rest of the world. The challenges of environmental degradation, economic gain and loss, and nuclear proliferation have provided an even greater necessity for understanding. Technological advancements and instant communication allow for greater cultural familiarity. It seems that the world has become a smaller place. And its inhabitants are positioned as never before to move forward as global citizens. The essential task of humanity in the 21st century is to cultivate peaceful coexistence.

His Holiness explains that coexistence requires "the ability to recognize the truth in the interconnectedness of all things, even in our disagreements....The process entails both returning to the basic simplicity of our shared human nature and looking out with the widest possible perspective. The shift of perspective alone can open the door of our hearts." He offers a plan that will allow individuals to travel to the essence of his or her individual religious teaching and arrive at an understanding that we are all simply human. As we understand the spiritual perfection of all beings, we can embrace a compassionate understanding based in genuine respect. This is the hope for the future.

(This review of the book is by Claudia Abbott, the Editor of Science of Mind magazine. It was published in the November 2010 issue of the Science of Mind magazine. The magazine's editorial offices are located at 573 Park Point Drive, Golden, Colorado, 80401-7042; their phone number is: (720) 496-1370; their website:}
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