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15 January 2020

Op-ed: Don’t settle for a divided world

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With the next season of QF’s Doha Debates – and its new podcast series – around the corner, its correspondent Nelufar Hedayat speaks about the importance of dialogue and consensus.

Joining the new Doha Debates was an idea that I didn’t have to think too hard about. Growing up as a refugee in Pakistan, away from my birthplace of Kabul, Afghanistan, I’ve always been tethered to the traditions perspectives and culture of the Middle East.

Raised in London, one of the world’s most capital-rich cities, I’ve seen and lived the stark differences of the global north-south wealth divide. Doha Debates focuses on building bridges and opening discourse, so it felt like a natural alignment of my heritage and my present. My 11-year career as a documentary maker and journalist adds even more layers of understanding to my work here. 

I feel a personal and professional affinity to Doha Debates’ approach, which uses a majlis-style debate to build consensus. Our mission statement is simply: Don’t settle for a divided world.

I remember, at the beginning of the year, walking out onto the debate stage for the first time and feeling the anticipation of the audience. They had an unfulfilled desire to do things a different way — to look for solutions, not to endlessly argue about positions and forcefully convince people that you’re right. That first debate, on the global refugee crisis — a profoundly personal issue for me — was all the proof I needed to know that we were onto something. There is clearly demand for our particular debate style, in which we build consensus, alleviate discord, and engage audiences that have traditionally been neglected or avoided. We can bring those voices to the fore and meet these demands, something we have done again and again in the last year at Doha Debates. We’re #SolvingIt.

On my first trip to Doha in 2018, I got to know the city and the culture of Qatar. I began to understand the culture and heritage of what the best of Qatari tradition promotes: peacebuilding, having difficult discussions and being realistic about the world we live in. As I went from the Museum of Islamic Art to Education City to Souq Waqif, I also got to meet our incredibly international team for the first time. Our production team and show designers came from the Netherlands, and our digital, executive and editorial teams came from all corners of America. Producers, liaisons and other on-the-ground staff were in Qatar, and our speakers and contributors come from all over the world.

We are a global team and I hope we will endeavor to increase our representation as we grow. This diversity is a great strength of Doha Debates and lends us credibility and an array of voices as we serve our diverse and expansive audience. We have built this into our DNA.

It's not uncommon to have an audience come to a debate. It is somewhat unusual to have a debate go to its audience.

Nelufar Hedayat

Halfway through the year, we packed up our set and shipped it to Cape Town, convening on the southern tip of the African continent for our live show on water scarcity. To me, this was one of the most joyful moments of working on Doha Debates. It was such a privilege to meet and talk to fans of the show in South Africa, to meet the university students who told me how refreshing and unique Doha Debates is and who wanted to be deeply engaged with the topic at hand. Our post live show, which is available to our online audience, was dynamic, revealing and touching. I loved putting comments and questions from our online and studio audience to our speakers keeping up our majlis style and approach. 

It's not uncommon to have an audience come to a debate. It is somewhat unusual to have a debate go to its audience. We did this at the TED Summit in Edinburgh and at the Paris Peace Forum; no matter where we are, we always connect students and our global online audience to the subject at hand. 

It's this interconnectivity between the students and a global online audience that for me is the key to the show’s success. Education City has been our home in Doha, and the students have opened their minds and their hearts to our mission, contributing so much and bringing so much enthusiasm to every idea and production. To the students in Qatar, I just want to say a big thank you. We couldn't have done it without your contributions and support.

It's important to look back on what we have achieved, and the entire Doha Debates’ community can do that proudly.

We have passionate film and documentary makers creating short videos, like our Undivided documentary, which tackles the too-often adversarial nature of politics and identity. And Course Correction, our 10-part podcast series where I immerse myself in some of the world’s greatest challenges and meet the people actively working to fix it, will be released on January 22, 2020. 

There is so much more to come in season two in 2020. My hope, as the correspondent for Doha Debates, is to continue to connect with my audience and do great journalism with the team that we have built at Doha Debates. Stay tuned!

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Nelufar Hedayat is an award-winning multilingual journalist who has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News, and the Guardian, and hosted the investigative series The Traffickers on Fusion TV.

From living on less than 50 liters of water a day to collecting all the plastic she uses in a week, Nelufar will put herself through the paces to understand the world’s most pressing issues with empathy and deep personal involvement. Course Correction will follow her journey each week as she dives deep with the people most affected by humanity’s greatest challenges, from the global water crisis to the gender pay gap to overuse of plastics. Presented by Doha Debates, Course Correction will help you understand the world’s most pressing issues in a completely new way, and you can. subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Season two of Doha Debates begins on March 9 and 11 in Doha, with the first debate focusing on gender equality, and the second on the future of genetics.

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