There is nothing in the world which is so portable as ideas. They do not travel as quickly as bullets but they have a greater power of penetration.
- Lionel Curtis, British diplomat and de facto founder of Chatham House
For a hundred years, Chatham House, one of the world’s most respected and influential think tanks, has led with revolutionary ideas to help generations build a more sustainable, prosperous, and just society. A 15-year collaboration between the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) and Chatham House has resulted in, among other things: a research program on G8 development projects across Africa; the establishment of the SNF Academy Fellowship in International Affairs; The World Today, a bimonthly publication featuring critical global political and social issues; the creation of the SNF CoLab; the renovation of the Chatham House building and; recently, the creation of the new SNF Wing there. It is this fruitful, longstanding partnership that the two organizations celebrated together at a symposium entitled “New Voices, New Thinking” last Wednesday, July 6, 2022, at Chatham House in London, inaugurating the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Wing, holding the first SNF Dialogues event outside Greece, learning new ways to share ideas through the SNF CoLab, and reaffirming the importance of cooperation and dialogue.
“Martin Luther King Jr. said that we must not judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos in his brief remarks at the event. “It is always with this conviction that we move forward: that it is not political beliefs or socioeconomic status that matter, but people’s character and morality. And in this journey, we are proud to have a partner and ally such as Chatham House, with which we share the same values and the same thirst to deliver a better world than the one we now have in our hands to future generations. And the only way to achieve this—but also the ultimate goal—is to be able to empower young people, to give them the impetus and the tools to create a future that is fairer and more prosperous for all. I would like to thank Sir Robin Niblett, a great thinker and, above all, an extraordinary human being, for his boundless passion and the incredible work he has contributed to Chatham House, but also for his invaluable friendship.”
“The partnership between Chatham House and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation has been critical to the growth and success of the institute over the last decade,” said Sir Robin Niblett in his short remarks. “This week’s symposium highlighted the shared values at the heart of this relationship, namely, a commitment to amplifying evidence-based solutions to the challenges of the 21st century; to supporting a healthy and dynamic international civil society; and to nurturing the next generation of decision-makers. Through our new facilities in the SNF Wing and new capacities enabled by the SNF CoLab, Chatham House is increasingly pushing the boundaries of our convening and outreach activities. We are immensely grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for its support of these endeavours, and look forward to continuing this partnership in the years to come.”
Twelve UK-based SNF grantee organizations were invited to the symposium, honoring the long-standing relationship between SNF and Chatham House and demonstrating in actual practice the principle of good collaboration and belief in a shared vision.
In their first international meeting outside Greece, the SNF Dialogues discussed the timely and essential issue of Social Media and Social Change. This 53rd SNF Dialogues event featured Isobel Bruce, Global Digital Campaign Director at Purpose London; Alex Krasodomski-Jones, former Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media; and Rinu Oduala, activist and founder of Connect Hub Nigeria.
Sir Robin Niblett introduced the SNF Dialogues initiative and Dialogues Executive Director, iMΕdD Managing Director, and journalist Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou to the young and very engaged audience that attended the event, stressing the role of dialogue as the most important means of defending democracy.
“Democracy needs such things. It needs a public space, a forum, an agora, we would say, and we have been doing experiments like this for 20 years. We have experimented with outsourcing these critical democratic functions online to various companies, mostly advertising companies based in the United States and now China. I would say that this experiment has probably failed,” said Krasodomski-Jones, who discussed the impact of social media on political decisions. “Let’s look at the Trump campaign or the Proud Boys, for example. A lot of that is actually due to the catalytic role of digital media, so yes I think these media can have a huge impact on social change, but I think the mechanism by which they function is something we’re still exploring.”
“Many movements have behaved intelligently. They’ve been able to use social media to enhance campaigns, to enhance the dissemination and diffusion of messages, to reach out to more and diverse audiences, and I think that’s an experience that came from the private sector and was passed on to the social media space. Many of the tools that are now available look at how we can leverage social media to actually create more cohesion and promote organization,” said Bruce. On the impact of social media, she commented, “For example, in the Black Lives Matter movement, there may not have been action at the policy level, at least not to the extent that society wanted, but there has been a huge shift in terms of the general thinking of the population in relation to racial justice.”
Oduala talked about how an issue can transcend the borders of a country through the power of social media. “Something that defined the End SARS movement was that there were not enough safe places in Nigeria to mobilize, to protest. So, this is where social media helped us a lot. It was able to bring global attention to what was happening in Nigeria. We were also able to exchange information, attract not only attention but also gain support from all over the world, and it was actually the first time a Nigerian issue was able to leave the borders of the country.” Speaking on how social media has provided a space for action, Oduala said, “In Nigeria, social media platforms allow young people to drive meaningful political discussion and dialogue about what is happening. The platforms have provided the necessary space.”
Watch the Social Media and Social Change Dialogues discussion at snfdialogues.org
Guests were also invited to explore a series of exhibits in the new SNF Wing at Chatham House based on SNF Colab workshops, multimedia projects, the Futurescape exhibition, and the Design in an Age of Crisis project. The SNF Wing aims to provide a collaborative environment for policy research and dialogue using interactive multimedia and other digital tools.
In addition, guests had the opportunity to browse CoLab exhibitions and take part in short talks by Chatham House researchers at the Simulation Center. These talks focused on:
- Build Back Better World and the future of development
- Delivering healthy societies
- New leadership in the age of the climate crisis
The symposium concluded with dinner in the Chatham House library, where small groups from SNF and Chatham House renewed their ties and reaffirmed their confidence in the two organizations’ shared vision for a better future for all. Special wishes and thanks were extended to Sir Robin Niblett, who is stepping down in three weeks after working hard for many years to secure Chatham House’s prominent position among the world’s leading think tanks. And universal certainty was expressed that Chatham House will continue to seek to provide solutions to the key challenges facing the planet in the 21st century and that the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) will continue to assist in this effort, knowing that the valuable work done at Chatham House bears out the shared belief that “ideas may not travel as quickly as bullets but have a greater power of penetration.”