Adyan is an NGO based in Lebanon that works locally and internationally for pluralism, inclusive citizenship and interfaith solidarity
I, Fadi Daou, was born in Lebanon in 1971. I completed in France a PhD in Theology and an MA in Political Philosophy. I have taught at different universities in Lebanon and abroad, and published many articles and books, among them: Divine Hospitality. Christian Muslim Conversations (with Nayla Tabbara, in Arabic 2013, French 2014, English 2017, German 2017). I also actively contributed to the relation between Al Azhar and the Vatican, and other interreligious relations.
In 2006 in Lebanon I co-founded Adyan: Foundation for Diversity, Solidarity and Human Dignity. In 2010 I became the CEO of the Foundation and dedicated my time for the expansion of its mission that reaches today most of the Arab countries. In this framework, I specifically led in Lebanon “The National Strategy for Education on Citizenship and Coexistence”, and am leading in Iraq “The National Dialogue for State and Citizenship Building”.
Adyan is an NGO based in Lebanon that works locally and internationally for pluralism, inclusive citizenship and interfaith solidarity
Diversity is a growing fact in many societies; it is also a challenge in the context of identity-based and populist politics, and in post-war societies. Extremism, sectarianism and racism have become global problems, and require homegrown solutions that ensure inclusive peace and social cohesion. Therefore, Adyan strives to face this multifaceted issue by spreading in the media the values of pluralism and coexistence, and by promoting inclusive citizenship in education, policymaking, and community-based initiatives.
Today, everywhere in the world, the claim and efforts for equality should be accompanied by acceptance of the right to be different, and the capacity to live together in peace. Adyan’s achievements in this field, according to the UN Special Envoy for Education in 2015 and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “offer a vision of a future that makes coexistence between religions a reality.” (Washington Post, November 29, 2015)
In the MENA region, protracted conflicts are affecting millions, through the death, destruction, poverty and divisions that they bring. According to World Bank estimates, as a result of civil war in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, “Fifteen million people have fled their homes, many to fragile or economically strapped countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Djibouti, and Tunisia, giving rise to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.”
As well as this open warfare, there are also conflicts and divisions between people of different faiths. The Pew Research Center’s 2019 report into religious restrictions around the world reported that in 2017 more than 80% of countries in the MENA region experienced some kind of communal tension between religious groups.”
Furthermore, religion-related terrorist groups continue to destroy societies, recruit vulnerable, and promote divisive, violent extremist views.
One factor that fuels such extremist groups is misunderstanding and misinterpretation of religion, which can lead to ignorance, fear, discrimination and sectarianism. Global identity-based politics also fuels divisions and tension.
With the complex conflicts and tensions across the region, peacebuilding approaches must take a holistic approach and tackle roots causes.
Adyan envisions a world where diversity between individuals and communities is lived as an enrichment, generating mutual understanding, inclusive citizenship, creative development, sustainable peace and spiritual solidarity. Therefore we aim to produce a change on four levels, which complement and reinforce each other.
First, we work through the media and at the grassroots level to promote cultural and perception change. We aim to challenge the negative stereotypes and fear among people towards the “other”, to promote a positive vision about difference, and to foster intercultural and interreligious collaboration.
Second, we contribute to capacity-building, especially of the young generation and activists in educational and academic fields. We produce educational materials on religious diversity and citizenship education, and build the capacities of teachers and trainers.
Third we work on reforming policies, in collaboration with governments and other stakeholders, to ensure that laws and systems are free from discrimination and respect freedom of religion and belief, and guarantee the right to fair and inclusive public participation for all.
Fourth, we create platforms for community engagement to promote resilience and intercommunal solidarity through common initiatives by youth, activists, and religious leaders from different backgrounds.
The work of Adyan addresses three geographical spheres: Lebanon, the MENA region, and globally. On the Lebanese level, we serve the young generation in schools who are reached through educational reforms. Specifically, this includes the 1,600 students who benefit from our private educational programs that are integrated into 57 schools.
Moreover, tens of teachers and trainers are empowered in their work, as are key activists and religious leaders who are provided support in their role of change-makers. This includes the Adyan Networks (268 members) and the Forum for Religious Social Responsibility (106 members).
With our aim to voice people’s needs and visions, we survey and consult our targeted groups. In 2019-2020 Adyan organized two surveys and a national dialogue that engaged 900 youth to voice their demands envisioning the political change they strive for.
In the MENA region, Adyan focuses on empowering change makers in civil society, religion, and media. We also target the wider community through our social media content, which reaches more than 30 million people per year.
Elevating understanding of and between people through changing people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors
Adyan’s mission is to value cultural and religious diversity in its conceptual and practical dimensions, promoting coexistence and diversity management among individuals and communities, on the social, political, educational and spiritual levels.
This means working at all levels to encourage capacities of critical thinking, respect for others, and cultural and religious literacy. It also means working in conflict and post-conflict societies to build trust, heal traumatic memories, foster proper governance and create genuine opportunities for young people.
This requires transforming attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, in order to elevate understanding between people across the world.
In 2006, two of the Adyan founders – myself (Fadi Daou) and Nayla Tabbara – were working together at university when we came to the conclusion that there was a need in Lebanese society and beyond to move beyond traditional interreligious dialogue. Instead, what was needed was a more inclusive and effective approach in achieving reconciliation in post-war societies and building social cohesion between people from different religious, cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Joined in these concerns by three other friends (Samah Halawani, Tony Sawma, and Mireille Matar), the five founders – who are from different academic and religious backgrounds – decided to move to action by creating Adyan.
In brief, we were convinced that it is not enough to know each other; we need to provide people the skills and opportunities to engage with each other. Our moto “Diversity builds Unity”, focuses on the combination of ensuring the recognition of the fundamental dignity and equality of all, with the mutual acknowledgment of and commitment for the right of each person to be different, and to contribute to the common good.
Both the geographical focus of our work in the MENA region, and the thematic field of inclusive citizenship are very difficult and challenging. Lebanon, as well as most countries in the region, suffers from conflicts, social divisions, traumatized memories, and lack of opportunities for youth and proper governance. There will not be a promising future for the region without the contribution of its own population and especially the young generation to the needed changes and reforms on all levels.
Being from Lebanon and belonging to the Maronite community, one of the minorities in the region, I experienced that in such circumstances there are two options. The first is to leave and emigrate because of the feeling of despair and marginalization. The second is to identify potential partners within society and with them create opportunities for oneself and for others to build a better future for all.
I discovered while leading this mission how much it responds to the genuine aspirations of the young generation in the region. Today, we have thousands of supporters and hundreds of collaborators who join us in this challenge. This is a huge source of encouragement.
When I chose to study theology, my aim was to contribute to the development of a narrative that recognizes the essential and positive place of the “other” within each faith experience. My PhD thesis was on the “inculturation” (interactive adaptation) of Christianity in the Arab and Muslim context. I wanted to complete this approach by addressing philosophical and sociological perspectives on the question of interreligious relations and coexistence. I focused my research and studies on the geopolitical dimension of religions, and their contribution to conflict and to peacebuilding.
Being from the Maronite community, which is an important influence in Lebanese society yet is one of the religious minorities in the region where all countries have Muslim majority populations, I can understand the other minorities in MENA and globally. I therefore represent a needed interlocutor with the majority in building democratic and citizenship-based societies.
Being an Arab Christian, I thus represent both the cause of diversity and the need for the region to liberate itself from hegemonic or extremist tendencies. I believe that through Adyan we have succeeded to make from this paradox of minority/majority an opportunity to create inclusive societies. These inclusive societies will respect human dignity not in an abstract way, but in the very concrete way of making a place for each person and his/her proper culture within the social fabric and human community.
I believe that religious discourse and narratives in the Arab context, and also globally, need to be challenged by common values based on human rights standards. One way to address this is via inclusive education on diversity.
When the Lebanese government in Lebanon failed to produce an inclusive curriculum on religious literacy, Adyan took the initiative and began a national dialogue on “Education on living together in the framework of inclusive citizenship embracing religious diversity”.
After a long process of consultation and dialogue, we succeeded in building a national consensus on this question, resulting in a signed Charter. Based on this Charter, Adyan worked with different communities to produce an interfaith educational curriculum on common values.
Having had the responsibility to facilitate and lead the process, I made sure to create an environment of mutual trust and common language among all parties represented in the process. Yet, when the representatives of the communities failed to agree on the presentation of one of the values (religious freedom), I didn’t accept to compromise and undermine the project. Instead, we withdrew this value from the religious education program, and introduced it under philosophy and citizenship education.
In the post-war era in Lebanon, policymakers failed to address the root causes of the war. This neglect was reflected in the educational reform that took place after the end of the war.
In brief, one can say that the new curricula was based on two denials: memories of the recent war, and failures in managing diversity in society.
Convinced that this situation was fueling grievances and making Lebanese society vulnerable to ongoing sectarian conflicts and potential new wars, Adyan took the initiative to address the problem.
This included leading the “National Strategy on Education on Living Together”, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. My challenging task was to bring around the same table the political and religious parties who had for many years been engaged in conflict. These were joined by other stakeholders from the private and public educational sector.
Inspiring trust of all parties, and moderating in a fair way a very challenging dialogue involving diverging and competing interests, were they keys to the success of this crucial process.
Based on this experience, I am currently leading a national “track 2” dialogue in Iraq between representatives of political parties, religious communities, civil activists and academic experts.
Adyan takes an unique and brave approach to celebrating and promoting diversity and interreligious collaboration. In the MENA region, this is much needed and can be groundbreaking work. At times Adyan is a pioneer in terms of the subjects it tackles, the networks with which it works, and the impact it has.
One such example is the short films Adyan produces under its ‘Fina Nekhi Deen’ (‘We Can Speak About Religion’) campaign. The aim of this long-running campaign is to overcome the perception that questions or topics related to religion are taboo. Instead, the campaign brings today religious leaders from different sects to tackle key questions that individuals would like answers to. The religious leaders also address misunderstanding and stereotypes about different faiths. The aim is to show religious leaders from different backgrounds being able to discuss in harmony, and to promote common values. An example of a film, on Islam and Secularism in the Arab World’ can be watched here.
Another of Adyan’s film campaigns is ‘Shoo Ostak?’ (meaning ‘What’s Your Story?’) – an example of which can be seen here. These films show everyday individuals carrying out initiatives in their communities that bring about positive transformation of inter-cultural and inter-religious interactions. The idea is to present a different example of a ‘hero’, in contrast to the example of fighters and violent acts used by extremist groups. The popularity of such films led to a counter-message being produced from Raqqa, Syria, while it was under ISIS control.
IF we can increase understanding and engagement between people from diverse backgrounds, and promote common values that transcend any differences, THEN we can increase mutual acknowledgement of to the right of each person to be different, and commitment to the fundamental dignity and equality of all, SO we can transform divided societies and those in conflict, overcome those who push extremist and sectarian views, and in their place create peaceful, inclusive societies based on the common good.
This can be summarised by the Adyan motto: “Diversity builds Unity”.
The multiple projects of Adyan Foundation reach a diverse community and different categories of beneficiaries.
For example, through our media website www.taadudiya.com and its related social media platforms, we have a reach of more than 30 million people per year. We also have 150,000 followers on the Taadudiya social media pages (‘taadudiya’ is the Arabic word for ‘pluralism’).
The high and specifically-targeted reach of Taadudiya led to Facebook including this project in their pilot initiative to use the online space to counter extremism.
Regarding educational reform in Lebanon, we are progressing towards reach all 1,073,141 students at K12 level in the country. Currently, we are directly reaching all 135,087 students at high school level.
The below figures outline current and projected figures of: i) people reached by our social media campaigns and policy reforms; ii) followers of our social media pages; and iii) direct beneficiaries attending Adyan activities in-person.
Currently: Reach 31 million; Followers 150,000; Direct active beneficiaries 5,000
In one year: Reach 50 million; Followers 200,000; Direct active beneficiaries 10,000
In five years: Reach 200 million; Followers 500,000; Direct active beneficiaries 50,000
Adyan Foundation has no limits in its ambition to transform individuals, communities, policies and the world. Specifically, within the next five years we intend to take our message to the international level, in order to bring about a sea change in attitudes towards “the other”. This includes increasing understanding and linkages between religions, sects, and regions of the world.
One way we plan to achieve this is via partnerships with those outside of the MENA region. For example, the curriculum reform work we have successfully undertaken in Lebanon can be adapted and applied in many other divided societies.
We also intend to touch millions more with our messages and educational initiatives, by increasing the reach of our media platforms. Our plans involve running international film campaigns, and creating our own Adyan online TV channel.
We also believe in and have witnessed the power of education to transform mindsets and lives, so we plan to increase our e-learning initiatives, including by partnering with established stakeholders in this field.
We also intend to contribute to global discussions on inclusion, diversity and fundamental freedoms. This includes increasing our presence at the UN and at international policy and decision-making fora.
At the same time as our global ambitions, we also remain solidly focused on helping people at the individual level, including the most vulnerable in society. This means working every day for the next five years and beyond to ensure that people live in solidarity and peace.
Currently and in the coming year, the major barriers that Adyan will face are the political instability and lack of security in some countries in which we operate (such as Syria and Yemen). In addition, there will be continuing safety challenges and limitation in movements as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The next five years will see growing poverty and unemployment in many countries of the MENA region, due to the current conflicts, failed governance and the impact of Covid-19 impact. This will make humanitarian needs the major priority for local authorities and international donors, and may marginalize the need for structural reforms and development in areas such as education, democracy and social inclusion.
It is also acknowledged that during challenging financial downturns and resulting social crises, groups who are already marginalized suffer more than others from increasing discrimination.
Finally, the global rise of identity-based politics is fueling intercultural tensions at the local and global level, and paving the ground for increased extremism and sectarian divides and conflicts.
Our expertise and engagement in digital transformation is helping us to alleviate some aspects of these challenges, in particular related to the impact of Covid-19. Furthermore, increased online outreach has also been an opportunity, enabling us to expand the reach and intensity of our activities.
However, due to poor infrastructure and the unstable political situation in many MENA countries and elsewhere, our concern is about the availability of internet connection. We believe that internet connectivity should be recognized as a universal human right, and should receive more support from the international political and business community. We hope, via the Elevate Prize if possible, that this issue can be elevated on the policy agenda of key actors and decision makers in the field.
We believe that poverty in many cases is the result of poor and unfair policies. Looking ahead, Adyan will increase its engagement on the local and global policy levels to ensure that the answer to immediate humanitarian needs does not lead to the marginalization of mid- and long-term development agendas, especially for establishing inclusive societies. The Elevate Prize would help us to give voice to issues that need more support on a global level, and would help us to identify partners to strengthen our work.
Identity-politics also requires us and other to increase dialogue among people and states based on the sustainable development goals. Adyan will strive to increase its contribution in this field, ideally with enhanced support and collaboration via the Elevate Prize.
Adyan partners with local and international NGOs that work in similar peacebuilding fields. This involves designing and implementing projects across Adyan’s sphere of work. Adyan also collaborates with governments and international organisations, who are donor-partners of projects.
Adyan also partners with journalists and film-makers for our social media campaigns. This includes a regularly working with a networks of journalists across the MENA region, who contribute to our Taadudiya platform (www.taadudiya.com).
For Adyan’s research work, we partner with academic institutions and researchers from numerous countries. We also partner with think-tanks and policy institutes, for the creation of white papers and international charters.
The Adyan business model can be described as being a multi-sided platform including entrepreneur support. Adyan provides services and resources for different categories of targeted people, with an increasing digitalization of both the process of delivery and the delivered product.
With a bottom-up change approach, we empower grassroots leaders by building their capacities, changing their mentalities and increasing their active support to justice and inclusivity in their societies, providing them with the needed tools for influence (including training manuals and multimedia tools).
But Adyan also works with a top-down change approach, engaging key stakeholders, community leaders and policymakers in structural reforms. This includes providing them with the needed consultancy and dialogue platforms to reach the needed consensus and define new, improved policies.
In both cases, Adyan ensures that its beneficiaries are themselves become the change makers, via a participative approach of empowerment and shared responsibility.
As an NGO, Adyan secures the largest part of its financial resources via grants and donations. However, to ensure long-term sustainability, Adyan’s development office, in addition to identifying the right donors and partners to support our work, also plans to develop our services, especially in training and consultancy. The aim is to develop these services into sources of revenue from clients including corporate and governmental agencies.
Furthermore, the success of our online work, including in media and in e-learning, is creating new opportunities for income generation. This includes generating income from advertisements (for example via YouTube) as well as proposing paid online courses and training for professionals.
Adyan receives approximately 85% of its revenues from governments and charity donors, as designated grants for specific projects. The remaining 15% is in the form of undesignated grants from private donors, in addition to a small amount of income generated from the provision of services.
In 2019, Adyan received the total amount of USD $2,642,017 from donors. These donors included the US Embassy in Lebanon, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the UK Government, the Danish-Arab Partnership Program, Facebook, Act Church of Sweden, Development and Peace Canada.
In addition, Adyan generated USD $106,513 as project-related income and undesignated donations.
Adyan is seeking partnership-based funding in order to leverage, on the global level, its research and consultancy capacity related to peacebuilding and cultural governance / diversity management.
A long-term fund for five years of USD $5 million would allow Adyan to become one of the major credible sources of data and policy recommendations in the MENA region and globally, in the field of development, security, and peacebuilding.
In addition, Adyan is seeking opportunities to transform its digital platform “Taadudiya” into a key media outlet in the Arabic language. The aim is to use this platform to spread cultural literacy and inclusive values to more than 500 million people per year. The aim is to find investment ranging from between USD $5 million and and $10 million.
Adyan’s budget for 2020 is: USD $4,039,513.
However this budget is currently in the process of being revised, as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on programs and funds.
The work that Adyan does has never been more important. The ongoing conflicts in the MENA are affecting a generation of young people. Identity-based religious groups and politicians are making ground with their divisive rhetoric and policies. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed, as the UN Secretary General stated, “a tsunami of hate”, with increased hate speech, xenophobia and isolationism.
Adyan believes, however that individuals and civil society have the power to lead the change against these divisive forces. We have witnessed and have evidence to prove that our methods and initiatives can change attitudes and behaviours.
Winning the Elevate Prize would give Adyan’s message a global stage – and this message needs to be heard at the individual and decision-maker level. People need to know that the divisions are not intractable, and that solidarity and inclusive, peaceful societies can be a reality.
Adyan takes pride in being an innovator and constantly adapting to changing circumstances and new technologies. The network behind the Elevate Prize excites us as it would provide opportunities for us to collaborate with and learn from pioneers and market-leaders in online education, media, and social change.
By being part of a global cohort of Elevate Prize winners, Adyan would also be keen to learn from other pioneers who are working to elevate humanity.
Adyan would be keen to partner with academic institutions with expertise in online education. This could take the form of mentorship and collaboration.
Adyan would also be keen to learn from market-leaders about possible new revenue streams.
Adyan would also seek to collaborate with think tanks and large research institutes, to continue and enhance our pioneering research and data-generation work.