This May, I had the joy of taking part in the first International Conference on Faith and Reconciliation in Peja, Kosovo. Little did I realize that in this corner of the Balkans, social media would have such an impact.
Posting on Facebook about an upcoming dinner at the conference, I quickly received a reply from a friend in Washington, D.C. telling me that her father would be present. About an hour after that, her father came and sat down with me at a table full of diplomats from around the globe. It was a wonderful evening of dialogue. The prevalence of social media made personal connections possible that I never could have dreamt of making a decade ago.
An open question remains what this new sense of global connection means for coexistence.
The Coexist Foundation just launched a new initiative that capitalizes on technology and globalization to help people around the world coexist. Though sophisticated, it’s also quite simple. It’s all about people working together. It’s called the Coexist Campaign.
Think of it this way. You can buy Coexist Coffee from your iPad in Chicago, knowing that the coffee beans were grown sustainably in Uganda in a coop that brings together Jews, Muslims, and Christians. All of the profits from the coffee go right back to help that same community build schools so that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children can learn together. You drink coffee and a diverse community builds a better future.
The same goes for Coexist T-Shirts from India. People from different groups in Hyderabad grow organic cotton together that is then made into T-Shirts in a factory that treats its workers well. You can buy a T-Shirt from your laptop in Los Angeles, and all of the profits go back to help the children of workers who made the T-Shirt go to school together and coexist a little better.
Lance McPherson, the Chief Operating Officer of the Coexist Foundation, journeyed to both project sites. As he puts it, “It’s all about knowing people. What we can learn online ultimately has to be complemented by in-person relationships.” That’s what it means to coexist. And the Coexist campaign builds in-person relationships with communities around the world so that consumers can count on the products that they buy online or learn about via social media.
It is easy to write off coexistence as something too big to address. World peace is hard to come by, so why should we care at all? But in my experience, what it means to coexist is much smaller and more personal. It’s about people getting to know each other and knowing how to get along.
The change is that we don’t just know people in our own neighborhoods or care about people who work with us. We can learn about and care for communities around the world. Social media, and globalization more broadly, have changed the way we build and sustain relationships. It is long overdue for us to harness globalization as a means of sustaining coexist. It is high time for the Coexist Campaign.
Full disclosure: While Joshua Stanton is not a paid employee of the Coexist Foundation and is writing this article on a volunteer basis, because he truly believes in the Coexist Campaign, he previously served as a Director of Communications for the Coexist Foundation.