Photo by Israel Seoane Gonzalez
By Dave Prescott, TPI Associate
The tenth European Development Days, or EDD, took place last week in a vast converted warehouse in central Brussels. Multiple parallel sessions were organised as part of a packed two-day schedule organised around the theme of delivering the SDGs. It was a seriously big affair: the opening ceremony featured the UN Secretary General and the President of the World Bank alongside multiple heads of state.
One of the first sessions to get underway featured The Nile Project. There were few people in the audience, perhaps a dozen people. It deserved a far bigger crowd. Nowhere else at EDD – or possibly in the world – could you find people playing a saxophone, a six-string bass and an Egyptian flute alongside two senior representatives from the European Commission discussing transboundary water issues along the Nile basin.
The Nile Project features performances of stunning, energetic, unusual music, which are collaboratively composed under the musical direction of Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen during two-week residencies. The residencies follow a curricular structure based on Theory U, a proven collaborative tool developed by The Presencing Institute.
The musical performances which result from the residencies take place across the region and beyond. They are followed by expertly-curated, cross-boundary conversations among the audiences, representing people from all walks of life. The purpose of these conversations is to nurture the kind of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding that could help prevent water-related conflicts.
Despite the heat of the EDD meeting room, the invidious presence of powerpoint screens flanking the presentation table, and the modest audience, the members of the Nile Project were able to convey something of their ‘collaborative spirit flow’ (in the words of the Washington Post), through a few minutes of musical improvisation.
The band brings together expert musicians from 11 countries, representing the entire length of the world’s longest river. To give an idea of just what a phenomenal achievement this project represents, that is the equivalent of convening people along the 7000km route between the UK and Pakistan, via France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan. The travel logistics alone would be enough to defeat most of us – let alone doing something beautiful and useful at the end of the journey.
Music moves people in a way that perhaps nothing else can do, and it is transformative on its own terms. But when that power is harnessed in a skillful way to address social and ecological challenges, it may have the potential to achieve unprecedented things.
Meanwhile, later on that day, TPI featured as part of a panel on ‘strengthening multi-stakeholder partnerships’, alongside the Dutch foreign ministry, the Collective Leadership Institute, ING Bank and World Vision. It was a far more conventional affair than the Nile Project, featuring no musical instruments at all.
Despite the unpromising set-up there was standing-room only at the session. It was attended by a highly knowledgeable crowd, reflecting the fact that partnering is currently close to the top of the political agenda. If powerful examples of collaboration such as the Nile Project can be broadcast from the rooftops, and the rest of us can learn from these pioneers, then partnering will justify its place as a global political priority.