TOUCHÉ‘s Story

In a large, bright gym in Ghent, Belgium, people of all ages and abilities participate in a boxing lesson. Others join in online. This session is being led by Ismail Abdoul, boxing champion and member of the Belgian social enterprise, Touché. He helps participants with their technique, and encourages them as they jab and hook, practice their footwork or hit the heavy bag. He and his colleagues encourage participants to persevere when things get rough. He invites the participants to think about difficulties they face in their life and to address them with a different perspective. At the end of the session, participants are sweaty and smiling, having connected with friends and released the tensions of the day. As Ismail explains it, these participants are learning to fight in order to fight less. Boxing is one of the many initiatives Touché has developed to bridge gaps between different groups and teach people how to redirect their aggression and anger in positive ways.  

Touché provides psychological and rehabilitative support to people who went through, or who are still going through, a difficult time in their life (e.g. a relationship breakdown, imprisonment, a professional crisis) with a particular emphasis on redirecting aggression toward positive goals and building tools to manage conflict effectively. At the same time, the organization works to shift societal perceptions by emphasizing that anger and aggression are universal.  

Instead of providing constructive, interconnected responses to anger and its causes, society represses it and outsources its management to the criminal justice system, with imprisonment as the symbol of this escalating cycle. This reinforces exclusion, decreasing cognitive-emotional skills and disrupting the social network and safety net of individuals captured within this system. 

Touché began offering solutions-focused therapy in 2007. Today, the organization offers a wide range of programs, from counselling and training, to boxing or stillness sessions, led by a diverse team that includes ex-prisoners. By focusing on a person’s humanity, rather than background, diagnosis, or “problem”, Touché fosters interpersonal connections based on respect and common interests. 

Touché’s work is having a profound impact on individual lives, the wider public and, increasingly, on legislation in Belgium. By creating opportunities for members of traditionally excluded populations to meaningfully contribute their unique skills and perspectives, Touché is building a powerful model for a peaceful, inclusive society that is equipped to respond positively to anger and its causes. 

Politize! Civic Education Institute

Politize’s Story

A diverse group of youth gather at a university in Brazil to discuss challenges in their communities. They discuss their community’s latest concerns – inadequate public transportation and an increase in traffic. There are many different perspectives in the room but, guided by a healthy dialogue built around empathy and cooperation, the participants come to an agreement about several solutions. They conclude the workshop by developing a public policy proposal.  Proposals from these workshops will be presented to a local congress or mayor’s office, and some will go on to become part of legislation. In Brazil, where consensus between different groups is incredibly hard to reach, and much of the country’s diverse population feels excluded from decision-making, a workshop like this is groundbreaking.  

This is an example of the award-winning Ambassador’s Program from Politize!, a non-partisan, civil society organization that promotes inclusive participatory democracy and fosters a democratic political culture in Brazil. Its mission is to build a generation of conscious citizens committed to democracy. They are bringing political education to anyone, anywhere. 

Brazil is experiencing extreme political and social polarization, which is putting its democracy in crisis. The past decade saw tremendous unrest as millions of people demonstrated against inadequate social services and corruption; elections relied on polarizing rhetoric and fake news campaigns; a presidential impeachment deepened the divide between political parties; the pandemic exacerbated divisions; and an anti-democratic armed insurgency followed a general election. The growing political divide has made it hard for many Brazilians to engage with people who hold different ideas.  

Politize! was established in 2015 to strengthen democratic values, political culture and participation in Brazil. Politize!’s Active Citizenship School Program offers courses on democracy and citizenship for secondary students and trains secondary school teachers on citizenship, democratic values, human rights and governance. In schools, 125,508 students have used their pedagogical materials, which are being disseminated by 2,605 teachers trained by the organization. Their online portal, which has been accessed by 93 million users, increases citizens’ political awareness and strengthens their commitment to democracy in their communities. Politize!’s work has attracted volunteers, bloggers, teachers and students in the thousands, as well as numerous partnerships with state education secretariats. 

At a time of profound polarization and misinformation in Brazil, Politize!’s work to promote civic engagement is crucial. By empowering all of Brazil’s citizens to have their say, the organization is building stronger communities and a healthier, more pluralistic political dialogue that greatly benefits from the rich diversity of the nation. 

Lea Baroudi

Lea’s Story

In 2015, Lebanese youth from two sides of a decades-old conflict came together to stage a play. Love and War on the Rooftops – A Tripolitan Tale is a comedy inspired by their lives in the northern city of Tripoli. At first, the youth came to rehearsals armed. They had to leave their knives and guns in a garbage bag at the door. After months of rehearsals, they went from enemies to friends and performed to sold-out audiences across Lebanon. At the final performance, one of the actors takes a selfie with the cast. Behind them, a diverse audience gives a standing ovation. In the centre is Lea Baroudi. 

Lea Baroudi is a peace mediator and the co-founder and director of MARCH, a non-profit organization that uses art, culture and social enterprise to foster reconciliation and dialogue between opposing groups in Lebanon. 

In Tripoli, the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite-majority Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood are separated by a single street. Once a symbol of the city’s prosperity, Syria Street became a demarcation line in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and has served as the front line in a generations-old conflict between these two communities. Between 2008 and 2014, violence erupted repeatedly, leaving hundreds dead, thousands displaced, and the city’s infrastructure destroyed. When war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, hostilities intensified and Tripoli’s neighbourhoods became the site of proxy battles. The gun battles abated in 2014, but an economic crisis and deep-seated sectarian divides remain.  

While working with youth in the play, Baroudi saw that the sectarian conflict was primarily caused by extreme poverty and marginalization. Youth had no community spaces or means to earn an income apart from fighting. In response, she opened a cultural café on the former frontlines of the conflict. More than a café, Kahwetna is the first space for members of both neighbourhoods to collaborate on creative projects and access economic opportunities. MARCH also created two social enterprises: Kanyamakan Designs, which teaches furniture-making, embroidery and wood painting; and the BEDCO Construction Initiative, which involves youth in restoring homes and businesses damaged by conflict.  

For her courage and commitment to building trust between warring communities, Lea Baroudi has received numerous awards, including being recognized by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. For Baroudi, however, the most powerful reward comes from witnessing the personal transformations: seeing gun-wielders become actors, artists and carpenters, or high-school dropouts become leaders of reconciliation. 

India Love Project

India Love Project’s Story

In a few hundred words, Aamir Fahim tells a sweeping love story. He describes the heady days of getting to know his now-wife, Arsheen Kaur, in a university classroom: “Our friendship became so interesting that the sun would set faster every day. Every night seemed like a week.” He writes about the difficulties they faced as an interfaith couple from Sikh and Muslim families: “In the eyes of the world, loving each other was a crime.” He says they spent months convincing family and friends to support their relationship. In 2017, they were married under the Special Marriage Act, a secular framework that allows people from different backgrounds to marry. 

The story of Aamir and Arsheen is one of hundreds on the Instagram account of the India Love Project. Launched in 2020 by three journalists, India Love Project is a response to the growing conservatism, religious polarization and intolerance towards inter-caste, interfaith and LGBTQ+ unions. The organization challenges exclusion by sharing positive stories of love and marriage outside of the traditional boundaries of faith, caste, ethnicity and gender. 

Non-traditional relationships are often strongly opposed in India, where over 90% of marriages are arranged, only about 5% are inter-caste and around 2% are interfaith. Same-sex relationships were only decriminalized in 2018, and marriage for same-sex partners remains illegal. While inter-caste marriages are on the rise, they are still frowned upon. In recent years, interfaith marriages have been criminalized in several states through “anti-conversion” laws based on Hindu nationalist accusations that Muslim men are marrying Hindu women only to convert them. This conspiracy is part of the rising intolerant rhetoric in India.  

India Love Project harnesses the power of social media to promote acceptance and dialogue. Their Instagram account shares real-life love stories to counter the narratives demonizing non-traditional unions. The initiative has received an outpouring of support. Online, and increasingly offline, the India Love Project is building safe spaces for couples to celebrate their love and find community. To support them further, the organization has begun connecting couples with pro bono lawyers and counsellors, since interfaith couples often face resistance in local courts.  

In a climate of growing intolerance and hateful rhetoric, India Love Project responds with love. One story at a time, the organization is affirming that love takes many forms and all loving relationships deserve to be celebrated. As Arsheen writes in response to her husband’s post, loving can be the most basic yet most courageous act. “To all those in love,” she writes, “keep loving!” 



Somewhere in Southern Africa, LGBTIQ+ people of faith form two concentric circles, with participants facing each other. A facilitator asks, “What messages did you receive from others about being a boy or girl when you were growing up?” Once participants have shared their experiences, the inner circle shifts so participants are facing someone new. The facilitator asks: “What early messages did you receive about your spirituality and your sexual orientation?” The circle shifts again. “What messages did you receive about being a ‘good Christian’?” These participants are on a five-day retreat organized by the Global Interfaith Network for People of All Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions (GIN-SSOGIE). Part of the retreat is spent discussing strategies for transforming views about gender and sexuality in their faith communities. GIN-SSOGIE will support participants to eventually engage in dialogue with religious leaders with confidence and compassion. GIN-SSOGIE is helping to ensure that the views, values and rights of people of all sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions are respected. 

LGBTIQ+ people face tremendous discrimination, violence, persecution, marginalization and criminalization. In many countries, homosexuality (or being transgender) is illegal—sometimes punishable by death—and grave human rights abuses are perpetrated in the name of religion and tradition. In some contexts, religious authorities are fueling hostility by speaking out against LGBTIQ+ people and interpreting religious doctrines to exclude and promote violence against homosexuality and gender nonconformity. Among the harmful narratives is that there is an inherent conflict between being a religious person and LGBTIQ+. 

Based in South Africa, GIN-SSOGIE is a network of 480 individuals and organizations from 92 countries addressing the violence and persecution facing sexual and gender minorities. GIN-SSOGIE’s advocacy programs amplify the voices of LGBTIQ+ people of multiple faiths from the Global South and East in high-level political spaces that have been dominated by Western perspectives. In addition to preparing LGBTIQ+ people of faith to engage religious leaders in dialogue, GIN-SSOGIE’s programs guide religious leaders as they explore new understandings of religious stories and build more inclusive faith communities. The organization also develops media, policy and theological resources to counter discriminatory religious narratives and promote allyship.  

Thanks to GIN-SSOGIE, more LGBTIQ+ people are confidently claiming their faith and using it to strengthen their advocacy. GIN-SSOGIE has shown that religion can be a powerful lever for inclusion – a place to celebrate all human beings and to ensure that everyone feels safe, respected and free to develop a spiritual self. 

Build Up

Build Up’s Story

Imagine a peacebuilding organization in Jordan wants to understand how polarization around religion and tradition is playing out on social media in their country. Are religious and traditional norms affecting how people express themselves? What terms are being used and by whom? For answers, the organization turns to Phoenix, an open-source social media analysis tool created by the non-profit organization, Build Up. 

Phoenix collects data from a hundred Facebook pages and Twitter handles. It organizes the data, anonymizes it, and classifies and labels it in a number of ways. For example, who made the post? A religious leader? A social media influencer? A governmental organization? Next, Phoenix arranges the data into graphs by engagement, sentiment and network. This helps identify patterns. Thanks to Phoenix, the Jordanian peacebuilding organization now has a deeper understanding of social media conversations about religion and tradition and, crucially, where there are opportunities to intervene.  

Phoenix is one of many tools created by Build Up, a global network of peace innovators who are using technology to build peace. 

Polarization is one of the most pressing issues around the world, and the digital space is a key contributor. Social media can fuel intense animosity between political groups. The algorithms promote divisive content that stirs up emotions and drives engagement. When this is combined with misinformation and micro-targeting—i.e. data-driven personalization—different online realities are created depending on who we are. This makes it much harder for different groups to find common ground. 

Build Up focuses on peacebuilding interventions that address hate speech and polarization by harnessing technologies to foster inclusive dialogue and social cohesion. It partners with organizations around the world to design and implement innovative technology-based solutions to conflict. Build Up’s work is extensive, ranging from helping an electoral commission in the Somali region create a WhatsApp bot to deliver voter education to remote communities, to supporting grassroots peacebuilding organizations to amplify the voices of youth and marginalized ethnic and religious groups. Other examples include online games that challenge stereotypes amongst Syrian youth, a chatbot that fights online misinformation in Myanmar, or digital consultations with women in Yemen to understand the gender dimensions of war. 

While digital technologies can be a threat to pluralism, Build Up has shown that innovative use of these same technologies can create countless opportunities for connection, collaboration and inclusion around the world. 

Deeyah Khan

Deeyah’s Story

In a small motel room, filmmaker Deeyah Khan sits across from Jeff Schoep, her camera rolling. He is the leader of America’s largest neo-Nazi organization. She is a Muslim woman who has faced racism and misogyny throughout her life, and yet she has initiated this meeting. He has agreed to speak to her, for one hour only. Khan and Schoep end up talking for five hours. At one point, she shows him a picture of herself as a six-year-old at an anti-extremist rally with her father in Norway. “People who represent what you represent made a six-year-old child feel hated,” she says. “How does that make you feel?” For a moment, Schoep does not speak. Finally, he says, “Uncomfortable.” Two years later, he left the movement, crediting Khan with changing his life and worldview. 

This scene, from Khan’s 2017 film White Right: Meeting the Enemy, is one of many uncomfortable conversations Khan has sought out in her search for solutions to hate and extremism. For over a decade, she has been making documentary films that challenge stereotypes and foster understanding across some of the most extreme ideological, religious and racial divides. She has received numerous awards, including two Emmys and a BAFTA. 

With the rise of misinformation and online conspiracy theories, many societies are experiencing polarization, fragmentation and rising populism that get reinforced by online echo chambers. Finding ways to reach across these divides and respectfully disagree while still being able to work together to resolve problems is critical. When this effort fails, pluralism breaks down in very violent ways. 

Through seven documentary films and Fuuse, a production company she founded in 2010, Khan has examined many troubling threats to pluralism. She has facilitated dialogue with jihadists, members of armed militia groups, American domestic terrorists, white supremacists, anti-abortion activists, and perpetrators of intimate partner violence and even murderers. Along with her profound courage, her approach relies on listening with unflinching curiosity and empathy to locate the humanity behind the hateful rhetoric and to find common ground.  

Against the backdrop of extremism and radicalization, Khan offers innovative solutions for living peacefully together. Her films have transformed countless people, from individuals like Jeff Schoep, to tens of millions of viewers around the world. By making an effort to hear and understand every voice, including those she disagrees with, Khan has shown the power of compassion and respectful dialogue in overcoming prejudice.  

REFORM: The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development

REFORM’s Story

At a café in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, young men and women sit in small groups discussing passages from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. They have come from different communities and backgrounds across Palestine to participate in this Cultural Café activity organized by REFORM: The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development. Guided by a facilitator, they discuss how the book relates to issues of belonging. Later, they stand up for a lively role-play game inspired by the book, in which each person assumes the role of another. These youth live in the nearby refugee camp, C areas (which are Israeli-controlled zones of the West Bank), the city of Ramallah or the surrounding villages. Encounters between them are extremely important due to the lack of civic space and the tense context of Palestine.  

With movement highly restricted due to the Israeli occupation, there is a lack of democratic process and civic spaces; there are political divides, ongoing violence and economic uncertainty. Palestine is highly volatile and fragmented by stigma and social exclusion. Palestinian youth are increasingly encountering challenges that hinder their participation in social and political spheres. Many women are also marginalized in civic and economic life, while rates of gender-based violence are increasing.  

Founded in 2012 by a group of young activists, REFORM is a Palestinian non-governmental organization working to empower marginalized groups and hard-to-reach communities to engage in social life and influence decision-making. To respond to the complex needs of their society, the Association has developed a wide range of initiatives—from its Access Beyond Borders project, which enhances the social and political participation of stigmatized youth and women from refugee camps, C areas and hard to reach communities, to its Governance and Public Policy Program, which reforms the public policy process to be more inclusive. Other projects increase women’s participation in society through economic opportunities and advocacy efforts. REFORM also trains and equips youth with the tools to transform conflict between groups and political parties, empowering them to respond positively to difference. 

REFORM creates safe spaces for dialogue and connections between different areas and groups in Palestine, including marginalized community members and decision-makers. They are focused on increasing cohesion and solidarity between different Palestinian groups, especially those who are most polarized. Through a unique combination of awareness-raising, capacity-building, training and mentoring, they are enhancing the participation of all members of this diverse society, as a step towards the lasting peace and pluralism they envision for Palestine.  

Red de Intérpretes y Promotores Interculturales Asociación Civil


“This award offers an opportunity to highlight the struggles of youth in the South, racialized youth who resist the linguistic and cultural oppression of the State and its justice system. We reinvent ourselves, and we fight, together, from our territories”

Eduardo Martinez, Director-General and Legal Representative of Red de Intérpretes y Promotores Interculturales Asociación Civil


A group of young interpreters steps inside a prison in rural Oaxaca, Mexico. Like everywhere in this state, the prison is extremely diverse. Many of the people behind bars do not speak Spanish; they speak a variety of Indigenous languages. This will be their first opportunity in months to converse in their own language. In some cases, the Spanish-speaking court never communicated the charges against them. With the interpreters’ support, they can ask about their legal processes, and get the latest news about their communities. Later, the interpreters will connect this group to public defenders and ensure their legal rights are respected. 

The interpreters are members of Red de Intérpretes y Promotores Interculturales Asociación Civil (REDIN), a collective of Indigenous youth that strengthens access to justice for Indigenous people. REDIN provides culturally relevant Indigenous language interpretation services for Oaxacans involved in legal proceedings in Mexico and the United States.  

Oaxaca is a place of tremendous linguistic and cultural diversity, with 16 registered Indigenous groups and over 177 linguistic variants. Indigenous communities in the region face structural and historical racism. To escape limited economic opportunity and marginalization, many people migrate to other parts of Mexico and the United States. This often places Indigenous groups, youth, women and gender-diverse people in dangerous situations or in contact with legal systems that fail to understand their cultural, economic and political backgrounds. Once caught up in the justice system, interpretation for Indigenous languages is severally lacking.  

By training young professionals as interpreters equipped with an intercultural human rights approach, REDIN helps to guarantee the rights of Indigenous people at every step of the judicial process. Since 2019, REDIN has trained more than 120 Indigenous youth as interpreters and has assisted more than 800 Indigenous people in their judicial processes. Together with local justice institutions, REDIN produced a module for training Indigenous language interpreters in the field of prosecution and justice administration in Oaxaca.  

REDIN also offers training on human rights and civic engagement to Indigenous students, and helps preserve Oaxaca’s cultural diversity by documenting oral traditions and advocating for the rights of artisans.  

This network’s efforts are helping Oaxaca’s diverse population have their rights respected, their voices heard, and their cultures valued. Connecting with one of REDIN’s interpreters can change a prisoner’s life. Beyond that, REDIN is strengthening judicial systems, making them more inclusive and responsive to all of Mexico’s diverse citizenry. 

Esther Omam

“This award is a reaffirmation of the value of the concept of ‘Leave no one behind’. That humanity, more than ever before, should always come first. That our diversity is our bond and that, with pluralism, everyone can have a voice. This award symbolizes all that I fight for as a woman, a peacebuilder, and a leader in Cameroon, a country where the acceptance of our diversity and plurality can be a solution to our plight”

Esther Omam

Esther’s Story

Women peacemakers, local council authorities, local residents, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled their homes amidst Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis sit at tables arranged in a circle. In a village in the South West region of Cameroon, Esther Omam’s non-governmental organization, Reach Out Cameroon, has brought these participants together to address the various challenges they face. They discuss tensions between host community residents and IDPs, women and girls forced into early marriage and support for the most vulnerable community members. Esther listens carefully before helping the participants outline the steps to bring their concerns to the chief. The dialogue lasts for hours and is accompanied by the distribution of donated clothing and a visit from Reach Out’s mobile ophthalmology clinic. This initiative is one of the myriad ways Esther, an award-winning peacebuilder, mediator and human rights defender, is fostering a culture of peace in Cameroon. 

The Anglophone crisis began in 2016 when Cameroon’s Anglophone minority began protesting against the marginalization they were experiencing in the majority Francophone country. Since 2017, the country has seen an escalation of violence between government forces and non-state armed groups who are demanding secession of the Anglophone North West and South West regions from the Republic of Cameroon. The civil war has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people, led to the internal displacement of over a million people, and left 4.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Esther Omam founded Reach Out Cameroon in 1996 to support vulnerable populations in underserved communities during the HIV epidemic. In response to the Anglophone crisis, she shifted focus to integrate humanitarian programming. Today, the organization has served over 1,700,000 people in hundreds of remote communities, some of them still untouched by any other organization. As the Anglophone crisis intensified, Esther incorporated peacebuilding into her approach, mobilizing and empowering women and youth to contribute to ending the conflict. Her impact is expansive, ranging from coordinating the first civilian action that denounced the violence, to facilitating the participation of women in local and national dialogues for peace, to opening “Esther’s Brave Space”, a peace house that offers temporary accommodation and counselling for survivors of gender-based violence. She has brought together thousands of women through peaceful protests and conventions to collectively demand an end to violence.  

Even in the face of great personal danger, Esther continues to champion pluralism by improving the lives of women and children, strengthening communities and uniting a wide range of voices for peace and social cohesion in Cameroon.