We have successfully negotiated two strongly contrasting (but equally) frenetic days in Rio. Now that I have a breather, I’d like to record my impressions of the two collaboratory sessions 50+20 held over this period.
On Saturday we held three simultaneous sessions in a conference room at the Windsor Barra Hotel, addressing corruption, poverty and gender. I think all the 50+20 crew were surprised at the interest from other delegates, who soon found themselves short on sitting space as they piled into the conference room. The 50+20 film was played again before the participants were split into three groups.
I hovered around as the collaboratories progressed over a period of about three hours, listening to some of the comments — such as:
“How does one fight corruption at ground level when governments and many large corporations are already regularly accused of such practices?” (Corruption collaboratory participant)
“I will never manage like a man. I manage like a woman. Why should I change who I am or how I behave?” (Gender)
“We need commitment with hearts too, not only minds.” (Poverty)
“Right now CSR seems like a means to spend excess profits.” (Poverty)
“The only reason people are attending Rio+20 is to use the free wifi.”
Actually that last quote was my own and should therefore be ignored. Let’s move on.
Overall, all three collaboratory sessions were a great success — almost too much so, in the sense that we had to drag participants away just as the discussions were really hotting up.
On Sunday we dragged the benches (which seem to grow heavier every day) to Cateta Park, the venue for the People’s Summit — an entirely different experience from the air-conditioned and academia-saturated conference halls. The People’s Summit by contrast was a glorious, sprawling mess of marquees, activists, stalls, hippies, music, megaphones, the odd group of tribals — and of course many Brazilian locals.
I immediately felt happy here, happily allowing myself to be carried away by the colourful chaos of humanity.
We initially left the benches along one of the pedestrian roads, instantly catching the attention of hundreds of passers-by. Needless to say this was a great photo opportunity (much to Nic’s relief, I suspect). Children in particular seemed particularly taken by the benches.
By the early afternoon we had placed our benches on a patch of grass, a little way from the beach. It felt like the circle became something of a node, a melting pot as visitors stopped to stare, rest (often a tired looking mother with a difficult child), reflect, or otherwise sniff around to see what the fuss was all about.
A miniature collaboratory session was held in the centre of the circle, observed by curious onlookers. Somehow the entire experience of that afternoon felt more real — despite the fact that many visitors hadn’t the faintest idea who 50+20 was all about (note: next time we really must provide translated documentation in the local languages). That Sunday afternoon was the first day I felt I had truly arrived in Rio, in the midst of the crowds — and the sprawling vegetation that seems poised to overwhelm the generally unsightly architecture.
More than anything, Rio strikes me as a supremely human city compared to, say, Frankfurt. I will miss this city, the smiling locals and especially all my newly made friends.
Right. Now I’m trying to arrange the 50+20 farewell party. Details will be posted here and tweeted as soon as I confirm them.