Reflections 2024-06-21

4th World Cafe: Conversations that turn into Human Rights Projects for the world.

By Nicole Pulgar M.


It started back in 2021 and its main purpose is to connect institutions that already work in the field, with the students of the two-year Master of Arts in Applied Human Rights, at Angewandte. This year, 18 institutions participated in the 4th version of the event, where the students had the chance to talk and exchange ideas with the guest institutions, hoping to find partners to work with in projects that will be developed during the second semester of the year.

Vienna, April 2024

It is almost 9 am at Angewandte and most of Generation 12 is already waiting outside the main Auditorium. Today, the students who started their masters in October 2023, will have the opportunity to meet representatives from various NGOs, international organizations, and social businesses to make connections and find allies to work together on human rights projects that match their deepest concerns.

Throughout their projects, the students are expected to learn how to apply human rights to specific contexts, communities, and topics, and embrace the challenges that might come up during the process. This is one of their first big interactions with the human rights field, and that is why the presence of the organizations is essential for the development of the project, the learning journey of the students, and the final achievement of the common goal. On this occasion, 18 organizations attended the World Cafe to meet our masters’ students and find shared interests to work together for. Some of the participants were Unicef, the Fundamental Rights Agency, Tanz die Toleranz, and Westlicht, among other inspiring institutions.

Verena Benedict-Orlicek, the person in charge of Cooperations of the master’s program and the main organiser of the event, said that “The Human Rights World Cafe is an inspiring platform for the students of the Vienna Master to meet distinguished organizations who directly or indirectly work in the human rights field”. For Verena, this is a unique opportunity for the students and organizations to co-create projects that will make an impact while pressing human rights matters.

An incomparable opportunity for organizations and students

Before the World Cafe, the students are invited to prepare their project ideas to pitch during the day of the event, while the partners might also come by with their proposals to present to the students. During a few hours, all the possibilities are discussed from different perspectives and fields to understand the nuances of each of them, the feasibility of making the proposals happen, and how to proceed from there on to turn a dialogue into a reality.

Sophie Hofbauer, from the UN Refugee Agency, has attended the World Cafe from the very beginning. “It’s my fourth time joining the World Cafe and I can really recommend this to any partner organization, to come here and meet the fantastic students. They are so enthusiastic about engaging human rights and arts! And arts is a very powerful tool for human rights advocacy”, she said while remembering some of the previous projects executed by students and the UNHCR, like a multimedia art installation, a boardgame on refugee roads around the world, and a documentary about refugee children in Vienna.

For Mary Kate Monaghan, from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), unit that participated for the first time at the World Cafe, the event was “a fantastic opportunity to showcase their work and to hear the great ideas of the students, and how we can work together to bring about these connections between disarmament and human rights”. UNODA works towards the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and promotes peace and contributes to human rights through disarmament.

In the case of ZARA, Zivilcourage & Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit, an NGO dedicated to promoting civil courage, diversity, and inclusion, and combating racism in the country, the World Cafe was a good source of inspiration for the present and the future. Ramazan Yildiz, the one in charge of Press and Outreach, mentioned that it “was a very interesting and inspiring day because we got to talk to a lot of students at the university and we not only exchanged ideas, but we were able to even find people who want to go further into the topics of anti-racism and countering hate speech online”. During the event, was also present Rita Isiba, Executive Director of ZARA and lecturer of the “Community Building” class at the Vienna Masters during the first year of the program.

“I hope that I will be able to establish a lasting connection”

For Remy Navarrete, a student from the United States, the experience was a great opportunity to strengthen her skills, networking, and project proposals, despite how “scary” it might have felt the first approach to the organizations. “The presence of my peers helped to ease my worries. Thinking about how much passion I had seen my classmates exhibit in the weeks leading up to the event made me realize that everything would be alright because, at the end of the day, we all care about making a positive change in the world, and that matters a lot”, emphasized Remy.

For her, it was great to have a lot of time to talk with various institutions, despite how short it might have felt. She enjoyed the conversations and hearing the perspectives of the representatives from different organizations because they enabled her to think about her team’s project ideas from new angles. “I hope that I can work with a particular organization from the World Cafe. I feel connected to the values and strategies of this organization (the Artistic Freedom Initiative), so I hope that I will be able to establish a lasting connection. That is my biggest wish”.

Dora Pickle, one of the students from Austria, also enjoyed the exchange of ideas that took place in the World Cafe. “It was so enriching! Even if after having a conversation you found out that your ideas and the ones from the organisation did not align, the exchange was still very insightful and interesting!”. Dora, just as most of her classmates, was really hopeful on finding a cooperation partner. However, she admitted, if that did not happen, the opportunity was nevertheless a good chance to make contacts for future projects and other cooperations.

The alliances must be established by the beginning of June when the students will have to present their project proposals to the Masters’s Program. Later on, the projects will be executed during October and November (6 weeks minimum) mainly, but if needed, the students can start with their projects during the summer of 2024. The final project report will have to be finished by the end of November, a day when our students will finally have completed this journey that started with one conversation at the Angewandte Auditorium.

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