Venice is a place where time blurs. Distinguishing between the present and the past is not easy. And this city was the venue for our 26th Dialogue in the Dark International Meeting where many DiD partners met after 3.5 years.
The pandemic blurred time. For some it seemed that it had not been that long since our last meeting in Seoul. For others, it seemed like centuries had passed since that fall of 2019.
What we all agreed on was that, despite 40 months of physical absence, it took us 5 minutes to regenerate an atmosphere of family, the Dialogue in the Dark family always motivated by our purpose to impact and create a world for all.
It was the Human Safety Net Foundation who welcomed us warmly at its headquarters located in the spectacular Procuratie Vecchie, in the mythical San Marco square and home to the interactive exhibition A World of Potential, for which DSE had the privilege of designing its content.
I highlight three key moments of our reunion last March:
1. Change of leadership
This meeting marked the moment of leadership change, when Andreas Heinecke, the Founder of Dialogue in the Dark and now former CEO of Dialogue Social Enterprise, left his place to Svenja Weber.
It will always be challenging for the Founder to leave. However, Svenja's leadership is grounded in the impact we made as an organization, and thus in carrying on Andreas' legacy.
You can get to know more about Svenja in this interview.
Friends, collaborators and former Dialogue in the Dark partners wrote letters, anecdotes and collected photographs for Andreas and Orna Cohen, which we placed in a very special keepsake box. Svenja presented them this great gift, which marked a very emotional change of leadership in Venice.
2. Dialogue in the Dark's role in the post-pandemic world
Continuing the legacy that Andreas built through DiD, this meeting gave us the opportunity to understand that while the pandemic was a global watershed, it does not require us to reinvent ourselves, but it does require us to update some of our strengths as experiential learning providers.
There are three factors that will be key in our upgrade: technology, community and social skills.
We all know the dominant role technology played during the pandemic that allowed us to stay connected and productive. For many years, technology has played an important role in the inclusion of the persons with visually disability through its many accessibility features. Technology, and I say this as a person who is blind, plays a very important role in our lives, and it is time to share it and incorporate it into what we do at DiD.
The role of DiD's global community is a strength that we have not yet fully leveraged. Our impact and our mission is the same in more than 20 cities around the world at the same time, but we have hardly managed to unify a DiD voice.
The challenge is to form a more united, stronger community with a resonant voice towards inclusion where our visually impaired guides play the central role. This requires reviewing how inclusive our own workplaces are and developing new strategies to engage new generations of visually impaired people.
Finally, there is the issue of social skills and inclusion for all. The pandemic showed us how easy it is to feel lonely and isolated, how easily a person can ruin their social skills and feel totally uncomfortable with personal interaction.
Re-encountering each other physically after the confinements showed us once again that we are social beings, many of us re-experienced the warmth that comes from interacting directly with others, but to do that, we have to build safe environments, where open and constructive conversations can take place outside of prejudice and stereotypes.
And that's what we've been doing at Dialogue in the Dark for years: creating nonjudgmental spaces for encounter and constructive dialogue. Now we have to find a way for our visitors to concretize that ability and take it with them when they leave our exhibitions.
3. Seeing beyond Dialogue
We had the opportunity to learn from others, and the Human Safety Net and its Venice location is a great place to learn from other social entrepreneurs.
We were able to dine at the Orient Experience, the restaurant of Hamed, an Afghan refugee turned restaurateur who today employs other refugees.
We visited two social organizations: Casa Famiglia San Pio X - which gives shelter to women and their children - and Squero Vecio Generali that preserves the tradition that Venetians have as sailors.
It was certainly special to meet after a long absence, to embrace each other again, to recognize familiar voices, but above all, to refuel as a working group, and to find that our purposes for a more inclusive world continue to give us the strength to continue the dialogue.