On 16 December 2023, we held our end-of-year closing conference in Beirut, with a clear message of recreating hope for Lebanon through reform-minded individuals and public institution working to enable positive change.
The event was joined by more than 150 attendees – past training participants, mayors and municipal officials, and members of our partner organisations – who came together to mark DRI’s accomplishments with the people who always make it happen: our hard-working staff, eager collaborators, and the young ambassadors of our programmes.
The first panel, Young Men and Women of Lebanon: Ambassadors of Change, featured Michel Daoud, a former Nafas Jdeed trainee and journalist for Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath; Marianne Dahdah, a previous Nafas Jdeed trainee and assistant producer at Al-Ghad TV; and the president of the Koura Youth Council, Reem Mfarrej. The panellists reflected on their personal experiences as part of the Nafas Jdeed fellowship and the active role of young Lebanese citizens in shaping independent media and local politics.
Daoud spoke about his unmatched experience: “The hands-on training I received with DRI as part of Nafas Jdeed goes beyond anything I’ve learnt at university. It honed my journalistic skills and shaped my personality as a media practitioner. It also opened many professional doors for me, including my current position within Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath.”
Marianne commended the show’s championing of the Lebanese youth’s opinions, frustrations, and struggles: “We took an active role in the filmed episodes, which added significant value to our expertise. The carefully curated and timely topics expanded my knowledge of pressing issues. We’ve experienced challenging fieldwork during our field reporting and learned how to manoeuvre such situations.”
The second panel, Improving Public Service and Citizen Inclusivity, featured Jean Khachan, president of Smart Municipality Academy; Kassem Istambouli, president of Tiro Association for Arts; and Rita Farhat, Midan’s Project Coordinator. The guests spoke of three of our local projects brought to life in partnership with our community support organisations.
Khachan spoke of the online website launched in Deir El-Ahmar in November. The project created a platform uniting residents of the same region and across sects to engage with their respective municipalities. With hopes for similar initiatives to foster citizen-municipality relationships, Khachan declared that “digitalisation is undoubtedly possible in Lebanon with the proper will and participatory efforts.”
Theatre actor Kassem Istanbouli shared that: “Through our theatre productions and videos, we could translate and transmit local citizens’ daily trials in Tyre. We hope to favour a decentralised art scene in Lebanon for culture to unite people for dignified living.”
Rita Farhat meanwhile expressed her delight with the community policing project in Tripoli, which raised citizens’ awareness. “Despite political hurdles, I’ve sensed a great deal of hope among the local police officers. They were thrilled that we empowered and consulting them on solutions devised to deal with their daily challenges.”
The third panel, around DRI’s capacity-building programmes, featured three of our programme alumnae: Lina Al-Alam, Abir Ghazal, and Nada Halawi. Bringing together current municipal officials, prospective candidates, and eager young professionals in the media and politics fields, DRI rolled out over 50 capacity-sharing workshops for over 500 citizens throughout the year.
Ghazal, who participated in a training programme for emerging political groups said: “DRI played a crucial role in impressing upon me the importance of participatory action. Change resides within all of us; we are witnessing a crisis of ethics and knowledge. However, through participatory action, we can triumph beyond all setbacks.”
Halawi, who attended a female local political leadership programme as a new mother, praised DRI’s commitment to supporting mothers in their participation by providing babysitting services for them during the workshops. She said that, as a trainer, she hopes to “transfer the skills I’ve learnt through DRI’s programme to inspire and enable young women in my region to run for municipal positions.”
In the audience, a former DRI trainee of the first cohort stressed the importance of women supporting women and called upon men to show support: “We want your voices to support women beyond this room; in the polls. We [Women] deserve to occupy not only municipal official positions but also to preside over municipalities.”
The last panel, Reform Pathways to Enhance Accountability and Effective Governance, featured MP Antoine Habchi, former MP and current DRI Supervisory Board Member Ghassan Moukheiber, and data analyst Ibrahim Jouhari.
MP Habchi spoke of the ripple impact that awareness can have on a local community, arguing that top-down power structures cannot create substantial, equitable change. He argued that the governmental vacuum shouldn’t affect our primary services. “Real change in power resides primarily within people’s awareness,” said Habchi.
Former MP Moukheiber spoke of several successful projects to overcome political gridlock, adding: “We cannot face structural corruption without developing a democratic system based on effective public institutions,” shared Moukheiber.
For his part, Jouhari presented the two policy papers he authored for DRI on Open Public Data and voting Megacentres. Speaking of the former paper, he said, “Had we been able to access the latest elections’ data in a machine-readable format, I would’ve been able to detect within two weeks the two cases of data disorders that pointed to possible ballot stuffing and fraud in time for a proper investigation. As a researcher, I cannot conclusively say that fraud was committed, but I can provide the tools needed.”
Following the fourth and last panel, DRI’s André Sleiman called upon the present MPs for their support and endorsement of the draft law proposals on municipal fees and revenues, and on municipal fiscal procedures. At the end of the panel, Sleiman thanked the audience for their commitment to supporting DRI’s mission.