People in conversation

Promoting Social Cohesion in the Philippines

Annabelle (Belle) Abaya is founder of The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting non-adversarial conflict resolution. As a presidential adviser on the peace process in the Philippines—resolution to a fifty-year conflict over the autonomy of the Mindanao region—Belle led peace talks in four of the five deadlocked fronts in 2009.

Several years ago, she was traveling with two young women and started a conversation with them over dinner. As she noticed them compulsively texting, Belle realized, “There were three conversations going on—and I wasn’t part of two of them!”

It got her thinking. “At this moment, I realized technologies that were invented to increase connectivity are the same technologies that are eroding face-to-face communication skills. With young people inheriting an increasingly complicated world, I became worried about the impact of technologies that make it easy to ‘un-friend,’ to bully, and to isolate oneself. I wanted to bring dialogue skills to our young people.”

Building Communication Skills

Belle started a campaign entitled Transformative Cells (T-Cells), aimed at building face-to-face communication skills among young people, and reached out to Essential Partners. She hoped to adapt EP's trademark approach to her context and provide training to to her community.

Together, CoRe and Essential Partners trained 135 guidance counselors from numerous colleges and universities. Each guidance counselor then trained 50 student facilitators, who in turn gathered groups of six to discuss a particular topic.

More than 1,700 students have been trained, helping over 7,000 young people experience dialogue in universities throughout Manila.

"Belle Abaya had a vision for transforming the ways people could engage conflict," said EP Senior Associate Bob Stains. "The CoRE Foundation team in Manila leveraged our model and training to engage more than 7,000 young people—and they learned new, constructive ways to talk with each other about controversial issues."

In the text messaging capital of the world, Belle saw students and administrators engage in deep conversations across differences in unprecedented ways.

Multiple schools in Manila have adopted the program as part of their curriculum, and the organization provides additional resources online. Finally, a “T-Cellebrity Program” allowed students to vote (via social media) for dialogue ambassadors, allowing the reach of the program to extend across the country.