The power of proximity – harnessing digital connections to build back better

Post author image. Guest Editor

Yasmin Waljee OBE, Business in the Community (BITC) Global Goals Leadership Team and International Pro Bono Director, Hogan Lovells, on how building back better will depend upon getting ‘uncomfortably close to issues’.

In the 14 weeks of lockdown, at remarkable speed we adjusted to new ways of working and connecting. With that, I believe, we overcame a psychological barrier where distance became less obvious so we were able to observe and learn more about our connections.  

It now seems as easy to connect with Freetown, Sierra Leone, as with Oxford. And with that the individual circumstances of the people we connect with seem closer, within our sphere of influence and capable of prompting our better learning and ability to co-design and innovate.

One example of this was Hogan Lovells’ plans to screen the film The Prosecutors as part of a season dedicated to our international human rights practice to support girls and women at risk. The remarkable film follows three international prosecutors of war crimes and sexual violence in conflict and their fight for justice.

Inevitably, at short notice we rescheduled our event to being online. Immediately, we saw the benefits. Rather than being limited to a physically present audience, we had audience members from Kinshasa, Washington and Zagreb, who were themselves lawyers involved in prosecutions. 

The subject matter of the film was no longer a distant story – it was a very live one. I discussed our pro bono work seeking victims’ assistance for Yazidi women, who fled as refugees to the West after experiencing war crimes at the hand of foreign fighters of Western nations who were members of Islamic State. 

That simple function of ‘chat’ revealed how a shared problem around collating documentation of witnesses faced by prosecutors might be resolved by legal technology and artificial intelligence systems, which we have used in the context of commercial litigation.

My experiences of communication during lockdown brought home just how powerful proximity can be

Yasmin Waljee OBE, Business in the Community (BITC) Global Goals Leadership Team and International Pro Bono Director, Hogan Lovells

It took a mind-set change to see the opportunity to support and assist, which would never have been achieved in a static environment.

The 2018 World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship was based on the theme of the power of proximity – to quote: ‘keeping problems at arms’ length so we never have to deal with them… innovation depends on our willingness to get uncomfortably close to the issue – to love the world so hard we start to remember how close we are.’

My experiences of communication during lockdown brought home just how powerful proximity can be. We can’t hope to address the present and continuing issues of racial injustice, climate injustice and inequality if we put up barriers which stop us learning. Building back better will depend on this.

I recommend watching the 2018 Skoll World Forum opening piece by remarkable poet Darius Simpson.

Further reading

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