A Great Idea is Not Enough

March 25, 2016

That was one of the "lessons learned" that Armenak Tokmajyan and AlHakam Shaar shared with 33 students attending the Bard/HESP Student Networking Conference in Budapest on March 20-26, 2016. The conference program was organized to provide students with the opportunity to learn some of the skills they will need to actively engage in community-based work.

Tokmajyan and Shaar shared their experience of working on The Aleppo Project, which was launched a year ago to generate and collect ideas and knowledge to help with the reconstruction of Syria. Shaar noted, "this is the type of project that some of you may be working on some day." He went on to explain that the Aleppo Project is concerned not only with reconstructing buildings and infrastructure, but also with the even bigger challenge of rebuilding neighborhoods and communities."

Shaar, Tokmajyan, and their colleagues at the School of Public Policy's Center for Conflict, Negotiation and Recovery have deployed a range of tools to reach former and current residents of Aleppo including a website, blog, and Facebook page. They are also using surveys, relying on personal contacts, and taking advantage of existing civil society networks to engage people. "One of our biggest challenges," explained Shaar, "is to engage people." He and Tokmajyan asked the students for their help. "How would you reach people," they asked.

Focus on issues that matter to most people; make your project bigger than yourself; listen to and engage with local people; take time to rebuild trust – these were just some of the suggestions proposed by the students from the Bard College-HESP network. Tokmajyan commented that these were many of the same ideas that he and his colleagues had brainstormed together. He went on to observe, "you need an idea, even better a great idea, but that's not enough for a successful project." He said that in order to be successful, for example, a project had to attract funding, "You also need practical skills, and experience," he said. He and Shaar urged the students to look for opportunities to get this experience. "It is invaluable," they said.