Srikar Govindaraju moved from the UK to the Netherlands in 2016, and has been volunteering with UiD since July 2019 having previously lived in Maastricht to study and work. Srikar works on the English/Dutch dialogue programme together with partners across the city. Srikar followed the training for dialogue facilitator. His way to contribute to the change that is needed in the world and to achieve a sense of balance and understanding between people.
Contribute to the change needed
I moved to Utrecht in July 2019, and wanted to use my free time to connect with the local community through volunteering. When I heard about Utrecht in Dialogue, I immediately thought the organisation’s goals mirror the change I would like to see in the world. I took over coordination of the English language team from Paul Morrow, who introduced me to the dialogue work, and his aims to increase participation from non-Dutch speakers.
Now I update our website, work on translations to expand the english content, and liaise with our many partners to develop new ideas and themes. Some examples are the University College Utrecht, De Kargadoor, and De Voorkamer. We work with organisations that include non-Dutch speakers, to help them feel their voice is heard, and feel part of the community. The work we do is help people overcome their feeling of distance, and help them find a sense of belonging in the city.
Discuss the future of the city
The first dialogue that stands out to me was during the Uitfeest, with De Kargadoor. It was an open mic dialogue, with a small box with questions to invite people on stage to talk about the future of the city and democracy. Although it was a small event, I liked to experiment with this dialogue format to discuss the future of the city and democray.
I also remember the 100 years suffrage dialogue at the Town hall in Utrecht, it was a big dialogue with many tables, and there were many people who had never experienced dialogue before. We discussed ideas of democracy, equality, and voting rights. We started to realise how recently women gained this right, and how much more we still have to achieve. The dialogue made us realise the steps and changes needed, and think of how we as individuals could try and make a difference in a meaningful way.
Give space to respectful dialogue
Watching events unfold across the world back in 2016, I felt there was no more space for civil and respectful discussion in society. I started to worry that society was dividing itself in camps, more so than ever before. I write my own blog, and as I wrote more about this subject I came to realise that people simply need to talk to each other more, and try to understand each other’s points of view. During my studies in Maastricht I met people from a similar background to myself; young, liberal, privileged, and university educated, and I realised we all stayed in the same small bubble, reinforcing our existing opinions.
Moving to Utrecht was a time to reset this. It was a chance to meet new people from diverse backgrounds, of all ages and nationalities. Before I felt disillusioned by our divided modern society, but I feel through Utrecht in Dialoog I can help to address this issue. I think dialogue is the key to making things better, as it is not about what is right, rather it is about achieving a sense of balance and understanding between all people in our society.
The value of a dialogue is speaking face-to-face with people you would normally not meet, and having real human interaction. Nowadays a lot happens on social media, where many things are anonymous and dehumanised, and everyone is trying to prove their point. Dialogue brings the physical space back, and makes you consider your own worldview as you are confronted with other insights and experiences. I feel it makes you more empathetic, and reminds you that other people come from very different backgrounds to your own.
More accessible and appealing dialogues
My goal is to get as many people as possible interested in the idea of dialogue, as the more diverse a group of dialogue participants the richer the discussion is. Once people start to understand the value and importance of dialogue, I think it will grow. We are thinking of new ways to make dialogue more accessible and appealing. I love to incorporate other activities alongside the dialogue, like a film, artwork, or music to provide a source of inspiration to enrich the dialogue itself, and add cultural or educational elements to make dialogue more attractive for more people.
Towards a truly democratic process
I want to see dialogue have much more importance in the eyes of the public at large, and as a source of how we make decisions in the future. At present we prioritise our high level decision making by political affiliation and economic class, meaning those who control the system dictate the way forward, not open dialogue. Dialogue can fix many problems simply by taking a variety of peoples’ views into account, and understanding that society is made of individuals rather than of generalised groups. Dialogue also facilitates more meaningful discussion, as we tend to have surface level conversation, or go into a discussion wanting to prove a point – that’s not how problems get solved. Dialogue gives everyone an equal voice and an equal platform to share what they would like see and to achieve, and that to me is a truly democratic process.