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An Evening With The Bellagio Center

Wanjiru Koinange — Project Manager, Africa Centre

“In our 100 years of history, what we have learned at The Rockefeller Foundation is that advancement and new ideas stem from unlikely partnerships. This is something that is in our DNA: to enable experiencing, learning, networking and growing.”

These sentiments from Mamadou Biteye, Managing Director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa Regional Office, capture the spirit behind An Evening With The Bellagio Center – an event that showcased the close and ongoing collaboration between The Rockefeller Foundation and Africa Centre, for the benefit of African artists, academics, practitioners and conference organizers. African alumni from The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Centre had the opportunity to interact and share with delegates gathered in Nairobi over a week December 2016 for the Foundation’s Resilience Week conference as featured speakers of the event.

Talking Heads, a knowledge-sharing platform produced by the Africa Centre, provided some inspiration for this gathering of curious minds. A Talking Heads event is conceptualized to promote social change by increasing knowledge creation and exchange through meaningful conversations between experts and citizens from across the African continent. The Talking Heads for the event were select alumni from The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. They offered insight into their work, reflected on how resilience applies to their practice and shared stories about their time spent at the Bellagio Center.

Talking Heads encourages the kind of unlikely partnerships that The Rockefeller Foundation celebrates. Over the course of the evening, the audience interacted with storytellers, scientists, philanthropists, and comedians among others. Through these curated conversations, the audience engaged with the work that the Bellagio Center alumni, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Africa Centre are doing on the continent.

Building off of the momentum and dynamic exchange that resulted from An Evening With The Bellagio Center, the Africa Centre created The Bellagio Series, a collection of four podcasts featuring a diverse group of African alumni from the Bellagio Center– filmmaker Yemane Demissie, South African constitutional judge Kate O’Regan, political cartoonists Godfrey Mwapembwa and Paul Kelemba, and professor of urban planning Dr. Taibat Lawanson.

The series begins with a journey through the creative process of Yemane Demissie, award-winning independent filmmaker and associate professor in the undergraduate department of Film and Television at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts. He explores history and if can be relied upon to adequately record the human experience. He also shares about the process of gathering data for his documentary series, The Quantum Leapers: Ethiopia 1916-1975, which is about Emperor Haile Selassie’s era.

Next, South African constitutional judge Kate O’Regan reflects on the role of constitutions and the need for citizens to acknowledge that countries do not fail because their constitutions are weak, but due to its citizens failing to implement laws laid out in said constitution.

Political cartoonist Godfrey Mwapembwa offers some additional thoughts on constitutions and the need for them to be as accessible as possible to the people for whom they exist. This was the main motivation for his project that translated the Kenyan constitution into graphic form. In this episode, he and fellow cartoonist Paul Kelemba, have a conversation about their careers as political cartoonistsand their contribution towards a resilient and robust Kenya.

The Bellagio Series ends with Dr. Taibat Lawanson reflection on African cities. There is a pressing need for urban city planners and dwellers to re-examine the ways in which we are designing our African cities. Lawanson, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Lagos and a recipient of the 2013 World Social Science Fellow of the International Social Science Council concludes her episode with an earnest reflection on importance of venturing into scenarios where one is encouraged to explore the minds and practices of like-minded individuals working across various fields.

No single individual, group or organization is fully equipped with the skills and experiences that are needed to work towards the general well-being of all humanity. No good ever came out of working in silos. Events and interventions such as An Evening With Bellagio and the Bellagio Series are a much-needed tool for people working for the greater good, to pause, gather, exchange notes and proceed together towards resilience and inclusive societies.

Listen to the entire series:

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