A conversation between Bassma Kodmani and Gerry Salole, two ex-comrades in arms, who will explore some of the shibboleths and hard learned lessons of the development and aid industry. Facilitated by Barry Knight, this is an all too rare opportunity to hear a frank, no holds barred, assessment of the things that happen to dedicated front line workers as they go about their work.

Bassma and Gerry will draw on their extensive experience to unpack lessons and ah-ha moments. You will also invited to share your own experiences in what we hope will be an unusual deep dive into how it feels to wrestle with some of the wicked problems across the Middle East and other development contexts.

The conversation will be based on the principles of “We Contain Multitudes” and “Conversations at the Crossroads” – deep, personal, honest, caring and constructive conversations intended to uncover better ways forward for ourselves and the next generation.

Conversational guides

Bassma Kodmani is the founder and former Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, a think tank promoting Arab thinking and homegrown options for change. She is Associate Professor of International Relations at Paris University. She served as senior adviser at the French National Research Council, Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po, adviser to the Académie Diplomatique Internationale and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Collège de France. From 1998 to 2005, she served as head of the Governance and International Cooperation program at the Ford Foundation office for the Middle East. From 1981 to 1998, she established and directed the Middle East Program at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Paris. She was an active member of several regional track 2 negotiations for the Middle East conflict and in several cases the initiator of such talks.

In 2011, in the wake of the Syrian uprising, she was one of a group of Syrians who founded the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first coalition of the Syrian opposition. She took a leave from her job to serve as head of Foreign Relations and spokesperson of the SNC. She Resigned from the SNC in 2012. In 2015, she joined the High Negotiations Commission (later expanded to become the Syrian Negotiations Commission) and is a member of the negotiating delegation to the Geneva peace talks.

She was appointed member of the Constitutional Committee and one of the 15 smaller group of the drafting committee. She was a founding member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement in 2017 and is an active member within it. In 2018, she launched GLOBAL SYRIA in partnership with the Asfari Foundation, a new initiative to gather the Syrian diaspora with a view to mobilizing it as a strategic player in rebuilding Syria.

She holds a PhD in Political Science from Sciences-Po in Paris. She has authored and edited books, reports and articles on conflicts, political and security reforms and religious authorities in the Middle East. Kodmani is a member of the Advisory Boards of several international and Arab institutions. She holds the distinction of Chevalière de la Légion d’Honneur of France.

She has published extensively on Arab politics and societies, regional conflicts and more recently on Syria.

Gerry Salole was the Chief Executive of the European Foundation Centre (EFC) between 2005 and 2020. The EFC is an association of over 200 public-benefit foundations and corporate funders active in philanthropy in Europe and elsewhere. His previous posts have included serving as Representative at the Ford Foundation’s Southern Africa office, based in Johannesburg, and Director of the Department of Programme Documentation and Communication of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, based in The Hague. He has also worked for Save the Children Federation (USA) in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, and Redd Barna (Norwegian Save the Children) and OXFAM UK and UNHCR in Ethiopia.

Gerry studied Social Anthropology and African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He holds an M.A. (Econ.) and Ph.D. from the University of Manchester. Gerry sits on the board of the Impact Trust, the Advisory Board of the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (Parma), the Supervisory Board of the European Cultural Foundation (Amsterdam), The Board of the Firelight Foundation (Palo Alto) and the Advisory Board of the African Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment (Johannesburg).

Barry Knight is a social scientist and statistician who, over a long career, has worked in many fields both in the UK and internationally. Following post-graduate research at Cambridge University, Barry worked on an EU anti-poverty programme, and later was consultant to the Home Office Voluntary Services Unit.

Frustrated by the limited potential for social change offered by mainstream institutions, Barry and others formed CENTRIS, which seeks the solution to old problems in new ways. CENTRIS has a theory of change in which involves keeping a low profile while giving long-term support to institutions with the power to deliver progressive social change.

Over the past 20 years, CENTRIS has worked closely with more than 50 different funders and development agencies, including the Ford Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Bertelsmann Foundation, Potanin Foundation, Sabanci Foundation, European Foundation Centre, Global Fund for Community Foundations, Charities Aid Foundation, Commonwealth Foundation, DfID, Greater New Orleans Foundation, British Government departments, local authorities, British Embassies, British Council, WINGS, the Webb Memorial Trust and many others. We have sought significant contributions in four main areas:

1. Social justice philanthropy: building a global community of grantmakers who give priority to equality

2. Peacebuilding: building understanding of the importance of civil society in recovering from violent conflict

3. International development: supporting the #ShiftThePower campaign, which seeks to transfer power in the aid relationship from external agencies to local people

4. Rethinking poverty: developing a narrative about how to address the social and economic conditions to end poverty

In working with others, we use a variety of support skills (for example, strategic advice, facilitation, evaluation, survey design and analysis), and publish findings from our work. Barry has written 14 books and more than 100 articles in academic and professional journals. A selection of publications can be seen here.