Introducing: The Global Online Forum on LGBT* and Faith
Introducing: The Global Online Forum on LGBT* and Faith
By:  Klaus Mueller 

Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum to foster online discussion about the inclusion of LGBT* people in faith communities and religious and cultural traditions in a new blog series starting this August 

This month, the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum begins its new Faith Is…? initiative to address issues of religion, cultural history, and LGBT inclusion (and exclusion), convening LGBT human rights defenders and cultural and religious leaders across faiths, geographies, and generations. 

Worldwide, LGBT people are insisting on their inclusion in religious and cultural traditions; and religious congregations across all denominations have begun to interpret their own beliefs in more inclusive ways. Such positive changes are still nascent, and they must be supported and expanded to achieve LGBT equality globally. 

The seventh annual program of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum was planned to take place in July 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. Given the uncertainties surrounding global travel in the near- to mid-term due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have instead decided – with the active support of our funders – to launch the Faith Is...? initiative through developing a Global Online Forum on LGBT* and Faith by hosting a series of online activities in the second half of 2020. 

This online program will broaden our reach by allowing us to engage with those previously selected for the in-person meeting, existing Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum, and others outside the network. We welcome this opportunity to learn new ways of fostering conversations and expanding the reach of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum.

Developed in the form of a blog by multiple authors, online gatherings and a public webinar, the LGBT* Forum will showcase and document that a respectful, humane and global conversation on LGBT equality and inclusion in and across faith communities is not only possible, but indeed has already begun in many places. By bridging divides, the Forum aims to strengthen inclusive cooperation between religious and LGBT leaders, and their communities, and to expand global connections for support and knowledge-sharing within and beyond the program, supporting the next generation of LGBT leaders. The lessons of what is working will also serve as a roadmap for our continuing work on the Faith Is...? initiative.

In our new blog series on LGBT* and Faith, we focus on two lead questions:  
•    What is needed for religious communities and leaders to be instrumental in promoting the wellbeing, equality and inclusion of LGBT people in faith communities and society? 
•    How do LGBT people, today and throughout history, enrich and change the religious communities of which they are a part? 

Each week’s discussion, starting in August throughout October, will be led by a thought-piece from a Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum Fellow, starting with American poet and the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution, Joy Ladin.

Ladin will publish an opinion article to lead an online discussion on Tuesday, August 11 on “Religious Communities and Leaders Need to Stop Seeing LGBT* People as Other, as Them, and Start Seeing Them as Us”

The Fellows’ thought-pieces will be published both on and our Salzburg Global Facebook page where we encourage Fellows and their networks to post responses and join in the discussion.

This new online discussion series builds on those candid but closed discussions in a public space, drawing in new voices and expanding the conversations beyond Salzburg and the Forum. 

To receive notifications of when each week’s article is published, please follow Salzburg Global Seminar on Facebook and sign up to our dedicated mailing list:  

The Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum was formed in 2013 to establish a truly global space to reflect upon and advance LGBT and human rights discussions around the world, as well as to form a network of international leaders from diverse fields – including human rights, legal, artistic, and religious backgrounds. Founded and chaired by Dr. Klaus Mueller, the Forum currently includes representatives from more than 72 countries on six continents.

The Global Online Forum on LGBT* and Faith is led by Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum. The articles and comments represent opinions of the authors and commenters, and do not necessarily represent the views of their corporations or institutions, nor of Salzburg Global Seminar. Readers are welcome to address any questions about this series to Forum Director, Klaus Mueller. To receive a notification of when the next article is published, follow Salzburg Global Seminar on Facebook or sign up for email notifications here:  

* LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, and we would wish it to be read as inclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender non-conforming identities.

Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport?
Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport?
By:  Louise Hallman 

US political leader Stacey Abrams leads inaugural conversation in Designs on the Future initiative

Has democracy become a spectator sport? The emphatic answer from Stacey Abrams, US political leader and voting rights advocate is “No.”

Speaking at the inaugural conversation for the launch of the new Salzburg Global initiative, Designs on the Future on July 28, Abrams discussed the state of US democracy, the need for greater voter registration efforts, and the importance of wider engagement of marginalized communities in democratic processes alongside other four other Salzburg Global Fellows.

Wrapping up the 75-minute-long webinar, Abrams concluded:

“No, democracy is not becoming a spectator sport, because at the exact same time that [populists and dictators] are surging... we are seeing movements not only in the United States but around the world: people fighting for democracy, fighting for justice, people who are standing up and saying that ‘This belongs to me, this democracy is mine, and I will not let you take it from me.’ 

“We know that in the United States, in South Korea, it's about stepping up to the ballot box. And we have seen record turnout despite the twin instrumentalities of voter suppression and COVID-19. We know that in Poland, while we may not all be satisfied with the outcome, there was an engagement level that is worthy of noting. And we have to do our best to not only encourage but to sustain that engagement in our democracies here and abroad. 

“I know that under our current leadership, the United States has acted more like a spectator in global democracy, but one of the benefits of being in a democratic state, as I said earlier, is that we have the ability in each election to reset what we expect. That is not to say that we will solve every problem, but we know that the failure to engage, the decision to remain a spectator or to not fight back against depression and oppression guarantees that democracy slips further away. 

“And I, for one, refuse to let that be so.”

Salzburg Global Fellows

Abrams was joined in the webinar, entitled Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport? by long-time friend and fellow Salzburg Global alum, journalist and writer Will Dobson, whose writing includes the book, The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.

Abrams and Dobson were in turn joined by three more Salzburg Global Fellows acting as “provocateurs”: Maria Farrell, a speaker and writer on technology, politics and the future, consultant on internet governance and infrastructure; Henry W. Leung, a poet and creative nonfiction writer from Hong Kong studying law at UC Berkeley, USA; and Chloe Hakim-Moore, founder and director of Next Memphis in Tennessee, USA.

The full webinar is available to watch online:

The webinar was the first in what will become a series of unique “conversations with a twist”, which will feature leaders and disrupters from within the Salzburg Global Fellowship. Designs on the Future is a new, open initiative inspired by Salzburg Global’s radical roots and the unrivalled diversity of our alumni. The initiative will focus on emergent challenges and breakthroughs to spark ideas, make sense of complexity, and inform our programs, networks and impact far into the future. 

We welcome your input as we expand this new initiative. Please send your feedback and ideas to To find out when our next webinar is taking place, please subscribe to our newsletter:  

Being Prepared, Proactive, and Political
Mahesh Devnani
Being Prepared, Proactive, and Political
By:  Oscar Tollast 

Salzburg Global Fellow Mahesh Devnani discusses health care in India, responding to COVID-19, and tech solutions

Mahesh Devnani is an associate professor and joint medical superintendent at the Department of Hospital Administration at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India. He is a Salzburg Global Fellow taking part in the Japan-India Transformative Technology Network. We caught up with Mahesh at the beginning of June, 2020, to learn about his work and India's response to COVID-19.

Salzburg Global (SG): To begin with, how has COVID-19 affected your life - personally and professionally?

Mahesh Devnani (MD): Professionally it has been very busy keeping in view that it required an entirely different and new approach at the workplace. I haven't taken any leave since the beginning of this year… our summer vacations have also been canceled. [The] initial phase was more chaotic. However, managing fear and stigma related to COVID-19 among health workers is still a challenge even after so many months. On [a] personal front, I am just hanging in there. Concern about the safety of [the] family is always there.  

SG: What issues has COVID-19 exposed within India, and how can health care and technology respond?

MD: There are several issues that we need to take care [of] with respect to public health emergency preparedness and response, and one of them is strengthening public health care infrastructure and human resources. Health is a state subject in India, and there is a wide variation in availability and quality of health services in different states as health services in some states are better than others. And yet, there is no formal mechanism to share best practices to learn from each other.

One factor could be that the health sector planning and response in India is dominated by bureaucrats, as is also evident during this pandemic. Improvements in public health infrastructure require sustained technical inputs with long term vision. Technology can help in data and experience sharing between and within states, which will help in better preparedness and response. Another issue is the timely detection of disease outbreaks or flare-ups, and I believe artificial intelligence (AI) can play a crucial role in it.

SG: In January, you outlined several ways India should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and provided ways in which readers could take action. To what extent has your advice been followed, and what could be done better?

MD: In view of the large size and population of the country, I had suggested to have a national stockpile of medical countermeasures [that] can be immediately mobilized during public health emergencies if required. It can take care of the lag time in response at crucial stages. There are reports that the Government of India is contemplating a "Drug Security Authority" to stock up on drugs. This is a good start. However, we need a comprehensive "Health Security Authority," which can take a fuller view on such issues instead of just the drugs. Another key issue that requires the government's attention and, in fact, technology can play a big role in it is the insufficient data integration between the human, animal, and environmental health sectors for faster detection of zoonotic diseases.

SG: What's a question no one is asking at the moment India when it comes to providing health care?

MD: I guess one question we all should ponder upon more often is how to make health care in India a political issue. And please don't get me wrong, I am saying it in a positive context. We need more vocal voices for advocacy on health care-related issues from ground level workers, physicians, NGOs, and others and not just from armchair advisors and social media trumpeters. Concerted advocacy for health care issues is something that we don't talk much about.

SG: What do you wish more policymakers and citizens understood about the challenges you face in your profession?

MD: It's important for policymakers to be more proactive than reactive. The fundamental issues and challenges of Indian health care to be addressed [have been the] same [for a] long [time], and yet, except for few honest attempts, most approaches have been cosmetic and/or in piecemeal. Till now, health care in India was not considered to be an election issue and hence was largely neglected. I hope that with this pandemic and its wider implications, citizens will demand better health care services from policymakers.

SG: What would you like to learn more about while being part of the Japan-India Transformative Technology Network?

MD: Despite being one of the first few countries affected by SARS-COV-2, Japan has been able to contain the virus like no other country. It's a remarkable feat considering in view its higher number of old age citizens and the fact that majority of its population lives in urban areas. I would be interested in understanding the technological and social innovations used in Japan to contain the pandemic.

Mahesh Devnani is a Salzburg Global Fellow taking part in the Japan-India Transformative Technology Network, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. Sign up for our newsletter here to receive updates about this program.

Adapting to a New Reality
Ryoji Noritake on a bench in front of Leopoldskroner Weiher at Schloss Leopoldskron
Adapting to a New Reality
By:  Oscar Tollast 

Salzburg Global Fellow Ryoji Noritake reflects on the impact of COVID-19 personally and professionally and the significance of in-person communication

Accepting the chance to take part in the Japan-India Transformative Technology Network, Ryoji Noritake wanted to take on a new challenge.

The chief executive officer of Health and Global Policy Institute (HGPI) and pro-bono consultant for Project HOPE, is keen to play a role in supporting the dialog between young leaders from India and Japan.

The Japan-India Transformative Technology Network is a new series held by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. The Network, made up of outstanding change-makers in India and Japan, will accelerate technological innovation for human and planetary health in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Noritake, based in Tokyo, Japan, already recognizes the value of bringing together people from different backgrounds and formulating ideas. HGPI, for example, "is dedicated to fostering multi-stakeholder health policy debate globally, with a commitment to the inclusion of civil society."

India, however, is something new to Noritake. Despite his extensive travels around the world, he has never visited the country. He has recognized, nevertheless, some similarities with Japan.

"I do think India and Japan [have] interesting geopolitical common interests and a common situation that we are [each] basically a democratic country," says Noritake. "Japan… used to be, I would say, a leader for Asia in terms of technology advancements, but that role has since been taken by South Korea, China, and, now, India."

Noritake typically used to travel once a month – often either to Europe or South East Asia. At peak times, he could be taking several flights per month. Since February, however, the spread of COVID-19 has put a stop to this.

The spread of COVID-19 has also affected HGPI's programs in several ways. Noritake says, "We co-hosted, for example, a dialog about COVID-19 with Japan Society UK… We [also] just held [a] multi-stakeholder online meeting on dementia and dementia [societies]… how [they have] been impacted by COVID-19... Physical affection is quite important for caregiving… but COVID-19 has been a barrier to have that kind of non-verbal physical communication."

HGPI had focused a lot of its work on non-communicable diseases in countries such as Japan, Austria, Germany, and the UK. Noritake says, "Just like Empire Strikes Back, COVID-19 brought an important message that infectious diseases [are] quite critical for any nation – any health system." In response, HGPI has now developed a program focusing on immunization and vaccinations.

Noritake, a member of Salzburg Global's Japan Advisory Council, attended a Salzburg Global program in October 2018. Alongside 59 health and urban planning experts, he took part in "Building Healthy, Equitable Communities: The Role of Inclusive Urban Development and Investment."

For five days, Noritake had the chance to work with experts from all over the world and exchange ideas on how to build healthier, equitable communities. He says, "It was very intensive." Noritake was grateful for the chance to spend five days having "honest" and "blunt" discussions. He adds, "Salzburg Global Seminar is actually a lifetime experience – [a] life-changing experience."

At the time of our interview (June 9), Noritake is working from his home in Tokyo. He speaks positively about the many things achieved through online meetings and how much more attention he now pays to his family, close friends, and neighborhood.

Noritake adds, "We are not a car manufacturer… it is rather [easy] to work from home, and that brings new types of work ethics… It is definitely easier to work from home for those who have a little child, those who need to take care of the elderly at home… We definitely can reduce the office space in the future, so the work style has radically [been] impacted."

Despite the positives of remote working, Noritake recognizes the value of the bonding that takes place at in-person meetings, such as the program he attended in Salzburg in 2018. As well as scheduled sessions, Fellows had the chance to speak informally during dinners, excursions, coffee breaks, and more.

Noritake says, "I think that was very cherishable, and that's very important for future peacebuilding [and] for human beings. So, [I'm] also concerned that, yes, we can do this through Zoom or through [another] online [platform], but we definitely need this face-to-face discussion as well, and I hope this kind of face-to-face network opportunity will [come] back soon to this society."

Ryoji Noritake is a Salzburg Global Fellow taking part in the Japan-India Transformative Technology Network, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. Sign up for our newsletter here to receive updates about this program.

Stacey Abrams to Help Launch New Salzburg Global Initiative
Stacey Abrams to Help Launch New Salzburg Global Initiative
By:  Salzburg Global Seminar 

US political leader, voting rights advocate and Salzburg Global Fellow to speak alongside journalist Will Dobson at webinar to kick-off the Designs on the Future initiative

American political leader, serial entrepreneur and nonprofit CEO Stacey Abrams will help launch the new Salzburg Global initiative, Designs on the Future this week when she speaks at the webinar Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport?

Abrams will speak in candid conversation with Will Dobson, coeditor of the Journal on Democracy on Tuesday, July 28, addressing the complex and systemic risks currently facing democracy in their country and around the world and what is necessary for democracy to flourish.

The two best-selling authors are also both Salzburg Global Fellows – an experience Abrams credits in her book Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America with shifting her outlook from local to global:
“But what he [Will Dobson] challenged me with was, ‘Look, if you want to be a leader, you have to understand more than your space.’  And he said, ‘You do that in every other part of your academic life and your intellectual life; why are you closing yourself off on the foreign policy side?’”  Abrams goes on to say that “Through him, I learned about Salzburg Global Seminar…”

Abrams became a Salzburg Global Fellow in 2000 when she participated in a landmark program on Youth and Civic Participation: Models for Engagement. In the two decades since, Abrams has moved from local young leader to state legislator, gubernatorial candidate and now national advocate for voting rights and democratic reform. 

A three-time Salzburg Global Fellow and one-time intern, Dobson most recently served as a guest lecturer at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change in 2013, helping mentor the next generation of journalists and media creators and sharing insights from his then-recently published book The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.

Abrams and Dobson will be joined by three more Salzburg Global Fellows acting as “provocateurs” in a lively discussion to be moderated by Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer Clare Shine, tackling global challenges to democracy from different geographies, generations, and sectors: Maria Farrell, a speaker and writer on technology, politics and the future, consultant on internet governance and infrastructure; Henry W. Leung, a poet and creative nonfiction writer from Hong Kong studying law at UC Berkeley, USA; and Chloe Hakim-Moore, founder and director of Next Memphis in Tennessee, USA. 

The webinar is the first in a series of unique “conversations with a twist” that will feature leaders and disrupters from within the Salzburg Global Fellowship. Designs on the Future is a new, open initiative inspired by Salzburg Global’s radical roots and the unrivalled diversity of our alumni. The initiative will focus on emergent challenges and breakthroughs to spark ideas, make sense of complexity, and inform our programs, networks and impact far into the future. 

Every new decade invites bold change for long-term benefit. Today’s converging crises provide a unique opportunity to reimagine systems, values and leadership. The Designs on the Future initiative will address the pressing question of how can we act smarter and faster for more creative, just and sustainable societies? In a world that lacks public trust and shared positive narratives, the stakes are rising along with inequity and planetary risks.

Democracy around the world – where it exists – is currently facing significant risks. Economic and racial divisions are driving political and cultural polarization. Gaps are widening between people and power, with authority in some countries now beyond traditional checks and balances. Globally there are more democracies than ever, yet trust is declining and the media is seen as increasingly partisan. Pessimism is highest among youth.

Yet history tells us that individuals and communities can drive radical change and pioneer new movements for participatory engagement from the street up. 

To join us for this timely debate at 11:00 EDT / 17:00 CEST on Tuesday, July 28, please visit 

Dismantling the Manacles of Ethnic Identity
Media Corps Fellows analyze newspapers for conflict sensitive reporting as a part of a training program held in Colombo in 2018 (Picture supplied by Mohamed Azad)
Dismantling the Manacles of Ethnic Identity
By:  Mohamed Azad and Hassarel Gallege 

Salzburg Global Fellow Mohamed Azad explores how two young journalists from different cultures realized ethnic identities are only human-made barriers to a peaceful coexistence

A decade of peace is not sufficient to heal three-decade-old wounds. Despite the end of the civil war 10 years ago, the people of Sri Lanka with different cultural identities still find it difficult to look at each other with empathy and tolerance. Deep wounds of mistrust have emerged from time to time, leading to chaotic eruptions, threatening the delicate peace the country is striving to sustain.

In early March 2018, several cities in Kandy district, such as Digana and Theldeniya in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, were engulfed by ethnic tensions. Being the city of the last kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka and the home of the holiest Buddhist temple, this region is known for its Sinhala Buddhist predominance with a minority of people from other ethnicities. For centuries, people from different ethnicities peacefully coexisted until an unfortunate incident between a Sinhalese man and several Muslim youths that ended in the Sinhalese man's death.

Something that could have been yet another fight between two groups of people assumed ethnic dimensions. It eventually ignited a massive ethnic tension that lasted for almost a week. This [incident] was the first large scale violence since the chaos in Aluthgama in 2014. Sinhalese mobs organized themselves to destroy [the] properties of Muslims in retaliation. To control the situation, the government declared a state of emergency, deployed armed forces and the police along with an island-wide social media ban to prevent mobs from getting organized for more attacks and the spread of hate speech.

When Kandy was in flames, Madushanka (name has been changed), a young Sinhalese Buddhist journalist from Polonnaruwa, another city of historical significance similar to Kandy, which is predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist, was watching the developments from afar. At first instinct, he was in solidarity with the fellow Sinhalese people and thought his community was under threat from the Muslim minority. He joined the online and social media protest against Muslims and frequently shared anti-Muslim content through his social media accounts mainly through Facebook and WhatsApp.


Madushanka noticed an advertisement in the newspaper about the MediaCorps Fellowship Program, implemented by the Sri Lanka Development Journalist Forum (SDJF) with the support of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). He applied and got selected for the first-ever cohort in 2018.

The Fellowship Program builds the capacity of 34 young journalists and media students, improving their multimedia storytelling skills by enabling them to use their smartphones to foster cross-cultural understanding and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. As part of the program, each fellow pairs with another from a completely different ethnic, religious, and geographic background. The pairs host each other for a week to deepen their knowledge about other communities and produce stories on cross-cutting issues affecting each other's community.  

For this Fellowship, coincidently, Madushanka was paired with Mohamed Samad (name has been changed), a Muslim journalist from Digana in Kandy district. He witnessed the violence breaking out against his community, dismantling the peaceful life the people of all ethnicities in Kandy had shared. When Madushanka visited Samad and stayed with him, exploring the latter's community, Madushanka's perceptions slowly began to change. Samad took Manoj to the areas affected by the recent ethnic tensions and allowed him to talk with the victims, the details of which startled Madushanka. The experience shattered his prejudices to the extent he felt guilty having been a part, in some way, of the violence.


"I have always felt that Sinhalese, as the majority ethnic group, should receive priority. As a journalist who work[s] both online and in print media, I always tended to highlight this in my writings. But after taking part in the MediaCorps Fellowship, I realized that every human being should be treated equal[ly] and that humanity should always be prioritized over ethnicity, whether it is majority or minority," says Madushanka.

Together with Samad, Madushanka visited the Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples. Samad recalled how some humane Sinhala Buddhist people and monks had protected them as they prayed inside the mosques during the riots reminding Madushanka the love and understanding of a majority can overpower the hatred instigated by a minority. The days spent with Samad progressively cleansed Madushanka of his prejudices, and as he continued his quest, discovered the Sinhalese and Muslims in Kandy share certain names, and probably share the same genes and links at some point through the endless lines of generations.

Madushanka adds that though he has visited Kandy several times before, his visit to Kandy in the company of Samad allowed him to look at the same city from a totally different angle, to discover the untold stories of its marginalized communities that lay beneath the city labyrinths and its world-renowned historical significance. He acknowledges the visit made a tremendous impact and change in his life, especially helping him to realize his misconceptions and to understand ethnic identities are only human-made barriers to a peaceful living.

Madushanka is grateful today he has come a long way from the conventional young journalist whose perceptions and writings were shadowed by his ethnic bias to a more responsible and ethnically sensitive journalist. Moving further, he is now determined to fight on behalf of the fellow Muslims to restore the glory of key historic Muslim icons who fought alongside the Sinhalese leaders to regain independence to Sri Lanka in the fight against the British.

Mohamed Azad is a Salzburg Global Fellow, who is currently taking part in the Asia Peace Innovators Forum, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. Sign up for our newsletter here to receive updates about this program.

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