On the Top of the Mountain

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Justin Kagin, EDI Director

Justin Kagin, the EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum Director, shares his EDI 2017 report. EDI 2017 demonstrated that it is gaining its momentum in relevance and importance. This summer we witnessed 100% growth in attendance compared with previous years. Close to 60 participants, speakers and mentors from 12 countries, discussed together the principles of Jesus as applied to economics, politics and business. They talked about integrity in their countries, and about how to fight against corruption and human trafficking, and about refugee crisis, ethnic strife, and poverty and exclusion of minorities.

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The 11th year of the Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum was held in Fuzine, Croatia from July 29th until August 10th.  Over 60 people joined together from 12 different countries.  35 Participants and 25 team members (participants from previous years) and speakers, gathered together from Croatia, Romania, Moldova, Albania, Serbia, the UK, the US, Macedonia, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Myanmar.  Partnerships with numerous organizations helped to make this event happen with a special thanks to the SGP party of the Netherlands, the International Rotary Club, Zagreb Metropolitan Rotary and invaluable private donors.

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These sixty individuals and families gathered together to talk about Jesus’s principles and life applied to economics, politics and business.  To speak about integrity in their countries and the fight against corruption, human trafficking, the refugee crisis, ethnic strife, and poverty and exclusion among the Roma.  To join in an incubator of hope, to brainstorm together how to defeat these goliaths in their countries and in the world beyond.

In the 2017 summer of EDI, there was a wide range of talents, not only business men and women and politicians and those working for the government but a beautiful mosaic of musicians, artists, architects, biologists, teachers, journalists, students, lawyers, religious leaders and medical professionals. The talent and enthusiasm for learning together was palatable.  Truly the goals of EDI, to bring out hopes and dreams, to explore Jesus’s life and principles applied to economics, politics and business and to be a place of reconciliation and friendship, was easily born out due to the willingness of participants and team members to vulnerably share their stories and ideas with one another.

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Serbians, Croatians, Albanians, Romanians, Moldovans and Macedonians, the Balkans traditionally a place of unrest, had lectures together, participated in small group conversations, workshops as well as social events such as singing, dancing, going to the coast and playing soccer.  The friendship built across ethnicities during the 12 days together was not phony and is hopefully life-long, with some already making plans to see each other soon after EDI finished.

There were expert lectures about not only the problems facing the region but possible solutions.  Mihaela Kovacs, founder of non-profit Baraca in Romania, encouraged others to love and be servant leaders.  Samuilo Petrovski, national director of IFES in Serbia and Montenegro, spoke on Leadership and Diplomacy using personal examples of his work with Serbian politicians and well-known Serbian motivational speaker Nik Vuječic.  Religion has been more of a detriment in the Balkans than a blessing especially during the wars and Croatian journalist Tihomir Kukolja spoke about the difference between religion and the way of Jesus.  As a possible solution, Zac Schmidt spoke about his reconciliation work in Northern Ireland and a movement to promote peace through his initiative Artists for Integrity.

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Maria van Oost, project manager from the Christian Reformed Party of the Netherlands, elaborated on the different types of Christians in politics and how that relates to their outlook on the refugees.  She showed the diversity of thought behind “Christian” politicians and how they differed in their view of the proper role of religion in politics.  Dan Nichita, a former MP of the Romanian parliament, spoke about the persistent corruption in Romania but also how some female leaders and a national “Rezist” movement are finally trying to change this deep-rooted problem.

Dr. Aurora Martin than gave us a realistic view of modern-day slavery but also invited us to be part of her movement to fight this problem and to have the first museum on this topic in Eastern Europe to create awareness.  We had a day devoted to the 3 to 6 million marginalized Roma that live in Europe and possible solutions.  In addition, for EDI 2017, a panel was also constructed of those who worked among this excluded minority and amazingly it consisted of more than ten people across Europe.  Many solutions were proposed and it is hopeful that the EDI network will make a lasting impact among this marginalized group.

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During these days we also had some practical lectures on the economic, business and political environment and how to use practical tools to make a change.  Aldo Pipiria, an Albanian business-man, spoke about ethical marketing and using social media well in your business, NGO.   Josip Lučev, a lecturer from a private Croatian University, and Jasena Toma, who works at the Croatian National Bureau of Statistics, both from the Zagreb Metropolitan Rotary, spoke respectively about the difficulties of Institutional Change in Croatia and the Balkans more generally and the practical application of behavioral economics to solve real world problems.  These lectures really helped the participants understand the importance of political and economic research and as a tool to help them to achieve results for their visions.

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During the last days of EDI, lecturers spoke on vision, creativity and being salt and light in their families and communities.  Rodoljub Oresčanin, a Serbian businessman, spoke about the power of vision, Momir Blazek, a Croatian graphic designer, spoke on how God made us to be creative, not just the artists, and Dr. Heather Staff, a Labour Party politician from the UK, spoke about being light in our communities and how we must have the courage to fight for change.   Finally, all participants had to present their ideas for change, to a panel of judges and their peers, based on what they learned during the 12 days, in the fourth annual EDI creative competition.

This edition of EDI was probably one of the best ever, if not the best.  Perhaps because of the numerous fascinating lectures, the practicality and applicability of the workshops, and the range of solutions offered during small groups and time together. Perhaps it was also due to the undeniable love, unity, and appreciation for one another.  Perhaps also with what Jacob from the bible pointed out in his Bethel experience, “God was truly in this place”.  And perhaps, because all the people who gathered at EDI this summer were not just from a diverse group of different countries and professions but that they were truly men and women of unique personalities, experiences, and integrity who were not afraid of vulnerably sharing from the riches of their talents and identity. In leaving EDI, one is left with a sense of hope, that people loving each other despite all kinds of boundaries can truly change the world.

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Some thoughts shared by the 2017 EDI participants:

Ada Moldovan, România: “I was really thrilled by the open collaboration between people, the real joy of being together, and the idea to dedicate yourself to the other. Here, I have discovered a complex and different way of self-discovery, personal development, encountering of an interior balance of building a leadership dedicated to the community. I have met interesting people who have plenty to say about our present world, and who have done something for other people.”

Claudia Dosti, Albania: “EDI is a community where you have the opportunity to develop yourself in many aspects. This is my first EDI and I have gained a lot from it. My personality has got stronger, my faith in God has taken a better, a renewal shape and the way I see how trust affects my everyday life. I could define my experience in EDI as an effective and transforming one and, as a result, I got to know not only good-hearted people but also I managed to know myself better. “

Salay Nay Lynn Htun, Myanmar: “As for me physically I am fresh! Mentally, I am healed and spiritually, I am overwhelmed by Jesus’s principles. As for the speakers I see one common thing that is “All good leaders are those who walk with God”. For those who organized this EDI to happen, they are excellent, all the programme went well  doing things very systematic, very creative and able to keep people enjoy. As for all participants, each of us brings our own story, we shared it here in EDI, then we will bring back stories to our country and show that how Jesus’s principle are applying in all over the world.”

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