Originally published July 27th, 2016.

Instead of difference becoming a force of evil and wrongdoing in the world, we ought to focus on how those differences can help us grow and prosper. In other words, we need to start bridging the gap. InterBridge is doing just that. 

In this interview, Nassima Dzair, the founder of InterBridge, talks us through her personal journey of bridging the gap between cultures as a global citizen and how she has set out to help others do the same at InterBridge. 

InterBridge's social impact so far:

  • 10 countries: Norway, Denmark, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Madagascar, Dubai, Turkey, Pakistan, USA
  • 800 people have been reached through trainings
  • Tens of thousands through public speaking

Tell us about InterBridge, what is your mission?

InterBridge is a social enterprise that works for more inclusivity, equity and better quality of life, globally. We build capacity, develop leadership skills and inspire individuals to be socially responsible. Our services include training programs, seminars, talks, consulting and advising. We work together with youth, professionals and institutions globally to achieve a positive social impact.

What was your motivation for starting InterBridge and what social problem(s) do you aim to solve?

I want to see individuals thrive and contribute to their community. It comes from a very personal spot growing up being from a background that wasn’t the most privileged, I experienced racism and social exclusion by some, but I also gained access to privileges through education. My childhood experiences are at the root of a dedicated social engagement. I’ve been in between cultures and social classes my entire life, which is one of the reasons I named my social enterprise InterBridge.

Coming from a diverse background, I’ve had to ‘bridge’ what appear to be differences. In doing so, I’ve found strength and resilience, but it’s been a tough journey in recognizing the importance of those difference. It is a personal project, having done the journey myself. One of my goals for InterBridge is to provide participants with a toolset to navigate the challenges in societies of the 21st century, find their purpose and awaken their responsibility. In other words, my main focus starts with individuals waking up to their own potential. By working with social inclusion, it permits each and everyone of us to contribute towards a more sustainable and peaceful world.

InterBridge empowers individuals and facilitates processes towards solutions to societal issues - how do you do this?

The essence of our work comes from believing in the potential of the individual to contribute to positive change in themselves, their environments, and society as a whole. Our motto is “Activate your potential”. We design customized skill-building courses that align individual behavior to action-oriented solutions. The InterBridge Team has global expertise and cultural competency.

Our methodology is interdisciplinary, intercultural and international. This permits highly adaptable programs to the different contexts and groups we work with. Our trainings are dynamic, highly interactive and engaging. We use the collective intelligence that is present in a group to facilitate the processes. Creativity is at the center and we include the use of arts, culture and sports to engage and give a holistic approach.

By gaining new insights and new skills, participants put their assets into service for finding or committing to solutions to societal issues that they face locally. We invite them to collaborate across sectors and disciplines to innovate socially.

" Discerning nuances is the opposite of staying stuck in dualism which can create bigotry."

Are there certain skills that a good trainer needs to possess?

One of the most important skills for an InterBridge trainer is to be a ‘people person’. Trainers need to have high social intelligence and be able to sense participant’s needs and feelings. This is especially important in the international context be being culturally sensitive and aware of the different parameters.

Being adaptable is also a valued skill, because there are endless things that are out of our control whether it’s being capable of changing a schedule last minute, working without electricity, or dealing with emergencies.

Even when things don’t go as planned, it’s important that the trainer keeps calm, focused and solution oriented, while allowing people to feel safe and cared for because our trainings are based on active participation, being a good listener is always a great quality.

The structure of our workshops is very important. Our trainers create an inclusive environment for people from vastly different backgrounds which allows people to focus what they have in common, rather than focusing on what separates them. Within well structured spaces and good frameworks, magic can happen!

What does a typical training look like?

We have a general framework and methodology, and adapt it depending on the audience. Our main focus is in creating a meeting space. The space is extremely important so that it’s the right atmosphere for people to feel comfortable and meet each other. We often start with exercises in the form of a circle so that people can meet each other.

Our framework begins with focusing on the individual with themes like values, identity, self confidence and assertiveness. We then move to skills within the relational sphere. Here communication is crucial. We share tools and techniques and use Forum theater as a method to learn to handle challenging situations. Finally, we move over to handling social issues and have different activities and creative processes on how to create or get involved in solutions in order to have positive soil impact.

 

 

Overall, the entire framework is dynamic and highly engaging. We incorporate fun new paradigms and perspectives to our trainees, challenging them and pushing them out of their comfort zones. They really can’t get bored!

How did you initially model your platform for change? Was there something you used as a benchmark, or did it grow organically?

I have been involved in social change from an early age. I was invited to do a TED talk in Algiers on my bridge-building activities. Algeria also happens to be the country where my parents are originally from. I was moved by the strong energy of the youth, the fact that they represent 65% of the population and their need for inspiration. I quickly understood that I could share the knowledge and resources that I had as a global citizen, and build capacity here too as I was already doing around the globe. That is the main reason why I initially started InterBridge in Algeria. This was a challenging journey in quite a rough context especially being a young woman from abroad, but I also turned the experiences into growth and experience.

At the time, Norway was gaining a greater understanding of social entrepreneurship and social innovation. Moving InterBridge headquarters to Oslo brings it to the epicenter of great achievements where we can influence the shift and growth that is happening, and permits me to operate from my city where I can anchor the global experience locally.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your work?

The have been several transformative lessons. In general, I think the result has been to gain a great sense of reverence for life, to get better at listening to intuition and to create frameworks for success. I must also mention the inspiration that comes from the youth and women we work with across the globe. Their immense drive, strength, and resilience defying challenging life conditions or lack of opportunities is ever humbling.

What has been your social impact to date?

The last two years, InterBridge has worked in 10 countries: Norway, Denmark, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Madagascar, Dubai, Turkey, Pakistan and the USA.

800 people have been reached through trainings and ten thousands through public speaking. The testimonials of our participants on their wellbeing, their professional successes and their dedication to social impact either through starting own projects or joining existing ones is exciting!

What makes you a changer?

I am a realistic optimist that prefers to create new alternatives than to settle for unsatisfying conditions of life.

When solving a problem, I seek deep understanding of it. My perspective is to get the bigger picture and see how different elements are connected. That allows getting to the underlying root causes rather than just deal with symptoms on the surface. Discerning nuances is the opposite of staying stuck in dualism which can create bigotry. I am dedicated to share whatever is in my capacity to permit as many people as possible to access the nuances, see the similarities and accept the differences. I believe that inclusiveness and an awakened sense of responsibility towards the social challenges of our global world is the door opener to innovative solutions. My love for our planet and for people, and a resilient spirit that does not give up is my driving force.