I am updating my message on the anniversary of the October 2019 popular uprising, reflecting on my second year in Lebanon, and what a tumultuous year it has been. We are about to publish our Next Generation youth research commissioned last year with recommendations and a call for a new Social Contract between citizens and the state – the need for more transparency and accountability, and for greater responsiveness to the needs of young people are all reflected in the research findings and these are at the heart of the call for change that erupted in 2019.
We have had to adapt and respond to the challenges of the last 12 months, in the first period of disruption as roads were blocked, we found ways to maintain operations, finding alternative venues and ways to deliver to our customers. The challenges of operating during a global pandemic are shared across the world, and we have been able to draw on best practice globally to find ways to continue whilst protecting the safety of customers and staff. We have accelerated digital innovations, whether related to our examinations services or our debating programme for young people, Young Mediterranean Voices or through making available our British Council Virtual Arts Centre briefings which capture the best of the creative and cultural scene from the UK and the region.
Our digital innovations teams have been working on further developments whereby we will be able to offer English speaking tests via video examiners and in the coming months we will launch our Digital Library, and finally, we will be able to offer English language teaching services again in Lebanon by taking advantage of digital delivery. Our recently launched Digital Collaboration Fund will support organisations to collaborate digitally on international arts projects.
Like everyone operating in Lebanon, we have faced difficult choices brought about by the economic conditions that prevail, on top of this we have had to adapt to the conditions brought about by the covid-19 pandemic – operating at reduced capacity at a peak of demand, particularly for Examination services. We faced the explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August and were fortunate that our premises were closed and services suspended in response to the requirements from Government of Lebanon to control the spread of covid-19. Our premises were damaged, but a credit to the team and to our building management, we were operational within 3 weeks.
As we continue to work through this difficult period, I have been struck by the solidarity offered to the Lebanese people from around the world, and in particular from the UK, where people from all sectors in which we work have offered messages of support. For me this solidarity is an expression of the values of cultural relations, connected through arts, culture, and education through dialogue.
We are led by our values, valuing people, integrity, mutuality, creativity, professionalism. One way in which we express our values is through our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion across our programmes, we seek to reach out to all sections of Lebanese society to ensure that opportunities are available to all and that there is no discrimination, based on age, gender, race, religion, disability or sexuality. Inclusion, particularly of more marginalised voices and interests, is especially important in Lebanon and in the UK as we grapple with truly global challenges.
I look forward to engaging with you either face to face or virtually in the near future. I am always eager to hear your views and discuss how we can work together.