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14.05.2024 By Holly Ward, UK Head of Consumer

Between the Two of Us: Three days in Tangiers with the House of Beautiful Business.

A group of some 30 plus people sat on Morroccan-style cushions in an open air courtyard in Tangiers. They are listening to speakers on a central stage. There are beautiful trees growing in the courtyard.

Imagine being in a beautiful historic palace surrounded by 700 people with the most open of minds listening to visionaries, artists, economists and poets.  If you can conjure that up, add some sunshine, local flora and amazing food and you have the House of Beautiful Business festival: ‘Between the Two of Us’.

Hosted in Tangiers the port city in Morocco, we set out to explore a ‘life centred economy’.  I admit when I first saw the programme and some of the speaker titles (Business Mystic and AI Labor Activist, even Legal Hash Entrepreneur), the cynic in me did question whether this was going to be for me.  But I’m always happy to be proved wrong and delighted to learn from people completely different to myself.

As it transpired, I wasn’t that different.  As a human being I want a world that will flourish and thrive rather than wilt and lose all its wonder.  I want to explore ways to build and grow community around me rather than live in isolation, and I want to see beauty every day. So, it seems do the majority of the other people there.

Perhaps surprisingly against the historical backdrop, at some point AI took centre stage, exploring how it will help or hinder our lives. AI is forcing us all to examine what it means to be human.  What do we have, inherently within us, that makes us different and how can we celebrate and use that?  If humanity is having an existential crisis, then shouldn’t we harness the power of AI rather than treat it as an enemy?  This resonated. I’m all about making life easier: if there’s a way to shortcut difficulties, I’ll take it. I’m old enough to own that.  AI and the opportunities it brings force us to ask better questions; to use it rather than let it use us. From the work we’re doing here at Current Global every single day, we’re very clear that we must be on the front foot with generative AI.

Inspiring AI pioneers, Pelonomi Moiloa and Chanuki Seresinhe – the latter billed as an aesthetic AI pioneer – focused on the possibilities rather than the problems.  Pushing boundaries to make a positive global impact and using AI to design indigenous language solutions were amongst the visionary uses they discussed.

Creativity in a more traditional sense was also represented with artists, poets and performers.   As a painter myself I loved hearing the stories behind the beautiful artworks on display and listening to some of the passionately heartfelt poetry.  People such as the author and photographer Taiye Selasi and Hannah Rose Thomas, whose moving portraits of female survivors of conflict and sexual violence imparted dignity, resistance and justice to her subjects. It was certainly humbling.  Sometimes we need jolting out of complacency.

Since the theme of the conference was ‘Between the Two of Us’ the question of how we relate to each other was discussed. It stimulated thought about how we use language in our day to day lives, how it can be misinterpreted and damaging, depending on the audience and the words we use.  As someone never known to hold back an opinion, this struck a chord. I am who I am, strident views part of the package and three days in Tangiers are unlikely to change that, but perhaps I can learn to pause and reflect a heartbeat longer before I jump in.

One guest speaker who seemed to capture all hearts and minds was Tunde Onakoya, a Nigerian chess master who holds the Guinness World Record for the longest chess marathon. Tunde uses his gift to help children in slums in Nigeria.  It’s not easy to master chess, but his two-week programme empowers children from extraordinary poverty to learn chess and unlock the means to read, write and think strategically. And in doing so, it elevates them in the eyes of those around.

The founders closed the festival with a plea to us to use what we’d seen and heard in our lives and business.  Personally, I came away with a sense of having pulled back a curtain on something important that needed urgent attention, although I’m not sure I can elevator pitch what that was.  But I do know I have a responsibility to challenge my clients and colleagues to think about the impact our work as communicators has on life, humanity and the environment.

I’m fortunate to feel more certain than ever that I have found my place in Current Global: it is the most right any job has ever felt to me and that’s not least because we put real human connections at the heart of everything we do. Our Accessible by Design commitment is vital to helping the communications industry work toward a more inclusive future.  It’s a step on the road to changing the way businesses and brands connect with people, and rather than being a tick box, shows why accessibility should be baked into every single communications campaign from the outset.

In thinking about what I have taken away from the three days I’ll go back to the aim of the festival – to build a narrative for a life centred economy during a time of poly-crisis.  That’s a big ask and I think I have more questions than answers right now.  The somewhat unsavoury truth though is that we tend to assume someone else is finding the answers to assuage the guilt for our own inaction. But what if they aren’t?  What if it’s down to the collective effort? Everyone doing what they can in whatever way they can, big or small.  We all matter. We all have purpose.

‘Between the Two of us’ shone a light on a set of highly emotive and interrelated issues. But I need more than knowledge: I need actionable strategies.  I realised that a simple 10 point plan is not something we can build for this challenge, but a more personal approach to reaching a collective goal could be.  We are, after all, human and it’s our individuality, unique perspectives and our curiosity that are the most valuable and powerful resources we have.  We all have a part to play in the future of this beautiful planet, the only qualification required is the desire to work together to build a world full of life that will flourish and thrive.  Sign me up.

Thanks to my clients at Accor Pullman for inviting me to join them in Tangiers.  It was an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!




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