International postgraduate students from universities across the UK gathered at Cumberland Lodge on 21-23 July 2017 for our third and final Emerging International Leaders study retreat on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) for the 2016/17 academic year, culminating in a graduation ceremony.

The Emerging International Leaders programme is supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy.

Fifty participants were identified from the Commonwealth and Chevening Scholarship programmes as potential future leaders and opinion formers with strong academic records, to take part in 2016/17 programme.

They attended three residential retreats at the Lodge and took part in ongoing networking online.

Together they represent 28 nationalities and 35 UK universities, and all of them are from countries that are eligible for UK development aid.

FoRB in Action

The final retreat, 'FoRB in Action', focused on practical responses to protecting and promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief, at local, national and international levels.

Guest speakers included:

  • Dr Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation (RFBF)
  • Harriet Hoffler and Rawan Abdulla of CiFoRB at the University of Birmingham
  • The journalist Ruth Peacock
  • Philip Rosenberg from the Board of Deputies of British Jews
  • Rev Joel Edwards from Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  • Derek McAuley of the International Association for Religious Freedom
  • Representatives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

'Sharing, friendship and unity'

Olga Tsvetkova, who is studying an MBA in Media Management at Cardiff University, said: 'At the end of the day, what is the freedom of belief and religion? It is the experience of sharing, friendship and unity, despite the different views.

'We may all hold different views, but it is the sharing that matters. This whole experience was about that. I am grateful that I have met every single person in this programme and we have moments that we share. Discussion is a way to make new friendships.'

Our Emerging International Leaders programme will continue with a new cohort of international students in 2017/18, launching in September 2017.

The programme aims to equip high-potential students with the skills and insight necessary to drive debate, influence policy and build a powerful global network to support freedom of religion or belief.

Dr Rachel Smillie, our Education Officer, said: The FCO’s support for this programme demonstrates its urgency and importance. Our international delegates have had the chance to speak to experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief and human rights from a wide range of backgrounds, including parliamentarians, lawyers, religious leaders, charity workers and academics. They have been encouraged to share their own experiences and to learn from each other and the feedback from our first year has been extremely encouraging.’ 

An album of photos from the final retreat can be found on our Facebook page, here