About the Conference

We can all observe that tensions and growing divisions are endangering our societies. Hate speech, social media filter bubbles, incitement to antagonise each other based on cultural, social, economic and religious differences have become everyday phenomena. Therefore, finding ways to bring people together is more important than ever.

At the 7th NOW Conference „Space for Encounter – Overcoming Division“ Mayors, young citizens from all ways of life, community workers, innovative NGOs, renowned researchers and practitioners, social entrepreneurs and urban planners from the Middle East to Northern Europe came together to work on how social cohesion and youth participation in wide-reaching decisions can be brought forward at the local level.

Conference Article

"If you take the stories, the actions will follow”

We sometimes have the feeling that we live in societies where polarisation is shaping our views and where cultural, religious and ethnic diversity as well as disparity and globalisation seem to be endangering our sense of social cohesion. But studies have revealed that people’s views are more multifaceted and that polarising opinions have no majority. On the whole, individual acceptance of diversity is higher than we think and people are actively seeking a sense of togetherness despite all the tensions and aspects of diversity.

The 7th International Mayors’ Conference NOW in Vienna, Austria (17-18 February, 2020) presented several key research findings and combined these with a wide variety of best practices that showcase tangible approaches to overcoming local divisions. Furthermore, several workshops supported the conference’s aim of creating an impact by inspiring the participants to initiate local action when back home. This article outlines possible means of dealing effectively with tensions, of increasing acceptance of diversity and fostering cohesive societies at a local level.


“Dear ambassadors of a better world”: this was how Austria’s First Lady Doris Schmidauer welcomed the 220 participants of the 7th International Mayors’ Conference NOW, which took place in Vienna from 17 to 18 February 2020. Participants from 30 countries, from the Middle East to northern Europe, including mayors, young citizens from all walks of life, community workers, innovative NGOs, well-known researchers and practitioners, social entrepreneurs and urban planners gathered in Vienna for two days ….

Dividing society into two opposing camps? Feelings of polarisation and the reasons behind them

Polls have shown that the majority of people in European countries and in the USA believe that polarisation is decisively shaping our societies (Gentzkow, 2016; Gagné, NOW 7). This leads people to assume that there are more factors that divide than unite us. Are our achievements like peace, democracy, the minimum standards of morality, the freedom of speech and information, equality, and so on in danger …

Overcoming division: The correlation between social cohesion and the acceptance of diversity

“Phenomena such as social media filter bubbles and hate speech are causing insecurity about what we should believe and what we shouldn’t,” says Regina Arant from the Jacobs University Bremen in Germany. Furthermore, populists, disparity and globalization, as well as cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are endangering our feelings of social cohesion (Bertelsmann-Stiftung, 2017) …

Stay in touch with NOW

Conference Schedule

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Youth Day 1

The Youth Days offer a programme exclusively tailored to young participants

15.00 – 22.00

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Youth Day 2

10.00 – 17.30

Mayors’ Day

The Mayors’ Day offers a programme exclusively tailored to Mayors and municipal representatives

9.00 – 16.30

Registration & Networking


Welcome Dinner at the conference venue


Monday, 17 February 2020




Mag.a Doris Schmidauer

André Heller – Multimedia Artist and co-founder of Act.Now


Sparkling Inputs: Involve the Youth!

IMG: Jürgen Czernohorszky

Jürgen Czernohorszky – Executive City Councillor for Education, Integration, Youth and Personnel of the City of Vienna | Austria

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Sparkling Inputs: Diversity & Division

Regina Arant – Researcher/Postdoctoral Fellow at Jacobs University Bremen (Psychology & Methods) | Germany

Jérémie Gagné – Senior Associate and Researcher at More in Common | Germany

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Coffee Break


NOW Promising Practices Introduction & Phase I

Each community is different. But the challenges of living together are often similar in different local contexts. The series NOW Promising Practices showcases living examples of how to strengthen inclusive social cohesion in diverse communities. We understand practices as methods or ways of action which are adaptable to other local contexts. It is not about describing a project but about explaining how municipalities or local civil society actors tackle societal challenges.

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Sparkling Inputs: Encounter enables Cohesion

Andri Christofides & Hayriye Rüzgar – Home for Cooperation in the UN buffer zone in Nicosia | Cyprus

Dima Merheb – Executive Director of NGO Al Midan | Lebanon

Halil Ibrahim Akıncı – Social Support Manager Sultanbeyli Municipality | Turkey

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Workshop Phase I: From knowledge to action

During the conference, we will gather different insights on how we can overcome division in our communities. But how can we transform this expertise into action? The workshops will focus on how we can act to actually change something at the local level. This format serves as a laboratory to deepen the understanding of our conference topics and allow participants to experience the themes first hand.

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Coffee Break


Sparkling Inputs: Insights from Practitioners

Martin Winkler – Entrepreneur and founder of “In the Heart of Hernals” Vienna | Austria

Edoardo Caroli – Activist and founder of Turbe Giovanili | Italy

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NOW Promising Practices Phase II

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Encounter with All your Senses




DJ Eugene Quinn


Tuesday, 18 February 2020



Sparkling Inputs: Insights from Mayors

Peter Eisenschenk – Mayor of Tulln | Austria

Ivana Marković – Mayor of Supetar | Croatia

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Talk: Mayors under pressure

Isabella Conti – Mayor of San Lazzaro di Savenat | Italy

Tjark Bartels – Former Head of Administration of Hameln-Pyrmont District | Germany

Igor Marentič – Mayor of Postojna | Slovenia

Mohamad Saadieh – Mayor of Dannieh | Lebanon

Facilitator: Uta Zeuge-Buberl – Act.Now | Austria


Coffee Break


Workshop Phase II: From knowledge to action

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Sparkling Inputs: Peace & Acceptance

Adham Darawsha – Deputy Mayor for Cultures of Palermo | Italy

Lea Suter – Founder of “PeacePrints – Following the Footprints of Peacebuilders” for Peace Reporting on Post-Conflict Countries | Switzerland

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Fishbowl Discussion: Connecting the Dots – Enacting Local Change

Mayors, practitioners and young people discuss the key conference findings in order to connect the conference and the actions of the participants at the local level.

Facilitator: Thomas Seifert – Wiener Zeitung | Austria


Closing Ceremony