On January 15 and 16, 2008, UNESCO director-general Koïchiro Matsuura took part in the First Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Madrid. The event brought together numerous political leaders, representatives from international and local organizations, donor agencies, civil society organizations, and foundations.
According to the UNESCO press release, Mr. Matsuura spoke on January 15, during the first plenary session devoted to examining the challenges of managing diversity in a globalized world. The director-general echoed the sentiments of several speakers when he stated that “education remains a key element for promoting dialogue between cultures and religions, and governments have a great responsibility to live up to their commitment to providing a quality education for everyone.” The press release mentions that Mr. Matsuura also “highlighted the cooperative role UNESCO plays at the international level in the field of education, and assured participants that they could count on the organization for help in implementing their projects in their respective countries and at the regional level”
The press release adds that Mr. Matsuura and the UN secretary general's high representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Mr. Jorge Sampaio, signed a cooperative agreement between UNESCO and the Alliance of Civilizations. The goal of this agreement is to “identify concrete fields of action in order to promote dialogue between cultures and civilizations and reinforce mutual understanding, tolerance, respect, and peaceful coexistence.”
The agreement will initially last for two years and outlines activities and policies to be carried out conjointly between UNESCO and the Alliance of Civilizations in conjunction with public authorities at every level, as well as with civil society, NGOs, and the private sector. UNESCO adds that this agreement “outlines the development of educational, cultural, and scientific content by encouraging dialogue, and reciprocal appreciation, more youth exchanges to surmount cultural barriers, the promotion of means of communication as vectors of tolerance, and even the establishment of new multilateral partnerships to promote multilingualism and identify and bring together students, researchers, and scientists from different cultural backgrounds as well as religious leaders and other opinion leaders with a view to promoting mutual respect.”