Doha Debates endeavors to change the very definition of debate — from a ‘war of words’ to a process that encourages multiple perspectives, respectful dialogue and collective reasoning. In partnership with FP Studios, we wanted to bring our signature approach to the “Doha Debates Podcast,” taking on some of the most contentious issues of our time and demonstrating that civil and productive discussion is the only way to bring about meaningful, lasting change.
In each episode, recorded for audio or video, two experts representing different — often opposing — perspectives on a global issue engage in a spirited but respectful debate in an attempt to find common ground. Guests, and a rotating line-up of acclaimed hosts, hail from countries around the world including Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa, the UK and the US. Young changemakers from across the globe drive the discussions by posing questions to each guest.
In season one, episode topics have been determined by our youth voices and reflect the most timely and challenging issues we face, including artificial intelligence in art and education, ethical consumption of meat, the rise of gas-powered vehicles, genetic engineering, mass surveillance and modern masculinity.
Doha Debates and FP Studios established a high production bar for the “Doha Debates Podcast,” in tight alignment with Doha Debates’ mission to address global challenges through productive, solutions-oriented debate. Producing a debate is different than producing a conversation — we wanted to make space for diverse and often-opposing viewpoints, but were not aiming to instigate shouting matches. With the “Doha Debates Podcast,” we wanted to encourage debates that are spirited but respectful; ones that expose our listeners — and guests — to new perspectives and maybe even challenge them to change their minds. Ultimately, we wanted listeners and guests to walk away feeling heard, inspired and spurred to action, rather than antagonized or defeated.
While carefully selecting guests who represented a range of viewpoints and were committed to engaging in our signature debate approach, we also worked to ensure that they hailed from a wide range of countries, with a specific focus on the Global South — an area of the world that is repeatedly underrepresented in or excluded from global conversations. This diversity is also reflected in our rotating line-up of acclaimed hosts. We drew on the expertise and connections of both our in-house staff and the Foreign Policy team to help us assemble the ideal roster.
Another key component of each episode — both in development and execution — is the inclusion of young voices from across the globe. At the outset, we involved current participants and alumni of Doha Debates’ Ambassador Program, an ongoing learning initiative that equips aspiring leaders from across the globe with advanced intercultural communication and negotiation skills. We polled them about topics that were of critical importance to them and their futures, using their responses to shape the arc of the season. In each debate, we also ensure that there is an opportunity for an emerging global changemaker (again, often selected from the Ambassador cohort) to ask rigorous questions of our experts in the field.
The first season of the “Doha Debates Podcast” has garnered 100k+ downloads to date and 6M+ video views. Of particular significance are the high watch times on our YouTube episodes; our highest average watch time for a single episode is 14:53 (industry standard is 1–2 minutes). We have seen good long tail engagement on YouTube, with thoughtful viewer commentary and continuation of lively conversation in the comments from audience and episode guests alike. The podcast has also received international press coverage from outlets in Qatar, Nairobi, Ghana, Kenya and more,
We saw several viewers change their stances as a result of watching a debate — as was the case with the episode titled “Digital Dilemma: Does AI help or harm the creative community?” One user remarked, “Initially I was among those who opposed this technology, because I considered this AI to be able to replace humans, but gradually I understood that the function of AI was not replacing but perfecting human activities.” Another commented, “Before watching this debate, I never really considered the tremendous impact that AI can have on ‘working class’ artists that design book covers, for example. Though this emerging technology does bestow a plethora of benefits, it has the capacity to wipe out a host of careers and countless livelihoods.”
Meanwhile, Doha Debates Ambassadors have been highly engaged across the board, appearing on podcast episodes, extending conversations in YouTube comments and on social media, and dissecting episode topics in monthly learning sessions.