Day 0 (Sunday)
What a gathering! To me, with my limited experience of having attended seminars only in India so far, it seemed that every corner of the world had made their presence in the big room that day. The hosts (Yury, Chanthal, Karl) gave a warm welcome and did everything to make me comfortable. Yury introduced me to quite a few people and very soon I started feeling I had known them all my life. What struck me was the modest demeanor of the stalwarts of learning and development and action learning from across the world. Our old philosophical saying ‘Education is Modesty’ came to life before my eyes. There was a fabulous dinner which I thoroughly enjoyed with my new friend from Brazil discussing everything from the societal problems of India and Brazil to football (Pele) to movies to religion to Colonialism. It was great meeting my old friend Maarten too after more than a year. The evening concluded with many more introductions, views sharing and some very short but rich discussions on learning and development in various parts of the world.
Day 1 (Monday)
I woke up with a slight twitch of nervousness knowing I had my presentation in some time. I rehearsed once and was quite comfortable. My years spent with the Toastmasters Club had taught me that a little nervousness was good - it only makes you more aware and alert for the presentation. The sessions were to be held in a huge hall – there were some new faces and many old ones who I had met last evening. I had a quick introduction with Abhijit with whom I would be co-presenting the trends in India before lunch. I was excited because I had read his books and admired his very contemporary writings about campus life. I mentioned about getting his autograph and he very kindly gave me one of his self-autographed books! We quickly discussed the content and sequence of our presentation.
The plenary session started. There was a quick round of introductions with our neighbors at the round table. There was a very nice introduction about Singapore through several presentations. What came out was clearly was the Singaporeans love for their country, discipline, respect for the institution, acceptance of the huge foreign population that had become a part of the tiny country now and their sense of wanting to give back to the society. Some of the social, non-profit initiatives were really from very young entrepreneurs, who I felt, were authentic in their desire for doing good to the fellow country men because they had benefited from the country. The ex-Dean of Insead also shared the perspectives of a foreigner who lived the country and had made it his home.
After the break was our session. My sense of nervousness was gone. You may be laughing at this, but I called my family in India to get their wishes and blessings before the presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions – there very some very good questions and insights from the discussion. Being the first time and not knowing the exact format, my sense was the content was slightly more that what it should have been to accommodate more questions. Being the first Galleria walk format of the seminar, the chair person was very punctual with time, I assume. We also had Mohan and Chandana speaking about trends in India but we missed each others presentations and promised to catch up over them later. Post lunch, we got to know about the trends in many of the other countries in South East Asia viz. Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Europe, Africa and Middle East.
The entire atmosphere was filled with knowledge. There was just so much to learn from everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and by the end of the day felt like a very, very soaked sponge. The evening dinner was grand with tea and wine tasting, introduction of the participants’ and felicitation of Mr. K A Chang, EVP and Chief HR Officer of the Singapore Stock Exchange for his contribution in the field. It was a very fulfilling day in every sense of the term.
Day 2 (Tuesday)
I managed to go to the Mustafa store early in the morning to pick up gifts for family members and friends. This is a tradition I have always maintained when ever I have visited any place and did not want to part with it this time, in spite of the very hectic schedule. During the day we discussed trends in Australia, North and South America followed by experience sharing of practicing new forms of executive learning from Siemens (Germany), EMC (India), Eskom (South Africa). Over lunch we had a nice discussion about what can be done for orphanages in Asian countries and how the societies in various parts of the world were morphing. After lunch we had a session on Action learning experiences and Perspectives from working with Entrepreneurs in China, India and about the Entrepreneurial Leadership programme at Novartis (Switzerland). The last session of the day was on Accelerating Global Leadership Development and Talent Management with experience sharing from GE, Wipro and L’Oreal. What struck me was the freedom allowed to attend each of these sessions – there was free flowing structure, if I may say so. Though it was a long day, I was feeling very energized with the insights and the little thoughts that were getting crystallized in my head.
The evening was wonderful with a trip to Singapore’s famous Night Safari, a fabulous dinner and immense amount of networking. I am a shy person by nature and always found the concept of forced networking (the way we project it in business) a bit unnerving. But I am really surprised at the amount of networking I have been doing in this trip! Probably because I am finding myself amidst like minded people all of whom are passionate about learning and there is so much to share.
Day 3 (Wednesday)
I woke up in the morning to pen down some of my thoughts on Action Learning and ended up starting to write this diary instead.
Again a day of very intense sessions in the same galleria walk format. The morning theme was on new initiatives in Executive Education and Development with presentations from Singapore’s Civil Service College, Li Ning (Chinese sports goods manufacturer), MiL Institute of Sweden on Action Reflection Learning in Ordinary work, Unilever on how they are bringing in the theme of sustainability into their business plan, Danone (the French food company), Viet Thai International, UK’s National Health Service Supply Chain, Westpac Bank in Australia and how to bring sustainable change from within using company wide action learning using a case in a German organization.
The second half had a focus on Action Learning Applications in community, education, government and the private sector with reference to Japan’s disaster management during the recent tsunami and nuclear plant accidents, health care in UK, how it is used for university students in Singapore adult education, its application for re-establishing delinquent women in USA in the social main stream and application of a social/business networking site in a global IT company.
We had a session by Mitchy on the next global forum venue of Yokohama. That was really nostalgic as it reminded of my week long stay in the city and made me realize how very different it had become from the 2000s. The evening concluded with a fabulous dinner at the Jewel Box, a hill top restaurant overlooking the Singapore business district, cable car ride to Sentosa island and a whole hearted participation in a local form of dancing (sorry, but do not remember the name) by the delegates.
Day 4 (Thursday)
The last day started on a very different note with religion and action learning. It helped me reinforce my belief that all religions believe in the basic goodness of mankind. We had managed to include an early morning session on the global network with participation from 7 different non-competing companies and how they use and benefit from action learning. The pre-lunch session was totally experiential when we practiced action learning sets in groups of six. It was a very intense discussion with probing questions from other members in the set which gave us a lot of insight into some of the business questions we had. Above all, it helped us experience the beauty of a part of action learning.
The afternoon we were faced with a choice of attending two out the four sessions on History, Evolution, Practice and Trends of Action Learning, Today and Tomorrow of Asian Women, Hofstede’s Six Styles of Corporate Culture and Growing through Learning and Discovery of Singapore entrepreneurs. It was nice to see most Asian women attending the name sake session and we had some really animated discussions on gender issues. We concluded one of the good things would be to build a support network and help other women whenever we can.
The evening concluded with our giving comments on six aspects of the programme in groups – what we learnt, what surprised us, what still puzzled us, what learning we will take forward and to whom and what we should do and not do in the next forum ( I guess I am forgetting the sixth one).
At the end of the session, I realized I learnt a lot over the last four days. My next task of course will be to see how we can popularize the philosophy and sprit of action learning among Indian executives through executive education. I guess we do it in some form, but there is certainly scope to improve and augment this further.
There are so many little memories that kept coming to my mind on the trip back to India – the innumerable conversations with the delegates, the new friends made, Verna’s indomitable spirit and her active participation in all the events despite her age, the tremendous amount of knowledge we had exchanged and gained in the last few days and overall the spirit of friendship and trust we had built.
Goodbye participants! Some of our paths may never cross again, some of ours may. However, I think, in a way each of us has made a place in each others’ way of thinking through this beautiful form of knowledge sharing called the Global Forum.