Or, We are a normal family…aren’t we??
What a Week
A week at the SIETAR Europa Congress 2019 in Leuven has fed our collective brains, hearts, stomachs and livers (if a liver can be fed.)
Overall, the event was a great success lead by Outgoing President, Joyce Jenkins. Joyce is the definition of an inclusive leader – combining leadership with latitude to develop purpose in an enthusiastic tribe of followers, ready to sweat a little, get creative, make decisions and get stuck in. There were many many dramas along the way (town, venue, gala, menus, rooms, people, tickets, buses, etc, etc.) And the lunches – we will get to that later. The end result was the transfer of much wisdom to a large group of intercultural enthusiasts in an effective manner in a beautiful town that was fit for purpose (Muntstraat had end-to-end restaurants and easily contained the learning hordes.)
Diversity and Inclusion
The inspired suggestion for this year’s Congress theme gave the amorphous and sometimes stagnant essentialist version of culture something substantial to work with and the results were impressive. Inclusion is where the rubber meets the road and the presenters with practitioner experience brought their experiences to life in a unique and memorable way for many of us. The topics of colour, racism, LGBTQ, as well as the prejudiced brain, polarisation and ethics got traction and the attention of this, sometimes, critical SIETARian crowd.
Quality – Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk
When I drew attention to the frequent lack of original content and questionable quality of some presenting seen in the Dublin sessions and keynotes of 2017, I was unfriended by some pretty big names – Sometimes the truth is painful to hear.
I am happy to report (not just so that you stay friends!) that both content and presentation quality seem to have bounced back to the Valencia standard of 2015.
The selection of papers for inclusion in the programme was BLIND – If ever an event was aligned with its topic, this has to be proof positive of that healthy intent. – A bi-product of this meritocratic process was that some big names where not on the programme.
Whilst there are still issues – Keynote speakers reading from their papers in “monotone”, some under rehearsed sessions with avoidable errors and the like – Speaking personally, I only had one sub-par experience during the whole event.
It was a very broad programme with up to 9 simultaneous choices at any one time, so I can only talk about the ones that I witnessed first hand.
***Shannon Murphy Robinson – An easily accessible introduction to the neuroscience of bias, culture and behaviour. Educational.
***Seyda Kutsal – Buurman – Giving regular folk (outside the police force) a chance to experience the strong feelings generated by the Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes experiment for themselves. Profound.
***Christoph Bader – Bringing something NEW to Brexit / Trump / Popularism! That is rare these days – Using the vehicle of collective memory, we were asked to apply its cult-like methods to the “other side” and come up with some pithy slogans to balance out fake news – Therapeutic.
***Christine Wirths and Lies Wouters – Digital learning – Giving us the chance, with a real case, to come up with our own attempts at constructing a digital learning programme – Inspiring and encouraging.
***Jackie van der Kroft – Reliably excellent, Jackie took us beyond conflict to the anatomy and mitigation of polarisation and asked us to apply some suggested methods in our own world. Outstanding.
***Monika de Waal, Natasha Aruliah & Henning Zorn – Sharing their life stories as 3 “outsiders”, trialogues around difference and discussions of feelings and implications – A richly experiential event.
***Alan Richter – Using ethical dilemmas and dramas and asking us to unpick them and choose a response – our results were then compared with global data and analysed. – The slickest show in town! And, finally,
***Sue Shinomiya – Ikigai – Finding one’s life’s purpose – The perfect post Gala session – Engaging enough to keep everyone zoned in, beautiful enough not to over challenge our fragile state. Elegant.
***Films – A reduced film track curated by a knowledgeable team and with the chance to see the most popular ones again on day 3. Moving.
I am sorry to say I missed the “Obama-like” opener with Leuven Mayor, Mohamed Ridouani. My loss.
Challenges – The vast voluntary team had much to cope with, not least their own size – Steering committee – 10, Congress team – 21 and Assistants – 12 (You probably need another committee to handle all of the 43+ volunteers!!!)
The venue – The concrete medical school was funky though not always fit for purpose – Arriving at the hospital entrance (never trust a taxi driver who says, “Ah, yes, I know exactly where that is…”) we went past real medical patients, walked along many corridors only to be finally denied by a double set of locked doors – Signalling with my mobile phone light attracted the attention of the people in the registration hall but they could not blow the locks on the doors (a competence beyond university professors it seems.)
The Lunches – Yes we are finally here. Let us reframe this moment to get most benefit from our collective experience – The lunches were a bonding disaster that unified a diverse crowd in a common complaint. I am put in mind of an old Jewish joke about Catskills catering – “The food is horrible here – And, such small portions.” And it did not matter – It lead to some hilarious survivor behaviour with charismatic SIETARian explorers attempting to bribe, influence and persuade KU Leuven medical students to buy canteen lunches for them – with mixed results.
Gala – In the end we all survived, ate and laughed. Apparently, the first choice venue went bankrupt before our event so a few brave souls found the substitute venue and persuaded them to host the do. The last minute instruction to select our food choices meant that, inevitably, many did not see the e mail and respond in time with their input. For them it was a fixed menu. But no more moaning – IT WAS A FREE OPEN BAR WITH BELGIUM BEER! – Come on.
Where else can you guarantee bonfemmie and bonhomie like that? (New Word – bonfemmie!!) Is there anywhere like a SIETAR Europa Congress as a place where you can tell your story and be respected, included and truly heard? – I don’t think so. We have something precious here that is safe, user friendly and staffed entirely (with two exceptions) by volunteers. Wow.
Thanks to the steering committee of 10, the 21 strong congress team and, especially, to the 12 hard-working assistants.
See you in Malta, May 2021.
P.S. – I promised to set up a Collaboration workspace after my interactive Collaboration session on day 2 at the Congress – Watch this space on Culture99 and do feel free to join in the exchange, ask questions, contribute and continue the dialogue about getting to collaboration within your organisation and spreading it to other work and community spaces too. Thanks, Matthew