Report to the Planning Committee, 2nd World Forum of Spiritual Culture
[adapted from letter to Tolegen Mukhamedjanov 11/11/11]
As we seek to plan the next gathering of the World Forum of
Spiritual Culture at a time when our planet needs such an event more than ever, I offer these thoughts as only one way forward, acknowledging there may be many other “plans”. I yield to your vision and to the collective wisdom of my colleagues on the planning committee, but I thought that perhaps this could be a place to start as we seek to develop a strategy worthy of attracting the best minds and the brightest hearts to our next gathering of the World Forum of Spiritual Culture. We need a bold plan to match your bold vision. It will require diligence, perseverance and imagination to implement—and, of course, financial resources. In my tradition there is a saying, that we must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. That combination is hard to achieve, but if we let the vision guide us, we will find the balance and create an extraordinary event.
PRESIDIUM WORK PLAN WORLD CONFERENCE
OF SPIRITUAL CULTURE DRAFT
DEVELOP A PLAN AND IMPLEMENT IT
The first thing I would suggest we do is to draw up a strategy, complete with assignments, timelines and budgets, so that we do not waste the valuable time we have between now and October, 2015. I would suggest that you assign the task of developing such a strategy to one of us and that a draft of such a schedule be considered by a sub-group of the planning committee. Topics that should be part of this strategy include: Theme/Content; Conference Structure; Conference Leadership; Funding; Marketing and Promotion; Participant Registration; and Logistics.
Each topic should include a checklist of milestones and a clear timeline. In seeking a world-class conference, we should have our conference theme and celebrity guests in place very soon. This will give us the better part of a year to recruit our “substantive presenters” and our participants. Many people, especially in the West and in the Southern hemisphere will need sufficient persuasion to come to Kazakhstan because of the lack of awareness of Astana’s appeal. They will also need time to secure funds for travel.
Having a media strategy in place—web site, promotional flyers, networking, newsletters, etc. as soon as possible means that more people will be able to attend. And then, of course, we must each commit to reach out to our networks to recruit participants by offering personal endorsements as to the value of the event.
EXPANDING OUR BASE
We need to broaden our base. I would begin by adding more women to our planning committee. Especially in the West, any major endeavor that lacks significant participation among women at every level of leadership must fight for credibility before it has even begun. Besides, women are deeply involved in the ways of art, craft, culture and spiritual endeavors, both in rural communities and in sophisticated urban settings. Their participation will help us shape a conference that will be meaningful and relevant in the world’s households, as well as its boardrooms and halls of government.
Next, we must reach out to youth. It is important that we extend ourselves aggressively to young leaders across the continents so that they can be included in both shaping the conference itself and promoting its value among their peers.
Finally, we need to reach out into various segments of the social fabric—beyond academic and diplomatic circles—to include scientists and indigenous crafts people, environmentalists, sports figures, historians, social media pioneers, and artists from a wide variety of cultures, with particular attention to the global South.
VISION, THEME AND CONTENT
We must be clear about our goals for the 2015 gathering. Even if these goals are never published, we need to know what we are doing and why. Once our goals have been determined, it is important that our conference have a theme that is easily remembered, intriguing to participants and sounds “catchy” in the media. The theme must reflect your vision, Tolegen, but not fully encompass it, because that is too broad. We need to apply the Kazakh proverb, “one rider for one horse”. Let us do one thing and do it well. If we try to make this an all-encompassing gathering, we will fail to make a mark in the media or entice potential participants. On the other hand, if we develop a compelling theme/title for our conference, it will attract attention because the overall vision is so compelling. We have poets and writers in our midst and we should draw on their creativity as we consider several phrases—simple enough to be understood in different languages, but not so mundane as to fail to pique the interest of potential participants.
I believe that an important part of what we need to do is find well known presenters, and I encourage us to do so as a top priority. However, I think we need a theme and a structure for the conference first so that: 1.) we develop a list of presenters that address our overarching goals; and 2.) that potential invitees know what we hope to accomplish at the conference.
We need to select those whom we want to be keynote presenters thoughtfully and systematically. We will only get one shot at these individuals and we need to insure that our overtures are successful. We need to create a grid that identifies different categories we want represented at our conference. What are the content categories of our desired presentations? What are the emphases? What are the civic sectors that need to be represented—science, religion, academia, technology, crafts, historical cultures, arts, policy makers, activists, entrepreneurs? What is the demographic breakdown of our leaders—age, race, gender, geography? We must have diversity in order to attract the widest audience possible. Those who are considering participation will ask: where do I fit in here? And if they don’t see representation from their own age group, race, gender, nationality, religion or region, they are far less likely to come.
Such diversity will speak volumes about our intentionality of creating what is truly a world forum. It also provides multiple entry points of interest so that we can appeal to a wide spectrum of participants. Then we need to brainstorm specific names that populate this grid, determine who would be the most attractive leaders, prioritize the list and invite them. We need to determine whether we will pay honoraria, and/or travel expenses, how much and to whom. Then, we need to assign members of the planning committee to recruit these leaders.
It is my opinion that this is a critical element in making for a successful conference that will produce long-term benefits towards the attainment of our ultimate goals. The concept of having a series of presentations with little opportunity for dialogue and interaction is counterproductive a didactic model from the past century and one that will not attract innovative thinkers, creative artists and spiritual leaders in today’s world. It isn’t that keynotes are not in order—they are. People come to hear world-renown speakers and to gain ideas and inspiration for their own work—but there must be ample opportunity for rich dialogue and for interaction between presenter and participant if the conference is going to have a lasting impact.
We must use technology effectively. Innovative technology opens up all kinds of options that the delivery of lectures and reports does not. The arts must be woven into the structure of the forum and not tacked on at the end. There must be time for spiritual/ritual involvement and there must be quiet time for prayer and reflection. Perhaps the conference could feature an African theme—it takes a village—and structure the layout of the event so that people would not be stationary, but would be up and moving, engaging in dialogue, experiencing art and crafts, creating, interacting, storytelling with one another. We need to dance and sing as well as have intellectual stimulation, and our cultural and artistic expressions need to be representative of the whole world, not any one region.
We must employ new media to build “buzz” about the conference, to engage potential participants’ imaginations and to define this event as cutting edge and future oriented. We need to use technology for our internal deliberations and preparation, for our promotion leading up to the event and at the event itself. Effective use of media allows us to include visual and narrative elements that a simple report or press conference cannot accomplish. These things are needed both internally and externally.
Television and print periodicals are still among the most effective tools for getting the word out about our work, but this is most likely to happen during and after the event. We must be newsworthy in order to attract this kind of coverage. And, we need a strategy for informing key media outlets about who is coming to the conference and what makes this event unique. We need to contract with a marketing/public relations firm that is sensitive to global messaging realities and who can tell our story and get the word out to the widest possible audience. Our mass (mainstream) media strategy must intersect with our viral strategy, so that we have consistent messaging and a holistic approach to promotion.
This is an important aspect in determining the true success of this conference. Celebrity leaders will most likely not provide the commitment, imagination and expertise to make for lasting change in implementing spiritual culture dimensions into day-to-day community life. Therefore, we must develop networks of promotion and do extensive follow up—especially in ways that insure diversity of participation—for conference attendees. And, we must build in follow-up involvements so that participants have ideas to use “back home.”
We must consider the possibility of scholarships so that we can include religious and cultural leaders who practice their craft independently without compensation from successful NGOs, corporations, academic institutions or government agencies. We need to reach out to indigenous people who are often left out of such gatherings and yet who have such a vital role to play in articulating the impact of culture on the social fabric. We need to approach youth organizations and we need to be very sensitive to geographic diversity—reaching out especially to people in Africa and Latin America.
Before we develop a fund raising strategy, we need to develop a budget for preparation, promotion and implementation of the conference. We cannot reasonably expect to proceed with such an ambitious venture without financial assets; nor can we assume that we have unlimited resources, so we must set limits on line items, parameters on our expectations and cap spending within our financial capacity.
We should seriously consider creating a plan that is scalable, so that if our aspirational funding goals are not achieved, we can limit or eliminate elements of the conference without violating its integrity or sacrificing its uniqueness. We need to decide on whether there will be registration fees, whether accommodations will be subsidized, what role the Kazakhstani government will have in underwriting this event and where we might receive funding from the private sector.
There are innumerable logistical details that need attention. Some basic elements will need to be decided early for a conference of this size—meeting venues, hotel space, etc. It may make sense to use multiple venues in Astana to add to the richness of the experience, especially on the part of those unfamiliar with Central Asia. Once the parameters are set in terms of date, time, place and number of participants, we should recruit Kazakhstani youth and government aids to assist in implementing the logistical aspects of the conference.
There is little time to waste. I suggest that we employ technology to have regular meetings of the planning committee on Skype (or using other teleconferencing software). I suggest, Tolegen, that you not be the one to moderate these meetings, but that as the “holder of the vision” you monitor our progress and keep us true to our stated goals. I suggest that we have pre-printed agendas that are distributed to members of the planning committee before each teleconference. It is important that the meetings be kept on track and on time. These would be working sessions, lasting two hours each (no more), with reports received on who has accepted our invitations, where we stand on fund raising, how our media strategy is going, etc. We can then keep a permanent record of our deliberations and decisions so that we can easily determine when we get sidetracked.
The possibility of holding a truly worldwide gathering in Astana in 2015 is both a daunting and exhilarating opportunity. It is an honor to be charged with the responsibility, as a member of the planning committee, of bringing this vision to life. But, we cannot deceive ourselves about the amount of work involved in executing a world-class event of this magnitude. We must begin now, develop a workable plan that includes time lines, accountability structures, individual responsibilities and fund raising strategies. If we do this and then follow through on our assignments, we will have a most rewarding experience in Astana and we will have created something that has the potential to change the world.
Rev. Robert Chase
Intersections International, USA