Sep 26, 2019
Anna Plater-Zyberk, a 2014 Sylff fellow at Jagiellonian University and one of 20 participants in the first Sylff Leaders Workshop, reports on the Sylff Leaders Workshop held in fall 2018 and spring 2019, giving her impressions of the Visioning and Road Mapping methodology used during the discussions at the workshop.
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It was nearly a year ago that 20 fellows from all over the world came to Japan for the first Sylff Leaders Workshop. We were a highly diverse group in terms of nationality, academic background, and occupation, but we also had some things in common. First, earlier in our career, Sylff helped us to achieve some of our academic goals, and, second, we were all focused on helping our respective communities.
My adventure with Sylff started in 2014 when I was struggling to finish my PhD thesis. This was particularly difficult as simultaneously I had to work full time. It is really thanks to Sylff funding that I was able to finish my doctoral thesis, obtain the degree, and moved on to pursue a career at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Now, once again, I am truly thankful to Sylff for an amazing experience offered to us during the Leaders Workshop.
The workshop was composed of two one-week-long residential sessions (one in September and one in April) which took place in Japan, as well as reading assignments in between the sessions. The workshop’s key topic, “The Future of Food Production,” turned out to be an excellent field for a strategy thinking exercise and our further deliberations. The topic was preselected in such a way that none of the fellows was an expert on the subject matter. This made it easier to work without any preconceptions and to engage all of us in vibrant and stimulating discussions.
During our session in September, which took place mostly in Sasayama, thanks to excellent facilitators from German-based Foresight Intelligence, we learned about Visioning and Road Mapping methodology. We applied a back-casting approach to the food production theme. This exciting planning methodology started with defining a desirable goal in the future and then working backwards to identify the actions needed to link that desirable future to the present.
In other words, we started with a desirable goal set in 2030 and worked step by step back to the present. For the purpose of the exercise, we adopted two-year time intervals: 2028, 2026, 2024, and so forth. With every step we had to ask ourselves what needed to happen at that stage and what factors could prevent us from achieving our 2030 goal. Again and again, we brainstormed, drawing on our diverse backgrounds and extensive work experience. At the end of the exercise, when we reached 2018, we had a detailed work plan with actions scheduled until 2030.
I come from Poland, which in Japan is mostly recognised as the homeland of Chopin or Maria Skłodowska-Curie. Apart from these two extremely talented and influential persons, Poland is also known for its turbulent past. The country’s tumultuous history has heavily affected our behaviour, making us skilful improvisers and good short-term planers but less engaged in long-term planning activities. In our contemporary, strongly interconnected world, this attitude is significantly hindering our development. Thus, I found the back-casting methodology and other long-term strategy building tools extremely interesting and useful in furthering my work.
Apart from our stay in Sasayama, renowned for its picturesque landscapes and delicious food, including black soybeans, sake, and tea, during the September session we were also able to experience the stunning beauty of Kyoto and the vibrant capital of Japan, Tokyo. During our final presentation in the offices of the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, fellows presented their vision of the future and discussed the main challenges that lay ahead.
The second residential part of the workshop took place in April 2019 in Beppu on the island of Kyushu. This beautiful town located in Oita Prefecture is renowned for its natural hot springs and delicious, steam-cooked food. Upon reaching Fukuoka we were extremely happy to meet other fellows, facilitators, and the Sylff team again. The training part was hosted by Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. This time we were asked to come up with concrete project proposals that would strengthen global food security, broaden ethical dimension, or raise awareness in the area of food production.
The fellows came up with a number of extremely interesting applications ranging from a mobile phone app linking food grown by ethical producers to a network of vegetable community gardens set up for victims of sexual violence. Our projects were reviewed by Dr. Steven McGreevy, an expert in environmental science and associate professor at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN). His expertise was crucial and helped to both ensure the projects’ relevance and broaden our perspective.
The Sylff Leaders Workshop was an amazing opportunity to challenge ourselves in a truly friendly and stimulating environment. I enjoyed every moment and every discussion with other Sylff fellows, Foresight Intelligence facilitators, and participating experts. For me, the key thought that came up during our workshop was the growing understanding that whatever bad happens locally has global consequences but that whatever good happens locally will have global applications only if we make a joint effort. In our interconnected world the global perspective is no longer a choice, it is an obligation and an opportunity. The amazing Sylff network provides us with tools to share best practices and to transform our initiatives into globally relevant projects.
The session in Beppu concluded with a number of exciting cultural activities set in the stunningly beautiful sceneries of Kyushu. We participated in a Buddhist ceremony at the Monjusen-ji and visited Dazaifu, including the ruins of the Mizuki and Ono Fortress.
The Sylff Leaders Workshop offered us a unique chance to see the most picturesque places in Japan and to immerse ourselves in the stunningly beautiful Japanese culture, not to mention the Japanese cuisine. Thanks to the truly friendly and hardworking staff of the Sylff Secretariat who were our dear hosts and guides, we had a unique chance to gain new insights into the incredibly rich and diverse life of Japan. After this amazing experience we developed strong bonds, and it was really hard for all of us to say good-bye to a group of friends, as well as to the Land of Cherry Blossoms.