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[Report] Fall Session of Sylff Leaders Workshop 2018–19

November 16, 2018


An inaugural group of 20 Sylff fellows participated in the fall session of the newly launched Sylff Leaders Workshop from September 16 to 23, 2018. The fellows, who were selected from among 114 applicants, were a highly diverse group in terms of nationality, Sylff institution, field of specialization, and current occupation.

Sylff fellows and secretariat members in Sasayama.

Sylff fellows and secretariat members in Sasayama.

The main objective of the workshop was to provide graduated Sylff fellows an opportunity to experience diverse cultures through intensive discussions with people from different backgrounds and with varying viewpoints. Fellows were also able to deepen their ties to the Sylff community and gain new insights into Japan—not just the well-known aspects of the host country but also traditional and local areas off the beaten track.

About Sasayama

All participants had been scheduled to reach Sasayama via Osaka, but some were forced to switch routes, as Kansai International Airport was heavily damaged in the catastrophic typhoon just prior to the workshop. From Osaka, fellows traveled an hour and a half by bus to Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture, where most of the sessions were held.

Sasayama is a scenic farming community of low-lying hills famous for such products as kuromame (black soybeans), mountain yams, chestnuts, and tea. It is also a former castle town, and the castle originally built in the seventeenth century has been partly reconstructed. Some buildings and neighborhoods retain the style and structure of the castle town.

Fields of harvest-ready rice in Sasayama.

Fields of harvest-ready rice in Sasayama.

A reconstructed section of Sasayama Castle.

A reconstructed section of Sasayama Castle.

Welcome remarks by Sanae Oda.

Welcome remarks by Sanae Oda.

Sanae Oda, executive director of the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, welcomed the fellows on behalf of the Sylff Association secretariat. “One major aim in developing this program was to enable fellows to renew their understanding of the kind of leadership qualities we’re looking for,” she said in her remarks. “Society today has become very divisive. We need leaders who will bridge differences and promote understanding between people of diverse cultures and values. The message I hope you’ll take home from this workshop is that this is a role Sylff fellows should play in working for the common good.

“Our second aim is to help you enjoy your stay in Japan and gain a better understanding of the country,” she continued. “Through your two visits, I hope you’ll not only get to know each other better but also come to appreciate the many faces of Japan.

Activities in Sasayama

Being a community with a vibrant agricultural sector, Sasayama was an excellent setting for the workshop, whose topic was “The Future of Food Production in 2030.” When considered in terms of the “food system,” the issue is of overriding concern across the globe, as it encompasses not only agricultural production but also transport, manufacturing, retailing, consumption, and food waste. There are impacts on nutrition, health and well-being, the environment and ultimately, global food security.

Keynote speech by associate professor Yoshikawa.

Keynote speech by associate professor Yoshikawa.

The keynote speech for the three-day program in Sasayama was delivered by associate professor Narumi Yoshikawa of the Prefectural University of Hiroshima, an expert on the agricultural economy, who described Japanese initiatives in organic agriculture and grassroots efforts to strengthen ties between consumers and producers.

The workshop was facilitated by methodology experts from German-based Foresight Intelligence, which supports strategic foresight and planning processes in various organizations. After the plenary session, fellows broke out into smaller groups to discuss the topic under a subleader, delving into such issues as “food security through efficiency and resilience,” “ethical attitudes and awareness raising,” and “responsible and open innovation.” Fellows also conducted an online discussion with Philipp Grunewald of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, who, in addition to running a mushroom farm, has expertise in such fields as the global food production system and organic farming. The three days in Sasayama formed the foundation for the presentations by fellows on September 21 in Tokyo.

Plenary session.

Plenary session.

Breakout session 1.

Breakout session 1.

Breakout session 2.

Breakout session 2.

A majority of fellows stayed at Nipponia, a traditional wooden mansion that has been renovated into a ryokan, or Japanese guesthouse. On September 17, workshop participants were joined at dinner by Sasayama Mayor Takaaki Sakai, who introduced the city and welcomed the guests from overseas. On the following day, fellows got a taste of Japanese culture, choosing to participate in either the tea ceremony or a visit to a local sake brewery. In the evening, fellows enjoyed a Japanese style barbeque, sitting on small cushions on the wooden floor. 

Welcome dinner at Nipponia on September 17.

Welcome dinner at Nipponia on September 17.

Dinner at a robatayaki (Japanese-style barbeque) restaurant on September 18.

Dinner at a robatayaki (Japanese-style barbeque) restaurant on September 18.

Fellows participate in the tea ceremony.

Fellows participate in the tea ceremony.

Visit to a brewery for a sake tasting.

Visit to a brewery for a sake tasting.

Kyoto Trip

Before moving to Tokyo, fellows spent a night in Kyoto, visiting the Gion district, where they were entertained by maiko (female performers-in-training between 15 and 19 years old) and geiko (trained performers over 20). Maiko and geiko are part of a social tradition in going back to the eleventh century, performing for members of the upper class.

A geiko (left) and maiko (right) play games with fellows.

A geiko (left) and maiko (right) play games with fellows.

Tokyo Session

On September 20, fellows visited the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, located on the 34th floor of a high-rise in the Roppongi area, for a session introducing the activities of Japanese think tanks and the current state of the Japanese economy. Foundation researchers later joined fellows for dinner on a yakatabune boat cruise in Tokyo Bay.

A session with policy experts in Tokyo on September 20.

A session with policy experts in Tokyo on September 20.

The following day, fellows presented the conclusions of their workshop discussions. They used a methodology called “visioning and road mapping” developed by Foresight Intelligence calling on fellows to start with a target year—in this case 2030—and to work backwards from potential scenarios. In thinking about the status of food production in 2030, fellows first discussed bad scenarios and then considered more desirable outcomes. They identified specific problems, developed the means to resolve such problems, and presented their visions of the future. These tasks were considered in reverse chronological order (using the “backcasting” approach), rather than by envisioning a future based on the current situation. Visioning and road mapping are tools enabling the normative construction of the future and are designed to remove current biases and to think about ethics and the values needed to build a desirable future.

Fellows divided into four groups to make their final presentations, expressing clearly how a desired future could be created.

Final presentation (1) on September 21 at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

Final presentation (1) on September 21 at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

Final presentation (2) by Rosangela Malachias (left of screen) and Stefan Buchholz (right).

Final presentation (2) by Rosangela Malachias (left of screen) and Stefan Buchholz (right).

Final presentation (3) by Kabira Namit (left) and Evgeniy Kandilarov (right).

Final presentation (3) by Kabira Namit (left) and Evgeniy Kandilarov (right).

Final presentation (4) by Andrew Prosser.

Final presentation (4) by Andrew Prosser.

The workshop ended with a lunch reception with Nippon Foundation President Takeju Ogata, who recounted how the first Sylff institution, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, came to receive a Sylff endowment and how Sylff as a program has developed thereafter.

The same 20 fellows will meet again in April 2019 in Beppu, renowned for its natural hot springs, located in Oita Prefecture. The workshop will be hosted by Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, a Sylff institution located in the city. Fellows will wrap up their discussions and make their final presentations.

The workshop was launched to facilitate networking and to give fellows a fuller appreciation of the rich diversity of the Sylff community. The Sylff Association secretariat intends to offer this program biennially and is already planning ahead to the next round.

A group photo at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research on September 20.

A group photo at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research on September 20.

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Delivering 3D-Printed Prosthetic Solutions in the Philippines: An Interview with Keio Fellow Yutaka Tokushima

May 9, 2018

Sylff Project Grant (SPG) is a new support program launched in September 2017. The program awards grants of up to $100,000 to support projects led by Sylff fellows with the aim of contributing to the resolution of a social issue. Selection criteria favor projects that take an innovative, sustainable approach and have high potential for social impact. Grantees must personify the Sylff mission and demonstrate the kind of leadership and commitment needed to spearhead social change.

In March 2018, the first grant was awarded to Yutaka Tokushima, recipient of a 2016–17 Sylff fellowship at Keio University’s Shonan Fujisawa Campus. In the following overview and interview, we profile the project’s leader, his previous accomplishments as a Sylff fellow, and his plans for translating those achievements into an enterprise with sustained social impact.



Yutaka Tokushima is a doctoral student at Keio University specializing in fabrication design. Hoping to use his expertise for the good of society, Tokushima initiated a project aimed at leveraging digital technology to provide affordable prosthetic legs to low-income individuals in the Philippines.

Owing to dietary issues, diabetes is a growing problem among the poor in many developing countries, and when patients are poorly informed about their condition and its control, the complications can lead to amputation of the lower extremities. Unable to work, amputees typically sink deeper into poverty. A conventional artificial limb, which must be assembled by highly skilled artisans from multiple parts and a variety of materials, can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $9,000 in the Philippines. For someone subsisting on less than $400 a year, such a purchase is unthinkable. Yet an artificial limb would allow many of these amputees to find work and support themselves.

A 3D-printed prosthetic leg prototype and 3D printer (right).

In an effort to surmount these critical cost obstacles, Tokushima developed a system that uses 3D printing and machine learning to fabricate prosthetic legs entirely from plastic. The process yields dramatic savings, first of all, by eliminating the need for expensive materials. In addition, the application of a 3D printing system using software with machine-learning capabilities greatly reduces the need for advanced professional skills in the fabrication process. As a result, artificial legs can be created at a small fraction of the cost of conventional prostheses, putting them within reach of low-income amputees in developing countries.

Next, Tokushima set up a company, Instalimb, which is currently conducting clinical trials of 3D-printed prosthetic legs in Metro Manila. If all goes well, he plans to launch a social business in the form of a joint venture and begin providing 3D-printed prosthetic solutions on a commercial basis in Manila sometime in 2019. The next step will be to explore ways of expanding that business model to sparsely populated areas and outlying islands, where cost and accessibility hurdles are particularly high.

Tokushima believes he has a mission to apply his expertise in fabrication design to help better the lives of people in the developing world. He also believes that, in order to ensure lasting social impact, assistance from the developed world must focus on giving local citizens the means to tackle their communities’ issues themselves.


In the following interview, Yutaka Tokushima spoke with me about his goals and aspirations for the project recently awarded an SPG. (Interview conducted by Keita Sugai on March 26, 2018, at the offices of the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.)

Yutaka Tokushima, left, with program officer Keita Sugai.

— What made you decide you to undertake the development of a 3D-printed prosthetic solution?

YUTAKA TOKUSHIMA: It all started when I was working in Bohol, in the Philippines, with the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers [JOCV] under the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The digital fabrication technology already existed. I was wondering if that technology could be used to help people in Bohol help themselves. I realized that 3D printing was a groundbreaking technology that could give low-income individuals access to powerful fabrication tools even on a tiny island like Bohol. 


— Why did you choose Metro Manila as your market? 

TOKUSHIMA: I’ve always thought that I’d like to do something to contribute to development in Southeast Asia, and when I joined the JOCV, I was sent to Bohol. As an outgrowth of my work there, I had the idea of leveraging digital fabrication technology to help the poor via social entrepreneurship. I chose Metro Manila because it’s a big city with a lot of poverty and inadequate access to urban services, and because there’s a widespread feeling that something needs to be done about its social problems. In other words, it was the place that offered the best opportunities for this kind of social enterprise. For me, a key challenge is striking a balance between philanthropy and business viability, and Metro Manila seemed like the best location from that viewpoint.


— We know that you’ve already conducted some trials on a limited basis. What’s been the response from your subjects?

TOKUSHIMA: We’ve had a great response. I remember particularly an elderly man whose leg had been amputated seven years earlier. He couldn’t wait to get back to his job as a cabinetmaker, and his wife was so happy she was crying. It was truly gratifying.


— So, what are your short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives?

TOKUSHIMA: This year I’m going to continue usability testing to perfect the product, while establishing a business model that can be applied to most third-world cities. I’m also going to make preparations for the launch of my venture business. And I’m going to conduct a feasibility study to gauge the possibility of developing a separate business model geared to remote areas and islands. Medium term, I want to begin offering prosthetic solutions throughout the Philippines within the next three years. Beyond that, I hope to use what I’ve learned in the Philippines to expand to other developing and semi-industrialized countries.


— Do you have any ideas about what you might do next?

TOKUSHIMA: I know that I want to pursue this approach of using new technology to empower developing nations. The traditional model of development assistance was based on a vertical relationship. The donor countries brought in their own materials, equipment, and know-how, and when something broke down or wore out, it was often difficult to fix it. The trend in international cooperation nowadays is toward a horizontal relationship between donor and recipient. There’s a growing emphasis on providing technology that empowers people in the developing world to solve their own problems. I’d like to be a part of that.


— Is there any message you’d like to convey to other Sylff Association members reading this interview?

TOKUSHIMA: Sylff's goals are very consistent with the trend toward horizontal cooperation that I was talking about. The Sylff mission centers on transcending differences and joining together to address the issues confronting society. It’s an honor to be selected for a Sylff Project Grant. For others around the world who are eager to pursue similar projects, I want to say that we’re lucky to be living in a time when there are people who will give us a chance. I want to make the most of that opportunity and provide an example for others by strengthening cooperative ties and making a real difference in the world.

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Workshops on the Socio-Analysis of Oppression

February 22, 2018
By 19626

Melinda Kovai, a 2009 Sylff fellow at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, and her team members have recently completed their SLI project, which took them over one and a half years, to address the problem of social disparity strongly linked to negative notions toward the “Gypsy.” The project incorporated the idea of reflection on one’s own social position to encourage understanding of different social groups, which contributed to the uniqueness of the project. The training materials, the final project product, have been already integrated into two courses at universities in Hungary. The project members hope that the materials will be utilized in many educational settings not only in Hungary but also in neighboring countries faced with similar social challenges. They are determined to keep working on resolving the issue and extending the impact to society.



A mother and son of the Roma people, commonly known as Gypsies.

In Hungary, primarily due to their disadvantaged social position, the Roma people are by far the greatest subjects to racism. In public discourse, the “Gypsy” is inseparably bound up with such negative notions as poverty, permanent unemployment, benefits, informal economy, and crime and, more generally, with fears related to existential insecurities. In most social domains, the “Gypsy” is intertwined with a certain inferior class position and social marginality, such as exclusion from or taking the most inferior realms of the formal labor market, with possibilities severely restricted by manifold exclusive processes. The Gypsy-Hungarian ethnic distinction is in many cases a manifestation of class difference, since class positions are heavily ethnicized in many areas of life, in villages and town districts, and in educational and other institutions. While the lower middle and middle classes are associated with majority Hungarians, marginalization from the labor market is associated with the Roma. Everyday social conflicts are hence often experienced as confrontations between different ethnically interpreted class positions, where the “Gypsy” appears as a menace to the middle-class normativity of the majority.

Our team of trainers comprised social scientists whose academic work focuses on social inequalities, public education, and the Roma communities. The project idea arose from a shared urge to engage in activities that have a more direct and palpable impact on the lives of the communities we work with. Therefore, this project was also a way to experiment and to elaborate methods of intervention and ways of committed political engagement that feel right and adequate to us, to our habitus. We held four one-day and four two-day workshops for six groups of university students training to become public-sector professionals and for two groups of Roma university students. Half of the workshops took place in Budapest and the other half in other big cities. In the workshops, participants were invited to work with and reflect on their own social position, their social roles, and their class position. Our workshops are based on the idea that reflection on one’s own social position can help to better understand the behavior of other social groups and encourage collective action and solidarity across groups. Recognizing the social interests and conflicts involved in encounters with the Roma helps to identify the source of negative emotions and reveals how racism veils the real causes of conflicts.

Potential Target Groups and Specific Objectives

The main target group of our workshops is professionals who regularly encounter Roma clients as part of their professional roles. According to the literature, street-level bureaucrats are public-service professionals who represent the state by their work and, on a daily basis, make numerous small decisions in relation to the lives of their clients.[1] Typical examples of such professions are social workers, health care professionals, and the police. In this project, we offered the trainings to university students preparing to enter these professions; in the future, we plan to approach in-service professionals as well.

The workshops address the complexity and tensions of the professional roles related to social assistance, care, and support. We spend time discussing the typical sociological and recruitment characteristics of the professions. We had to bear in mind that university students do not yet have professional casework experience, so the workshops concentrated on their past “private” minority-majority encounters (which most often happened at school) on the one hand and the motivations, desires, and fears related to the caring relationship on the other.

When working with university students, school was often an important theme: we discussed the role of schooling in social mobility, the class-specific strategies related to schooling, as well as the inequalities of the Hungarian education system, and the school’s role in mitigating or reproducing inequalities.

Our other important target group consisted of young intellectuals of Roma background. In these workshops, we discussed the situation of the Roma people within the Hungarian social structure, the typical Roma roles and social phenomena (e.g., ethnically framed poverty, entrepreneurship, and widening middle class), and the constraints of upward mobility. Subsequently, the workshops addressed the tensions of harmonizing the experience of deprived homes and middle-class intellectual roles. By sharing their stories and experiences, the workshops helped young Roma intellectuals recognize the similarities in their backgrounds and challenges and hence share the “weight” of upward mobility.

The Workshops

Melinda Kovai, team members, and other sociologists discussing the contents of the training.

The first part of the workshops concentrated on the social positions of the participants; they shared their memories and their private and work experiences in relation to conflicts with the Roma people. We then explored these encounters in a dramatic form, wherein participants placed themselves in the shoes of both sides and collectively explored the social constraints from which behaviors (stereotypically) associated with the “Gypsy” derive. Ideally, the recognition of common social constraints develops a sense of solidarity and recognition of the differences of the other.

It was important to constantly respond to the social differences among participants and the corresponding differences in career choices. On the final day of the workshops for university students, we set aside time to explore their career choices in the light of their social positions and experiences. While for first-generation young intellectuals our workshops shed light on the constraints and possibilities coming with their upward mobility, for young people coming from long-standing intellectual families the training provided an opportunity to reflect on their privileges.

The following training methods were employed in the workshops:

  • warm-up and energizing games
  • dramatic exercises, the adaptation of the “wall of success” in particular
  • storytelling: sharing experiences, which then become materials for dramatic exercises
  • sociodramatic exercises and action methods: the enactment of typical situations related to ethnosocial conflicts, exploring the motivations, positions, and interests of the participants through dramatic enactment
  • sharing, reflection, and discussion

The overall aims were that, by the end of the workshops, participants

  • understand that society is hierarchically organized along various dimensions and that the distribution of various forms of capital (economic, cultural, and social), based on which class positions form and encounter other social determinants such as housing, gender, and ethnicity, are decisive;
  • have a comprehensive idea of the structure of Hungarian society and the perspectives of people in various positions;
  • have a reflective understanding of their families’ and their own social positions, their mobility pathways, their career choices, and their interests, needs, demands, beliefs, values, tastes, and so forth;
  • understand how society shapes personal beliefs, interests, demands, and tastes and how habitus works;
  • understand how social conflicts are sparked by the clash of different habitus and how actors in higher social positions generate such conflicts according to their interests with the aim of preventing the formation of antisystemic alliances; and
  • in the light of their own social positions, recognize the opportunities for social action and possible alliances with groups in different but proximate positions to form antisystemic alliances despite the differences in their positions and habitus.

Participants’ Voices

At the end of the workshops, as a closure, we asked all participants to share how they enjoyed the course and which elements they liked and disliked in particular. Two weeks after the workshops, we also invited participants to anonymously fill out a detailed online feedback form. In the questionnaire, they could assess group directing, the structure of the workshop, and the tasks and activities, and they were asked to describe their positive and negative experiences and to give us suggestions for improvement. The majority of the participants gave an overall positive feedback on the training and the trainers. They highlighted that, even though it was an emotionally shocking experience, recognizing their own social position and social differences in general were the most important lesson of the workshop. In the participants’ own words: 

I engaged both intellectually and emotionally—I was deeply touched in both respects. I thought a lot about these themes in the time between the workshops. The workshops were emotionally exhausting, but they were also extremely interesting intellectually.

“I developed a sense of social remorse. . . . I could do so many things to be more responsible socially. . . . I used to see helpers as being in a great distance from me, as being much more clever, experienced, capable people. . . . Yet they just probably took the initiative, started something, and then became good at it. . . . Next year I will volunteer at a shelter for elderly or mentally disabled people.” 

“The topics broke taboos. It is painful to realize how stereotypical our thinking is.”

“I grappled with multiple feelings over a short period of time.”

Based on the feedback and our own experiences, we concluded that it would be more worthwhile to organize two- or even three-day workshops for each group. One-day workshops do not provide sufficient time to process such shattering and difficult experiences. One-day workshops were less successful as participants did not have time to open up or, to the contrary, brought in very moving stories and experiences into the group that could not be processed sufficiently and reassuringly in the given time frame. This difficulty was the most striking in the workshops held for Roma colleges. Furthermore, in the cases of both one- and two-day workshops, participants signaled to us that they would welcome more factual knowledge as well as more emphasis on practical solutions for solving conflict situations.

Citing participants:

“The dramatic enactments were great, but I think it would be good to focus on finding some optimal solutions for these situations. This would have helped us in applying what we learned in “real-life situations.”

“You should give us more factual knowledge on the second day. What is integrated education? How was it implemented and responded to? What is the situation with integrated education now? What are the main political claims about the Roma?”

“I was missing some frontal knowledge, as I was interested in data and practices related to [Roma] educational integration in Hungary.”

Training Material, Dissemination, and Future Plans

Working with Roma schoolboys.

The final output of the project is a detailed set of training materials based on the workshops. The training materials were produced with two objectives in mind. On the one hand, we would like to provide our partners with an introduction to the workshops in advance. On the other, we are planning to disseminate our methodology among university and secondary school teachers who are using action methods or are trained in social sciences. The document explicates why we think that awareness and reflection on one’s own social position can tackle racist attitudes and in what ways our approach is distinctively different from “traditional” anti-discrimination and intercultural awareness raising trainings. We describe the structure and main elements of the workshops in detail.

It perhaps indicates the success of our project that two of our partners, the Faculty of Social Work at Eötvös Loránd University and the Faculty of Psychology at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, integrated our training in their curriculum from 2017–2018 under the title of “Meeting with the Other” as an optional course for social worker students at the former and “Socio-analysis for Psychologists” as a mandatory course for psychology students in the latter’s Intercultural Psychology program. The trainings are led by two trainers: Melinda Kovai, who is a university lecturer at both universities, and another member of our team.

According to the participants’ feedback and our own evaluation, the workshops had the most tangible impact among Roma and non-Roma students enrolled in universities outside the capital. These students predominantly come from working-class families or from families in extreme deprivation. The workshops have the potential to help them not to experience their background as a source of shame but, instead, to recognize the resources in their difficult experiences and thus become professionals deeply and proudly committed to their work with socially deprived children and adults. We plan to orient our future workshops to this target group by developing a longer training in close cooperation with our partner institutions. Furthermore, we would like to begin working with professional adults and adapt the training to their needs.

The training materials are available from the following. (Please note they are written all in Hungarian.)
Training material_Hungarian

[1] Lipsky, Michael. Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 1980.


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Own Fate: Self-Managing the Future―How to Link Academic Knowledge and Local Practice

January 5, 2018
By 19685

On September 8 and 9, 2017, five Sylff fellows organized an event aimed at promoting sustainable development in Hungary: Professor Eva Kiss, Dr. Andrea Kunsagi, Dr. Viktoria Ferenc, Dr. Viktor Oliver Lorincz, and Dr. Loretta Huszak. Mari Suzuki, director for leadership development of the Tokyo Foundation, attended the two-day event as a representative of the Sylff Association secretariat to support the fellows’ initiatives. The event was significant in that many participants as well as speakers consisted of past and current Sylff fellows. This opportunity served not only to encourage cooperation between academics and local practitioners in Hungary but also to strengthen the bonds among Sylff fellows in Hungary.


The Role of Bottom-Up Local Initiatives in Sustainable Development

A round-table discussion during the event, titled “Sustainability Initiated ‘Bottom-Up’: Is It Possible?” The participants are (from left to right): Zsolt Molnar, Andras Jakab, Balazs Hamori, Eva Deak, and Andras Takacs-Santa.

A round-table discussion during the event, titled “Sustainability Initiated ‘Bottom-Up’: Is It Possible?” The participants are (from left to right): Zsolt Molnar, Andras Jakab, Balazs Hamori, Eva Deak, and Andras Takacs-Santa.

Economically and ecologically sustainable development has become a universal concern. It merits the attention and action of all of us. Hungarian fellows of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (Sylff) have realized that efforts are needed on a variety of fronts to promote sustainable development. Local and bottom-up initiatives have significant impact and are indispensable for sustainable development. Accordingly, more attention should be paid to them.

Post-communist civil societies, like the one in Hungary, are characterized by a lower level of participation in bottom-up initiatives by ordinary citizens.[1] Nonetheless, recent academic literature indicates that an increasing number of municipalities in Hungary possess local strategies for sustainable development or support initiatives related to sustainability.[2] These initiatives are designed to use and develop the municipalities’ own resources and internal potential to change society for the better.

The focus of the two-day Sylff event was on analyzing how imperative local bottom-up initiatives are to the economic, social, cultural, political, and legal development of modern societies and understanding how their sustainable development can be ensured and observed in Hungary. The first day was dedicated to academic analysis of the above themes, and the second day was a field trip to Szigetmonostor—one of the most active municipalities in Hungary, where the local administration is very much engaged in cooperation with grassroots initiatives. The object of the initiative was to facilitate a bottom-up dialogue between academics and local leaders and initiators. The chief patron of the event was Laszlo Lovasz, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.[3]

Conference Day at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

 The first day of the initiative was an interdisciplinary forum, which took place at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. It was dedicated to the academic analysis of sustainability and to the scientific elaboration of the role of bottom-up local initiatives in sustainable development. After the opening addresses, Andras Takacs-Santa, program director at Eötvös Loránd University Budapest, gave an opening lecture on “The need for a protective science in the light of the ecological crisis.”[4] He pointed out that the imperative of sustainable development is forcing us to think in new ways but that the way to an ecologically sustainable future is not at all yet clear. Human ecology and the sustainable way of thinking about the Earth’s resources should “run out in all directions” and find their path to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences too.

Section 1 of the forum focused on “the spatial dimensions of sustainable development” with five presentations. The well-prepared speakers approached sustainability from different aspects - environmental, economic, and social - and on diverse spatial levels. They dealt with different parts of the world, from the regional to micro level: China, the Carpathian Basin, Visegrad countries, the South-Bekes microregion, and underdeveloped regions of Hungary. Taken as a whole, the presentations significantly contributed to the success of the conference and to a better understanding of the processes of sustainability on different spatial levels. After the presentations, there was a lively discussion in which the audience raised several questions.

Section 2 analyzedthe successes and anomalies in communication and their role in community generating, business, and social life.” These aspects were investigated from psychological, marketing, management, and human-ecological collateral perspectives. The impact of people on their environment also prevails by numerous forms of manifestation in communication. Making public property from successes and anomalies in communication may help initiate more constructive societal, business, and grassroots movements and give these movements sustainability.

The human dimension of biodiversity” was studied in section 3. Biodiversity can be found in both nature and culture. Our world is a living network made up of the millions of species of plants and animals and thousands of human cultures and languages that have developed over time. Languages, cultures, and ecosystems are interdependent. For humanity at large, the loss of cultural and linguistic diversity represents a drastic reduction of our collective human heritage. In this section, Sylff fellows discussed human communities that have special attributes in ethnic, linguistic, and cultural respects and whose existence is endangered. The topic is highly relevant in Europe as well as in the Hungarian context. The objective of the panel was to shed light on the importance of maintaining these communities and to link the knowledge represented by Sylff fellows to the practice of local actors and decision makers in Hungary.

Topping the presentation part of the forum was the legal section, which focused onlaw and equity in a sustainable society.” Beyond environmental law, the question of sustainability also emerges in other domains of legal studies and political sciences, such as constitutional law, the institutional background of the protection of future generations, populism versus long-term policymaking, and the economic aspects of environmental damages and its legal consequences.

The conference day closed with a round-table discussion. Invited participants talked about the question of “sustainability initiated ‘bottom-up’: is it possible?” It was a valuable discussion, not only in that it summarized the main findings of the conference day but also because it brought together academia and municipalities with bottom-up local initiatives, as well as nongovernmental organizations, and raised expectations for the field trip that was to follow the next day. 

A key point of the conference day was that the presentations went beyond the speakers’ own research, adding aspects of sustainable economic development. They encouraged the audience to analyze the theme from broad perspectives and led to a successful forum, as audience members were able to understand the contents without specialized knowledge. The perspectives that were offered helped not only to identify research interests shared by the different disciplines but also to link academic knowledge with local practice.

Workshop Day in the Idyllic Village of Szigetmonostor

Discussion during the workshop in Szigetmonostor.

Discussion during the workshop in Szigetmonostor.

The field trip to Szigetmonostor was aimed at disseminating and applying academic knowledge to the field. To achieve these goals, academics—scientists employed by HAS (research institutions) and people employed by institutions of higher education—went to the field and experienced knowledge spillovers to the locals. Another aim was to heighten the awareness of local initiators about how academics can support and help their initiatives, thereby helping theoretical academic projects take on a more applied and realistic role; in other words, to help academic projects realize themselves in a more practical pragmatic environment.

The main reason for choosing Szigetmonostor was its isolation. Although the village is just 25 km from Budapest, it is difficult to access due to poor infrastructure; because there is no direct motorway, the only ways of reaching it are via a 50-km detour or by ferry.[5] This makes the village unique in its inhabitants’ reliance on one another. Given the natural beauty and environment of the place, which has been underdeveloped to date, it is an ideal spot to develop tourism. There is a need to create job opportunities within Szigetmonostor, as its geographic location makes it difficult for the locals to seek job opportunities in central Budapest.

Activities provided by Sylff fellows included raising awareness of the historical background of Szigetmonostor among the academic participants. Mayor Zsolt Molnar of Szigetmonostor elaborated on the current situation that the half-island was facing.[6] He gave his account at the dam, with the Danube and the city of Budapest visible in the background. This setting enhanced and inspired the visitors’ interest.

After this opening, the focus turned to local initiatives. Local initiators presented their activities and highlighted the key social challenges that they wanted to be tackled. A short group session followed, in which participants were divided into groups and had to identify possible solutions to local issues. These discussions were led by professional mediators as well as local experts. The idea was to find a common ground between the academics and locals to help with Szigetmonostor’s advancement in terms of tourism, education, local job creation, and so forth.

The group work was then followed by participants presenting new ideas and possible solutions to existing difficulties. The group activities provided a great platform for initiating future collaboration between the academics and local initiators.

Discussion during the Workshop in Szigetmonostor.

Hungarian Sylff fellows and locals in Szigetmonstor, with the newly planted Sylff tree in the background. Holding the plaque for the tree at center are Mariann Tarnoczy, who has been working with Sylff at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since the program’s inception, and Mari Suzuki, director of leadership development at the Tokyo Foundation.

Hungarian Sylff fellows and locals in Szigetmonstor, with the newly planted Sylff tree in the background. Holding the plaque for the tree at center are Mariann Tarnoczy, who has been working with Sylff at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since the program’s inception, and Mari Suzuki, director of leadership development at the Tokyo Foundation.

To mark Sylff’s contribution and its recognition for future collaboration, the group of workshop participants went out to a beautiful park built by the local volunteers, where they planted a South European flowering ash tree as a symbol for future collaboration. With the help of locals, the academics dug the ground and planted and watered the new tree.

Impact of the Initiative

The two-day event was well attended, which is an objective indicator of success. Eighty-one people attended the conference day, almost half of whom were Hungarian Sylff fellows. The workshop day in Szigetmonostor saw the participation of 45 academics and locals; the number of Sylff fellows was 12.

The initiative aspired to link academic knowledge and local practice. Analyzing sustainable local initiatives and their impact on society was a new activity field for most of the participants. The researchers who gave presentations had been invited to combine their actual research with this important topic. It was an experiment that made great demands of the presenters but led to unforeseen ties between researchers from different disciplines—to real-time interdisciplinary interactions. 

The initiative also had the aim of contributing to society. Understanding basic human ecology principles and the operation of local initiatives can help to map out and evaluate alternatives. The participants identified such principles and recognized new opportunities for cooperation between local initiators and academics. We hope that this future cooperation will lead to positive social change in such forms as increased citizens’ participation in local initiatives, better understanding of the significance of such initiatives among scholars, and more academic projects taking on advanced applied and realistic roles.

A well-informed public is crucial for sustainable development. The media can help reach a wider audience, inform local stakeholders, and direct attention to the role of local initiatives in Hungary’s sustainable economic development. The first report of the initiative has already been published; an article appeared in the local online newspaper of Szigetmonostor, informing local stakeholders about the event..[7]

The organizers of the initiative have prepared a special edition for Magyar Tudomany, the periodical of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. All manuscripts are completed and should be published in the coming weeks. In addition, a seven-minute video on the initiative will be published soon on social media and Internet channels (YouTube and Facebook).

The main organizers of the event (from left to right): Viktoria Ferenc, Andrea Kunsagi, Eva Kiss, Loretta Huszak, and Viktor Lorincz.

The main organizers of the event (from left to right): Viktoria Ferenc, Andrea Kunsagi, Eva Kiss, Loretta Huszak, and Viktor Lorincz.

[1] Marc Marje Howard, The Weakness of Civil Society in Post-Communist Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. i.

[2] Henrietta Nagy, Tamas Toth, and Izabella Olah, “The Role of Local Markets in the Sustainable Economic Development of Hungarian Rural Areas,” Visegrad Journal on Bioeconomy and Sustainable Development, vol. 1, no. 1 (2012): pp. 27–31. https://vua.uniag.sk/sites/default/files/27-31.pdf

[3] For a list of elected chief officers of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences see:


[4] For further information on Andras Takacs-Santa visit: http://tatk.elte.hu/en/staff/TakacsSantaAndras

[5] Official website of the municipality: http://szigetmonostor.hu/ (in Hungarian)

[6] For further information on Zsolt Molnar visit: http://szigetmonostor.hu/index.php/onkormanyzat/polgarmester (in Hungarian)

[7] Loretta Huszak, “Az MTA kutatóinak és ösztöndíjasainak látogatása Szigetmonostoron,” Ujsagolo, vol. 23, no. 10 (October 2017): pp. 1, 10. http://szigetmonostor.hu/images/dokumentumok/ujsagolo/ujsagolo_2017_10.pdf

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How Can Mathematics Help Us to Understand Complex Systems?

February 18, 2016
By 19676

Network analysis has emerged as a key technique in many fields of study, including economics, geography, history, and sociology. One fundamental concept that researchers try to capture is centrality: a quantitative measure revealing the importance of nodes in the network. The values assigned to the nodes are expected to provide a ranking which identifies the most important vertices. Naturally, the word “importance” has a wide range of meanings, leading to many different definitions of centrality. László Csató, a Sylff fellow at Corvinus University of Budapest in Hungary, is exploring the methodological background of some centrality indices.

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In the analysis of complex social and economic structures, actors and the relationships among them are often interpreted as a network. The topology of the network can provide insight into its characteristics and functioning independently from the chosen system (a group of people, a supply chain, international trade relations). The graph-theoretical approach offers a possible approach to modelling these networks. Its strengths lie in the measurement of structural attributes as well as in visualization.

A well-known concept of the graph-theoretic analysis is centrality, which reflects the relative importance of the nodes in the whole network. Many methods exist for this purpose, although not every metric is suitable for every network – the choice depends on the nature of processes in the network and the aims of the analysis.

Most centrality measures have an interpretation on the network graph. However, their axiomatic background deserves more attention: little is known about which measures are excluded and which are supported by accepting a plausible property. The adopted approach is a standard path in (cooperative) game and social choice theory, and is gradually coming to prominence in economics, illustrated by the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences awarded to Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley in 2012. It can significantly contribute to the effort to find the right measures for a network.

Since my research has a strong theoretical orientation, I want to illustrate it through an example. Readers interested in the details can consult two working papers by me on the topic.1,2

This paper attempts to develop an index for measuring the accessibility of nodes in networks where each link has a value such that a smaller number is preferred. Examples might include distance, cost, or travel time. In the following, we will give some insight into the results.

Measuring Accessibility

The Marshall Islands in eastern Micronesia are divided into two atoll chains, one of which is Ralik. Figure 1 shows a (simplified) graph of the voyaging network among the 12 islands of the Ralik chain (Ailinglaplap, Bikini, Ebon, Jaluit, Kwajalein, Lae, Lib, Namorik, Namu, Rongelap, Ujae, Wotho). The links between the nodes show the possible routes of inter-island journeys by canoe. For example, it is not feasible to directly travel from Bikini to Jaluit: this journey requires at least five inter-island hops through Rongelap, Kwajalein, Namu and Ailinglaplap. We can therefore say that the distance between Bikini and Jaluit is 5. The problem is to provide a numerical answer to the question “How accessible is a node from other nodes in the Ralik chain?” The islands should be ranked with respect to the probability that they might become the centre of the chain.

An obvious solution is distance sum, the sum of the distances to all the other nodes. For example, Ailinglaplap has a distance sum of 25 since its distance to Bikini is 4, to Ebon 2, to Jaluit 1, and so on. The distance sum is characterized by three independent properties (axioms) such that it satisfies all of them, but any other accessibility index violates at least one property. The three conditions are as follows:

  • Anonymity: The accessibility ranking does not depend on the name of the nodes. Note that Jaluit and Namorik are structurally equivalent in the network, both being connected only to Ailinglaplap and Ebon.
  • Independence of distance distribution: If the distance of a node is decreased and the distance of another node is increased by the same amount, the accessibility ranking does not change.
  • Dominance preservation: A node not far from any other is at least as accessible. For instance, Rongelap should be more accessible than Bikini since the former is closer to certain nodes (e.g., Kwajalein), and there does not exist any island which is farther from Rongelap than from Bikini.

The distance sum focuses exclusively on the shortest paths. Sometimes this is not a desirable feature, as these paths can be vulnerable to link disruptions. Therefore a generalized distance sum, a parametric family of accessibility indices, is suggested. It is linear (easy to calculate), considers the accessibility of vertices besides their distances, and depends on a parameter in order to control its deviation from distance sum. This means that it should violate one axiom of the characterization above, which turns out to be the independence of distance distribution. However, the generalized distance sum is anonymous and satisfies dominance preservation if its parameter meets an appropriate condition.

Figure 2 shows the generalized distance sums for some nodes (on the vertical axis) as a function of a parameter (on the horizontal axis), which measures the influence of the other (i.e., not the shortest) paths. If the parameter is zero, the generalized distance sum is equal to the distance sum, however, some changes can be observed by increasing the value of the parameter:

  • The tie between Ailinglaplap and Wotho (25) is broken for Wotho. This makes sense since the nodes around Wotho have more links among them.
  • The tie between Rongelap and Ujae (27) is broken for Ujae. This is justified by Ujae's direct connection to Lae instead of Bikini as the former is more accessible than the latter.
  • Lae (26), Rongelap, and Ujau gradually overtake Ailinglaplap (25) and Bikini (34) overtakes Jaluit and Namorik (32) in the accessibility ranking. The reason is that the network has essentially two components: the link between Ailinglaplap and Namu is a cut-edge, and the above part around Kwajalein (where Lae, Rongelap, Ujae, and Bikini are located) is bigger and has more internal links.

Kwajalein (with a distance sum of 20) and Namu (21) are the first and second nodes in the accessibility ranking for any value of the parameter. Ebon (34) is “obviously” the least accessible node. These nodes are not shown in Figure 2.

To summarize, the generalized distance sum seems to reflect the vulnerability of accessibility to a disruption on the edge between Ailinglaplap and Namu: if this occurs, then the islands of Ailinglaplap, Ebon, Jaluit, and Namorik suffer more as they have a smaller “internal” network. The parameter can be said to measure this danger to a certain extent.

What Is It Good For?

Accessibility measures can be used in a number of interesting ways:

  • Knowledge of which nodes have the highest accessibility could be of interest in itself (e.g., by revealing their strategic importance);
  • The accessibility of vertices could be statistically correlated to other economic, sociological, or political variables;
  • Accessibility of the same nodes (e.g., urban centers) in different networks (e.g., transportation, infrastructure) could be compared;
  • Proposed changes in a network could be evaluated in terms of their effect on the accessibility of vertices;
  • Networks (e.g., empires) could be compared by their propensity to disintegrate. For example, it may be difficult to manage from a unique center if the most accessible nodes are far from each other.

Network analysis has emerged as a key technique in modern sociology as well as in anthropology, biology, economics, geography, history, and political science. My methodological research aspires to support these applications to get an insight into different networks. I believe robust mathematical foundations are crucial to a better understanding of similar complex systems.

1Csató, L. (2015): Measuring centrality by a generalization of degree. Corvinus Economics Working Papers 2/2015. URL: http://unipub.lib.uni-corvinus.hu/1846/ This paper contributes to network analysis, dealing with the issue of how to identify key nodes in a network. For this purpose a new centrality measure, called the generalized degree, is suggested, based on the idea that a link to a more interconnected node is preferable to a connection to a less central one.
2Csató, L. (2015): Distance-based accessibility indices. Corvinus Economics Working Papers 12/2015.URL: http://unipub.lib.uni-corvinus.hu/1986/

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Is There a Link between Music and Language? How Loss of Language Affected the Compositions of Vissarion Shebalin

December 31, 2013
By 19641

How does stroke affect the activities of a musician? Meta Weiss, a cellist and Sylff fellow at The Juilliard School, used an SRA award to conduct research in Moscow about the life and music of Soviet composer Vissarion Shebalin, who lost his linguistic abilities after the second of two severe strokes. By studying Shebalin’s journals and sketchbooks, Weiss gained new insights into the changes in Shebalin’s compositional style after each stroke, which could have broad implications for our understanding of the functioning of the human brain.

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The author performing at the Shebalin Music School

The author performing at the Shebalin Music School

Vissarion Yakevlevich Shebalin was born in 1904 in Omsk, Siberia. He lived in the Soviet Union until his death in 1963 and spent his entire professional life in Moscow. He began his musical studies in Omsk with Mikhail I. Nevitov before transferring to the Peter I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow under the tutelage of Nikolai Myaskovsky. Those who knew him always admired his work ethic, modesty, organization, and innate ability as a composer. After completing his studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, he taught there as a professor and eventually became its director, a position which he held from 1942 to 1948.

The year 1948 was a stressful time for all Soviet composers, and Shebalin was no exception. He was accused of formalism and stripped of his position in the Composer’s Union as well as at the Conservatory. Many of his family members believe that the first stroke that he suffered in 1953 was as a result of the many political stresses of the time. He was able to make an almost complete recovery following the stroke in 1953, with the exception of the lingering paralysis of his right arm and leg. He relearned how to write with his left hand, and continued to compose as well as teach. As a teacher, he remained extremely devoted to his students, even during his prolonged illness.

With a former student of Shebalin, Mr. Roman Ledenov

With a former student of Shebalin, Mr. Roman Ledenov

In 1959, he suffered a second stroke that resulted in aphasia. This was especially tragic because of his strong literary background and upbringing; before the strokes he was fluent not only in Russian, but also German, French, Latin and a bit of English. He worked with a team of linguists, neuropsychologists, and doctors to regain the Russian language, and although he was limited in his physical activities by his doctors, he set aside time every day to compose and keep a journal of his activities (with the help of his devoted wife, Alisa Maximovna Shebalina).

By virtue of the fact that Shebalin was a Soviet composer—and he deliberately did not do any self-promotion despite his reputation within the Soviet Union as a leading composer and composition teacher—his music and name essentially died with him in 1963. There is almost no literature on him that is published in English, and when his name does come up in music history articles, it is only in conjunction with the political events of 1948. Shebalin, however, has intrigued the neuroscience community for many years since his case was reported by Drs. Luria, Futer, and Svetkova in the 1960s.

My dissertation will be the first paper in any language to discuss Shebalin’s music through the lens of his medical condition. My aim is to analyze Shebalin’s music, focusing on his string quartets, both pre- and post-aphasia, in order to discover a link, if any, between Shebalin’s loss of verbal language and a change in compositional language. I am collaborating with Dr. Aniruddh Patel at Tufts University, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on music and language. While there have been other (better known) composers who suffered brain injuries, Shebalin is unique in that his condition was characterized by an almost complete loss of verbal language, and we can, based on his sketchbooks, create a fairly accurate timeline of his compositions as well as view the changes in his compositional process. This is inferred by studying the different motivic units Shebalin was constantly writing in his sketchbooks, as well as the more obvious indicators, such as handwriting (left vs. right) and pen color. The string quartets were chosen because they span the creative output of the composer from all periods of his life, and Shebalin himself said that they were the compositions he was most proud of and represented him the best.

After receiving my SRA grant, I traveled to Moscow for the month of October on a student visa and enrolled in the post-graduate program of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. After exhaustive research working with a Russian-English translator, I was able to track down the location of all of the archival materials on Shebalin, and I was fortunate enough to obtain access to everything that was relevant to my research. This included the RGALI State Archive, the Glinka Museum Archive, and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory Archive and Reading Room.

With Shebalin's family members and directors of the Shebalin Music School

With Shebalin's family members and directors of the Shebalin Music School

Additionally, I was also able, using the Russian “vKontakte” social networking site, to locate the Shebalin family. They granted me permission to visit Shebalin’s summer estate, interview his surviving family members, family friends, former students, and doctors. Two of the three therapists/neuropsychologists who helped Shebalin with his linguistic rehabilitation following his second stroke had already passed away. Again using vKontakte, I reached out to Dr. L.S. Svetkova, the only living team member who treated Shebalin during his rehabilitation, and she agreed to send me her detailed notes and records that she kept while he was her patient.

The highlight of my research was the sketchbooks that are housed in the RGALI State Archive. Shebalin worked quickly and methodically, and was constantly scrutinizing his work. His sketchbooks proved to be much more revealing than any of the manuscripts or other scores. Unlike the detailed journals kept by both Shebalin and his wife, the sketchbooks are unbiased. They show his compositional process neatly and efficiently. Also, because his right side was paralyzed following the first stroke, one can clearly see the change from writing with his right hand to writing with his left hand. They also reveal that after both strokes, he did not simply go back to older works and revise them but he also created completely new and different works.

Shebalin’s music changed in several ways post-stroke. There are distinct differences in the structure of the themes, the imagery of the music, and the scale of his compositions. After his second stroke, he also experimented with a pseudo-twelve-tone style, though still within the tonal idiom, writing themes that featured all twelve tones melodically but relied on the functional harmony of tonality. Perhaps counterintuitively, his music was full of optimism following the onset of his aphasia, and, like his music before the strokes, the music was very clean and straightforward, but with new richness and depth despite the economy of means.

With Shebalin's great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter, outside the Shebalin Music School in Moscow

With Shebalin's great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter, outside the Shebalin Music School in Moscow

Upon further analysis, it is anticipated that although it will be relatively easy to differentiate the pre- and post-aphasia musical traits, it will be difficult to attribute an exact cause-effect relationship between the change in compositional language and loss of verbal language for two reasons.

First, despite the fact that both Shebalin and his close family and friends—many of whom were interviewed in the course of this research—deny that he ever buckled to political pressure, it will be difficult to definitively separate changes in his music due to political pressure and those due to his medical condition or changing musical taste. The second reason is that because of Shebalin’s fragile physical state following the strokes, he was easily fatigued and thus limited to composing only a few hours a day by his medical doctors. Preliminary analysis reveals that his musical style is markedly more succinct following the strokes, though this may be a result of the doctor’s restrictions.

Through the research conducted with the SRA grant, I was able to construct a complete picture of Shebalin and his compositional output. The future implications of this research are twofold. First, and perhaps most importantly, it would provide hope for stroke victims that in spite of the odds, Shebalin was able to continue to create music and express himself through his most beloved medium—composition. Second, by analyzing his music both pre- and post-aphasia, it may reveal certain processes or elements that are shared by both music and language that remain intact despite the loss of language (such as syntax and grammar).

In this way, my research may help future stroke victims to recover certain aspects of language and aid in our understanding of the brain and mind, a subject with implications far beyond just music or Shebalin.