Monday, September 19, 2005

Revitalizing the Balaton Group – ‘new members night’

I could write about another very full day: three high level modeling presentations focusing on, respectively, global futures, the impact of climate change in Russia, a two-century political economic analysis with particular emphasis on India, workshops on sustainable-development education for business executives and the development of an environmental education network among Baltic Region universities. There was also one of two workshops I am giving – this on my book, Paradise Poisoned. I could write about one of those special personal-professional/ personal ‘reconnecting’ conversations with a colleague of nearly 40 years whom I introduced to global computer simulation modeling. Now he has become a world leader (perhaps one of the top two or three) in this field from which I stood aside to study conflict-development linkages in Sri Lanka, nearly two decades ago. I could celebrate his accomplishments while knowing I made the right choice for myself.

But I will, instead, write briefly about “new members’ night.” Since the group’s founding leader recognized the need for revitalization – those of us who are founding members are getting on – a number of new, and relatively young new members have been invited each year. One could never guess their youthfulness from the resumes, which were part of – often humorous – presentations on our traditional ‘new members’ night’ to which virtually older members listened avidly. Nations represented included Netherlands, Japan, China (2 new members), India, Zambia, Ghana, and Sweden. There were presentations by an environmental economist, a world-class climatologist, the founder of an environmental network of universities (mentioned above) a political leader cum business consultant cum NGO founder, a successful multimedia consultant who has just resigned from a lucrative practice to build a traditional, ecologically friendly mud-house to live in with his family and embark on a new career, a Chinese television anchor whose audience has probably been larger – perhaps much larger – than Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather.

Describing all of these presentations, received by a most appreciative multicultural audience, would take more space than I wish to take. I will only touch upon highlights. One presenter used systems concepts to present a hilarious professional life-history, framed as stocks, flows, delays, oscillations and sinks. Another, described the problem of framing his ‘identity’ in a South Asian context - was he Muslim, Hindu, Gujarati, Bengali, South Indian, and what lineage, and what caste? I was reminded that when I first met him and learned he was South Asian, I, too, felt the need to ‘place’ him, especially when his name was not, at first, easily identifiable. I do the same thing with Sri Lankans: are they Sinhalese? Tamil? Burgher? Moor? Malay? , Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, UNP supporter, SLFP supporter, from what ‘College’ (High School) did they graduate? All of these things are important to know, in order to relate to a new acquaintance appropriately. A third spoke of her education in African, British and American Universities and her political aspirations. There would be an opportunity to contribute to her political campaigns, before long, she told us. Another exhibited her new proficiency in causal loop diagramming by elaborating on a hoped-for political evolution in Asian-Western relations. She look less that 30 years old, but it turned out she had already risen to near the top of her profession in the largest and one of the most competitive nations in the world, China.

From the blogs I have written, these past several days, one might conclude that I had something to do with the Balaton Group’s vitality, resilience and promising future. This would be wrong. Though I was ‘present at the creation, my presence at meetings has been limited and my contributions, even more so. I have taken more – far more – than I have given and am working to redress the balance, though that is impossible. The opportunity to participate has been a most unexpected, undeserved, ‘gift of grace,’ for which I am most grateful. And it is gratifying to know that the group will, in all probability, continue, to affirm, revitalize and even inspire its members long after I have passed from the scene.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Author!

I would be interested to hear, what the Balaton Group is doing for it's host country's Sustainable Development or if there is any aim to take steps towards this goal. From earlier years I know, there have been topics risen, like improoving the water quality of the lake (I think by Joan Davies), are they still vital? Thank you for your answer to info(at) geoapp.ch
S.T.

1:46 AM  

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