Unusual (As Usual): Report on ebbf’s Spring International Learning Event on Consultation

ebbf, according to its website, is a “Bahá’í-inspired global learning community that accompanies mindful individuals and groups through daily work and discourse to transform business and the economy thereby contributing to a prosperous, just and sustainable civilization.” Its seven core principles are unity, justice, service, moderation, gender equality, human nobility, and sustainability. Its operational concepts include consultation, collaboration, accompaniment, ever-advancing learning, new work ethic, ethics in business, a new paradigm of economics, a learning community, and responsibility. ebbf holds two conference a year: one in the Spring and another in the Fall. Dr. Wendi Momen’s report below is on the Spring May conference. Held in Milan, Italy, its theme was “Consultation, Beyond Decision-Making: A Tool for Learning.” Details on the Fall conference in October can be found at the end of Wendi’s report.

by Wendi Momen

I find that when people attend a conference, the last thing they expect to do is to confer. Most conferences are based around great speakers who tell you interesting things while you sit in the audience, listen, occasionally laugh, and clap at the end. Then you go for coffee, or lunch, and you talk with your friends. You might get to go to a workshop or side event, which is really a mini-lecture—no work involved—with another great speaker telling you interesting things, which you applaud at the end. Then you find your friends and go for dinner.

So imagine the surprise of first-time attendees—half the audience—at ebbf’s spring conference, held in Milan, Italy, May 12–15, when they arrived to discover that they were actually expected to confer with one another. And on the Saturday—usually the main day of any weekend conference—they were going to spend half a day conferring.

Such was the ebbf international learning event “Consultation, Beyond Decision-Making: A Tool for Learning.” Each ebbf conference looks at one of ebbf’s core values or operating principles, of which consultation is a foundational principle. The conference itself was the product of a lengthy consultative process with the whole membership of ebbf, from which emerged a team of volunteers who used their skills to develop a unique event. The half day on Saturday was the annual general meeting, usually held in the autumn but now moved to the spring event, at which the ebbf governing board is elected and presents its annual report. Then people suggested topics for consultation, gathered around them people interested in the same topic, and spent the rest of the afternoon consulting together about each idea, planning, and making arrangements for action.

Of course, there were great speakers, too, and many learn shops. A highlight for me was one of the most unusual and fascinating speakers ebbf has ever hosted, Hans van Loon, emeritus Secretary General of the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference, who discussed private international law. His exploration of the question “Can international law support development and elevate consultation in an emerging world society?” was very much in line with the Bahá’í and ebbf approach to consultation and prompted many questions and comments as well lengthy and animated discussions at the consultation tables that follow each keynote speech.

AIESEC International, the largest organization of business students and young people in the world and a partner of ebbf, gave a dynamic presentation on how millennials approach decision-making and learning —a great topic for this baby-boomer

A key learning for me was offered by Trip Barthel, who offered keynotes and the consultation thread of learn shops, which I followed: “If you want better answers, you have to ask better questions.” I came away with more understanding of how to search for truth in a group setting by asking more meaningful questions.

There is no room to list all the amazing speakers, learn shop facilitators, and people who attended. But here is where you can find everything: keynotes, learnshops, the annual report, and financial report: http://www.slideshare.net/ebbf. The slides from this conference are on the sidebar to the left of the main screen. Highlights from the conference are at: http://sfy.co/x8Ky

Links to summaries of meetings and presentations the ebbf conference can be found here:

The next ebbf conference will be held in Bucharest, Romania, October 6–9, 2016. The conference’s theme is “Building Capacity: Developing Volition and Latent Talent in People and Organizations to Create a More Meaningful Workplace and Civilization.” Find out more at http://ebbf.org/

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