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Tools for Change 2013The 2013 Tools for Change Conference was finally upon us after months of preparation. The conference took place from 24 - 27 April 2013, and what enriching days they were for all of us with a presence of 70 people from 13 countries. This was the fifth time it was being held here in Kuala Lumpur and despite the considerable time in the preparations, the experience gained from the past four conferences showed positively. The arrangements being made by the organizing committee went as clockwork thanks to the committee having excellent teamwork.

Representatives came from as far as the United States of America, India, Australia, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar,Thailand, Taiwan……. and of course Malaysia. All walks of life were represented with youths who were just about to complete their studies and being new to the working world, to professionals from corporations, NGOs and civil society. Needless to say, aside from the design and logistics, the people with their rich experience and their open sharing in the space created, made the conference alive and most memorable.

On the first day of the conference, 24 April, the master of ceremonies, Clara Cheong and Fauziah Zahari warmly welcomed the participants to put on their thinking caps and have a discussion in their respective tables about what would be the change that they would like to see and how can they be instrumental in making change happen. Patrick Sta Maria led a small group in singing Friends We’ve Never Met that helped to create an open, expressive space.

A number of positive ideas sprang out of these discussions that created the right tempo for the following sessions. The chairman, Dr Robert Chen gave a warm welcome to everyone and an overview of Initiatives of Change was given by Ms Soumya Iyer. In the keynote address, Ms Alice Cardel from the Philippines shared with us her experience, having worked with the United Nations and being a contributor to the Millenium Goals, that gave us plenty of food for thought. Three key points that particularly came across were the goal to eradicate world poverty by 2015, just two years away; her work with prisoners and how her inner guidance and trust, instead of resorting to further security, played a vital role in ensuring a prisoner did not escape; and a point for community strength in Brazil, where a community supported one another by purchasing items together, making economic sense and also being a financial support if one of the members fell into unemployment.

Tools for Change Conference 2013In the afternoon, the participants went to the workshop that they had selected among the five offered; Conflict Management and Mediation by Shoshana Faire, Enhancing Leadership and Team Building by Alice Cardel, Communication Personality Wise: Using DISC Personal Profiling by Dr Evelyn Biles, Effective Living Through Personal Insights by Rhea D’Souza and Siddharth Singh and Networking Skills: A Building Block for a Strong Community by Sharifah Raudhah Al Qudsy. 

On Day Two of the conference, the participants were entertained by the segment ‘Change Within and Around Me’ where the ideas of Initiatives of Change were presented through a skit, songs, personal sharing and a presentation. This segment planted the seeds of change at the ideas level, paving the way for the beginning of the Open Space, where the participants were encouraged to come up with areas in which they wanted to see change happen and invite others to join them in the discussion. The beauty of the Open Space is that there is no compulsion and one can choose to remain in a discussion or contribute and move or float around and have a feel for all the discussions that are taking place.  Amongst the discussions that took place were how to make work- life balance work and the creative arts forming a space for it as a form of expression.

On Day Three the first segment was the sharing by Siddharth Singh on three key initiatives that had taken place in India and Australia that provided sound evidence of what the ordinary man can do to bring about change. The Bescom’s story of change depicted how a man having gone through personal transformation through adopting these ideas, invited Initiatives of Change to work their magic amongst workers in the major utilities company that he worked in, bringing both personal and professional change in their lives that translated to positive business results. The other initiative from India that was shared was Banking for Change, a story of how a bank manager being affected by these ideas, took it upon himself to change the perception of banking to serve the poor communities and bettering lives, uplifting these people whilst making financial sense. The story from Australia was on the Sorry Day, an initiative by civil society to address the wrongs that were done to the aborigines, moving the Prime Minister of the Day, Kevin Rudd to provide a sincere, public apology in parliament.

The participants were evidently stirred by these initiatives that helped in the transition to the Open Space, where they were encouraged to think of initiatives that they could institute and once again invite others for discussions. Amongst the initiatives that resulted were discussions on how to make Initiatives of Change more significant in Malaysia, understanding of our own aborigines and how one could create spaces for quiet time and sharing.

Before we knew it, the final day was upon us. The participants shared their learnings from the workshops with skits and creative three-minute presentations. Time was given for further Open Space discussions in order to consolidate ideas and focus on plans to act on some of the initiatives.

Tools for Change 2013, with the evening events of Expressions Night and KL Lecture, became a fully collaborative effort with the organizing committee and the participants, where all got to express themselves and inspire each other. At the Expressions Night, we had a spew of talents from dance performances to songs to poems, making it indeed a night of fun and entertainment. The KL Lecture aligned with the theme of the conference: Governance, Corporate Responsibility and Community Building. Susanna George moderated a panel talk by Edmond Yap of EduNation, Tam Wah Fiong of Thumbprints and Dr Kua Kia Soong, a prominent human rights activist. Each in their own right as entrepreneurs and social activist inspired and displayed their conviction to integrity and facing the odds, showing that it made business sense as well as contributed to people and society.

It was indeed a full and fulfilling three and a half days with participants and the organizing committee expressing gratitude and some sharing how they felt that the conference was one of its kind, memorable and not like any that they had attended before. From the conference and the numerous initiatives that were discussed, participants agreed to share their details so that they could collaborate and work on a number of these initiatives moving forward.

All in all, on many fronts, Tools for Change 2013 was indeed a success.  

by Soumya Iyer

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