Being a Change-Maker

Author: Lucy Pedrick

Day 2 of USLS2015

This post represents the second in a series from the ongoing University Scholars Leadership Symposium being covered on the ground by the GLOSS’s team. Please check in regularly to keep up to date with the latest news from the symposium.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University – USLS 2015. Today we heard four sessions from a diverse range of speakers, covering a broad spectrum of issues which are united by the experience of being a “change-maker”. In the first session, Mr Francis Ngai, the CEO of ‘Social Ventures Hong Kong’ spoke about social entrepreneurship and the importance of business engagement to facilitate change. He was followed by Gigi Chao, Founder and Chair of ‘Faith in Love Foundation’, who in my highlight talk of the symposium so far discussed the joy of giving. After lunch – and goodness me we were being spoilt with the buffet food here in Hong Kong – Angela Spaxman, a career and leadership coach, led us through her guide to setting achievable goals. Finally, we heard a fantastically charismatic presentation from Lee Seunghee, a classical clarinettist, who spoke about the value of chasing dreams.

As the day progressed, we finally started to get our teeth into the substance of this symposium, and grasp the knowledge and ideas that the organisers are hoping to impart upon us. What really struck me right from the outset was the incredible diversity of both the speakers and delegates. When I attended the G7 Summit back in June, I wrote extensively about the gender disparity among the G7 leaders and their sherpas, and this was without comment on their ethnicity or other minority identities (or rather, lack thereof). Today however, three out of four of the speakers we heard from were women, and three were people of colour.

Perhaps more impressive however, is the diversity of the delegates here. Mihaela yesterday wrote that there are 876 delegates here this year, from 57 countries, and everyone today participated actively and with enthusiasm in the question and answer sessions and discussions. In fact, women and people of colour have participated on such noticeable equal levels to lead Gigi Chao in her session to comment that, ‘I do not believe that there is a glass ceiling in this room’. From the perspective of future leadership, this diversity fills me with a great deal of optimism. Where I wrote at the G7 that there is a shortage of women in political life (particularly at the G7 itself, although this is also true more widely), the demographics and engagement in this symposium so far suggest that humanitarian affairs at least face a future of much more varied colour and character.

In terms of content, the session that both interested and impressed me the most was most definitely Ms Chao’s discussion of the joy of giving. I was particularly fascinated by her consideration of law as providing the rules of human society, and the place that law has in the pursuance of ‘giving’. As she spoke, my mind began to weave together her words with my own experience and knowledge as an international law graduate. She spoke of the need for individuals to create a set of rules for themselves to live by, and the importance of some of those rules extending to the giving of time or other resources to the less privileged. I was struck by the fact that the task of lawyers – or at least constitutional lawyers such as myself – is to translate such rules of individuals into rules for societies, and indeed States. The problem with this conception is that many individuals are not willing to write ‘giving’ into their own rules, and this is also true for States who are often reluctant to limit their own sovereignty in order to pursue a greater social good.

After thinking about this for a while as Ms Chao continued to talk, I decided that I should deal with some of these ideas by posing her a question in the Q&A, which I did. I asked whether she believes that humans are inherently self-interested, or whether we have a natural tendency towards giving and are corrupted by the consumerism of society. Somewhat predictably, I was given a diplomatic and balanced answer, which recognised the fact that we are all capable of both selflessness and selfishness – and it falls to us to strike the most appropriate balance between the two. I was then reminded of the famous episode of ‘Friends’ in which Phoebe poses the question: ‘can there ever be a selfless act?’ and discovers in the process of attempting to identify an answer that any act of selflessness will in some way serve the broader goals of the person who seeks to give.

I think it is this query that has been nagging at the back of my mind since I arrived at the Hong Kong symposium, and I suspect that it is likely to remain for the duration. Of course it is not necessarily a bad thing if our own interests are served by our efforts to serve others, but it seems to be that as global leaders we must be constantly conscious of our own place in the picture we seek to paint. Otherwise, we risk painting more of a self-portrait than a community’s vision.

Follow #USLS2015 on Twitter for live updates.

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