Volume 19 Number 5
Everyone a Leader
01 October 2006

What is it like to organise a Caux conference? Justin Walford finds out

FOR THE PAST SIX years the Caux summer has begun with a conference led by a young team from Eastern Europe. In the vacuum left in the wake of communism, young people from the former Soviet Bloc decided that the concepts of service and responsible leadership were essential to create positive development and growth in their countries, and seized upon Caux as the perfect place to explore such themes.

The planning for this year's Service, Responsibility and Leadership conference began last autumn in Kiev. In the spring, I was one of nine participants on the IofC leadership training programme, Action for Life, in Asia, who entered into the process. With frequent email and phone conversations between Asia and Kiev, we began to form a cohesive planning team.

It was not until we all met at Caux in late June, however, that we really got down to the planning. We had an intense week of rapid teambuilding and many bursts of creativity, although greater delegation of responsibility, and more time to focus on the dynamics of our team, would have led to a crisper conference.

Using concepts and structures worked out by the team in Kiev, we decided on a natural progression for the conference. The five days would focus on personal identity, family relationships, cultural differences, the creation of personal action plans, and an investigation of addiction and other obstacles to action. We envisioned a process from which participants would emerge more aware, and with less baggage preventing personal action in the future.

For the coordinating team, the conference itself was often a blur. As we were also facilitating the majority of the sessions and activities, personal time was at a premium. There were creative sessions to plan, songs and games and skits to practise, speeches to write, and ideas to be shared. In the end, it was the times of inspiration and personal connection that kept us
going. Luckily, there were many.

As with all Caux conferences the participants were divided into community groups for times of fellowship. Leading these gave us the chance to create safe spaces for honest sharing, and the opportunity to interact deeply with people from diverse backgrounds. Here conversations were launched that bridged some of the world's most pressing conflicts.

For both organisers and participants family workshops were another highlight. Using guided meditation, participants were taken on journeys through their own personal histories. We focussed on relationships between family members, and investigated how changing the dynamics of some of those relationships could have an impact on other relationships and even on the direction of one's life.
Creativity was the string that linked each day's theme. More serious moments were balanced with skits including frequent appearances by Service, Responsibility and Leadership (a servant, soldier and king) who echoed daily themes and illustrated key points, and a Non-Talent Show that brought the entire conference to its feet.

On the last morning, participants were asked to reveal their personal action plans. There was much hope and energy as people shared the concrete decisions they had made. That afternoon, evaluating the conference as an organising team, we could still feel the buzz.

Also of note were the bridges created between business and government leaders and conference participants. Twenty-five businessmen from the Japanese Management Association were present, as were the Caux Round Table of men and women from the world of business and the economy. This was important because it connected those with the capacity and resources to implement and support large-scale social change with younger generations who had grassroots experience on where such change is needed, and why.

Participants from each of these gatherings had the opportunity through service shifts, small group discussion, and community group meetings, to hear from each other, network, and build ideas for the future.

People return to Caux year after year. When asked why, many turn and stare out across Lake Geneva to the French mountains or the Rhone Valley. But their answer is almost invariably 'the people'. A certain hope is imparted to almost everyone who stays at Caux. It comes from the warmth and honesty of the other participants. It comes from watching personal transformation occur, even over the course of a week. And in the end, it comes from the way that everyone there is trying, together, to nurture moral values as they strive towards making a better world.