Blog from the Asia Pacific Conference
Asia Pacific Regional Conference
During the 2009-2012, triennium, Asia Pacific was the fastest growing region in WAGGGS. The tremendous momentum continues this triennium. The 26 member organizations have already met their 2014 collective goal of 3 million members and are on track to meet, if not exceed, its goal of 4 million members by 2020! The passion, energy and dedication required to enable more and more girls and young women “to develop their full potential as responsible citizens of the world” was evident as the attendees assembled.
The 11th Asia Pacific Regional Conference began the morning of June 29 in concert with the Friends of AP WAGGGS 5th Regional Gathering. The venue is the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo, Japan, a modern, spacious and airy complex well accustomed to hosting large and diverse groups. All attendees have received a very warm and kind welcome from the AP Regional Committee and our hosts, the Girl Scouts of Japan. Later in the morning and throughout the afternoon, visitors were treated to demonstrations of calligraphy, origami, traditional games, ink painting, tea ceremony and other iconic elements of the Japanese culture. At every turn, we are cheerfully greeted by smiling and helpful volunteers wearing brown polo shirts with the words “Worker Bee” on the back, led by the conference planning committee.
Embodying the theme of “Believe, Belong, Be More”, the opening ceremony on June 30 was stirring, ambitious and inclusive, featuring a presentation on Myanmar, which is working towards its WAGGGS Membership Certificate, and a keynote address by Ms. Yuriko Koike, a current member of Japan’s House of Representatives, former Minister of the Environment and former Minister of Defense. Like so many women in prominent government positions, Ms. Koike credits Girl Scouting for providing her formative leadership development experience.
Another cause for celebration was the immediate release of a special book chronicling the history of the Asia Pacific region. Written by former WAGGGS volunteer and staff member, Jan McIntyre, it is a fascinating chronicle of “40 Years of Common Purpose in the Asia Pacific Region…Building Understanding and Sharing, United by Fundamental Principles” and draws from many sources to profile the events and outstanding women leaders who have shaped Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting in this large and varied region.
OB-PS members who attended the annual event in Bath and/or saw the video in Lucerne will vividly recall Kat (Katheri Ann Charcos-Puyo), the effervescent and eloquent young woman speaker who is now on the Asia Pacific team at WAGGGS. Now a wife, mother and young professional, Kat shared that her experience in Bath—in particular, speaking to the assembly and conversing with HRH Princess Benedikte on stage-- had a major impact on her. I was therefore very pleased to have the impromptu opportunity to reconnect with both Kat and Girl Guides of Australia’s Helen Geard, another headliner from the OB-PS event in Brisbane. Getting better acquainted with rising leaders such as Kat and Helen, as well as reinvigorating relationships with existing friends remain the best dividends of OB-PS membership.
Connie Matsui (USA)
Day 2 began with a call to action from the Maldives Girl Guides to Believe, Be creative and Act on our ideas. Roll call was taken, new member Mongolia was warmly welcomed and attendees were reminded to share English language resources with aspiring member organization, Myanmar.
Mary McPhail started the morning with an overview of Vision 2020 and a plea for input and advice from member organizations regarding the proposed membership development strategy and governance review. She reaffirmed that we all need to do our utmost to brighten the future of girls, especially girls like the young one who wrote these words:
“ I wish there was a world
where wings were not clipped…because you are a girl.
I wish there was a world
where laughter is not stifled…because you are a girl.
I wish there was a world
Where dreams are not stolen…because you are a girl.”
Serious, in-depth discussions ensued in both the plenary session and breakout groups led by World Board members, providing lots of firsthand feedback for the leadership of the World Association. Most compelling and invigorating have been the astute observations and advice from the young members of each of the delegations who fully embrace their roles as stewards and champions for the worldwide Movement.
After the heavy lifting of the first portion of the day, the day lightened up considerably in the late afternoon with presentations on the World Centers, the Olave Baden-Powell Society and the International Scout and Guide Federation—ending up with the most colorful, lively and entertaining highlight of the conference, the Asia Paciic Regional Night and Bazaar!
A few more glimpses from that festive night:
- Friends of Asia Pacific founder Juseon Byun elegantly and enthusiastically presenting membership pins to recognize new FAPW donors as Susan Locsin and Angela Woo read off names
- National Commissioner of Girl Scouts Japan, Mariko Asano, jumping up and cheering on the assembled crowd to open the Bazaar with tremendous energy and spirit
- Former OB-PS Board member Angela Kwok beaming and beautiful in a peach-colored floor length gown
- Conference attendees posing and laughing in the elaborate and funny costumes furnished by Girl Scouts of Japan for photo opps
If only there was a way to capture the high spirits and noise level in the room as well!
Connie Matsui (USA)
Presentation by the Asia Pacific Regional Committee Chair Low Lih Jeng.
Each morning, I look forward to finding the small, decorative envelope hanging on my outside doorknob that contains a charming, handmade card from the Girl Scouts of Japan. Yesterday’s greeting was “Ohayo Gozaimasu – Good Morning” accompanied by an origami token. Today’s card, decorated with pink flowers, said not only “Ohayo Gozaimasu – Good Morning”, but also “Otsukaresama – You’ve done a great job!”. Even though I know this is not a personalized message, the “attagirl” is nonetheless appreciated-- especially as Pearl, Reiko and I have been working together to raise the visibility and accessibility of the Olave Baden-Powell Society here. The response to the integration of Friends of Asia Pacific and OB-PS donations has been positively received.
Also, “Otsukaresama” is a most fitting phrase to praise our Japanese hosts for their exceptional hospitality!
Official conference business resumed on Day 3 withReflections from the Girl Guides of Cambodia on the theme of “Belong”, celebrating the incredible power and leverage gained through teamwork and alignment. Immediately following came the first of three presentations by Girl Scouts of the USA representatives. Barbara Hill is based in Tokyo and responsible for the West Pacific branch of GSUSA Overseas. The West Pacific branch is funded by the US government, evidence of the great value placed on the delivery of Girl Scouting to military families in the region. Similar units are located around the world to serve military and expatriate families from the United States, to train volunteers and to partner with local schools and organizations.
Emphasizing branding, marketing and media relations, Barbara gave a comprehensive, informative and personal overview of the extensive, self-initiated transformation undertaken by Girl Scouting in the USA over the past five years. Driven and inspired by girls’ feedback on what they really want from Girl Scouting, GSUSA has immensely increased its public recognition as “cool” and the premier leadership development organization for girls, resulting in acclaim from business, media and government and GSUSA’s first membership increase in years.
The next several hours were devoted to Learning Excursions thoughtfully arranged by Girl Scouts of Japan to give attendees more exposure to branding, creativity and core values in one of four different settings. These included:
- The Cool Japan Office established by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to formulate and promote overseas advancement of Japanese cultural and creative industries in Japan and abroad
- Kokuyo, a leading maker and supplier of stationery, office supplies and office furniture featuring environmentally friendly products
- Shinagawa High School for Girls, founded in 1925 “to raise women who will be actively involved in society” and reinvented with great success to focus not just on the girls as they are headed to university at age 18, but on who they will become at age 28—and working backwards from the future
- Shiseido, a world class cosmetics manufacturer with a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and environmental conservation.
Following these site visits, small group discussions and focus groups were organized to help member organizations apply the learnings to Girl Scouting and Girl Guiding in their country.
An eye-opening, enriching day generating much to discuss and share!
Committe at work!
Normala Baharudin ( Chair, Planning Committe), Ching Ching Wee-Ong ( Regional Director, Asia Pacific) and Ruchira Jayasinghe (Committee member).
Pearl, Thank you for photo from the event!
Pearl Lee (Hong Kong, Current OB-PS Board member) and Angela Hwang (Korea, A Former OB-PS Board member)
Shinetsetseg Lkhagvasuren and Bolortuya Baatar from Mongolia led Day 4’s opening Reflections. These two younger women—one of them, an expectant mother-- first introduced us to their country, a nation of 2.9 million, with 45% of the population living in the capitol city, Ulanbator, and, outside of the city, still many living as nomadic herders. Among other facts, they shared with pride the diverse religions practiced in their country and the respectful, peaceful relations that exist between them. The presentation then turned to the third element of the conference theme, “Be More”.
Fulfilling the pledge of “Be More” is Soum School where Girl Scouts are learning to “Lead More, Serve More, Learn More”. This school is located in a small Mongolian town and serves a total of 200 students, half of whom are girls. About 50% of these girls come from rural herder families and are sent to live away from their families at the tender age of 6. Older girls take on the responsibilities of “senior sisters”, according to the ten Laws and Promise of Scouts, providing the much needed care and love of the absent families and serving as role models for the young ones. In the same way, the presenters asserted that the Girl Scout Association of Mongolia is growing bigger and stronger, thanks to the steadfast support of their 145 “senior sisters” in WAGGGS. The two speakers in clear, ringing, hopeful voices then led the group in singing “We Change the World” and closed with the assertion that:
“We can do more together.
We can change the world together.”
The first formal session of the day was Yvette Hairston’s presentation on educational programs in Girl Scouts of the USA. Yvette is also based in Tokyo with GSUSA Overseas and gave an impressive, engaging summary of the tools, techniques and technology employed in the delivery of current training and program. Echoing yesterday’s marketing presentation, Yvette shared how programs were systematically and deliberately redesigned to be more flexible and more appealing to the girls and leaders of today, while retaining the same principles and values at the core of Girl Scouting and Girl Guiding. Of great interest to the attendees was how long the transformation took, where resources are available online, what other partners were involved and how long-time volunteers adapted to the changes-- vivid testimony to the tremendous relevance of this knowledge and experience to the entire gathering.
Sustaining the momentum, member organizations then moved into four different focus groups:
- Adult Training,
- Volunteer Development,
- Creating the Future
- Office Management.
These discussions targeted areas for development and forged even stronger alliances between MOs dealing with common issues and opportunities. In addition, throughout the conference, WAGGGS representatives have been diligently meeting with every country individually or in small groups, enhancing the learning and teambuilding experience.
After lunch the agenda turned to Financial Sustainability and Membership Development. MOs were equipped with assessment tools, strategic approaches, common vocabulary and planning frameworks and remained intently focused and productive within their country teams.
As always, networking remains one of the most prized functions of these conferences as attendees connect and share with each other, not just hear from the speakers. There is always a constant buzz and movement as people seek each other out or find each other serendipitously. As just one personal example, lunch in the cafeteria today yielded the unexpected and delightful opportunity to converse with Dr. Paz Diaz from the Philippines. We quickly learned that we were both retired and agreed that one of the great advantages of being retired is being able to attend multi-day conferences for organizations we deeply care about. We also soon discovered that both of us were hardly “retired”!
After a world-spanning career, Paz continues to work with the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation in the Philippines. This organization received UNICEF funding to introduce young Filipino children to basic examples of entrepreneurship with the ultimate goal of stemming the ongoing outflow of vast numbers of young people desiring overseas jobs. The program gives them the rudimentary skills, understanding and even a little bit of funding, to nurture their imagination and confidence to eventually start businesses of their own and, thereby, provide the means and motivation to remain in their home country. In addition, Paz serves as the National Treasurer for Girl Scouts of the Philippines and engaged Girl Scouts to conduct research interviews and collect results due to their familiarity with and proximity to the four communities participating.
Just one example of the many remarkable leaders here who are changing the world!
On the last day of the conference, there was great anticipation of the voting session, the ceremonial thank yous and the gala dinner. Photos were taken of each delegation standing in front of the conference banner, everyone smiling broadly and holding small posters that said, “I am a Girl Scout and I am [fill in the blank].” The sentiments expressed were as varied and passionate as the people themselves, but the most common theme is “I am a Girl Scout and I amchanging the world”.
The Pacific Islands—Cook Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea—teamed up for the day’s Reflections on “Believe, Belong, Be More”. Their program wove together deep faith, enduring gratitude and “energizers” to inspire the assembled to believe in themselves, give thanks and stay active.
To ensure open communication and transparency, ample time was devoted to a panel discussion to respond to questions submitted by the attendees previously. The first recommendation asked for WAGGGS consideration and commitment to use simpler language in their documents and materials, acknowledging many members’ limited fluency with English. The second request came from a Japanese delegate. Noting that Japan ranks high on the Human Development Index (#10) but quite low on the 2012 Gender Gap Index (#101), the speaker asked the group for effective message points to respond to people questioning why Girl Scouts remains an all-girl organization. “Safe place”, “secure”, “successful”, “strong role models” were top of mind; the most articulate and compelling points often made by the young women.
After a longer break than usual to allow everyone to change into their official uniforms, voting proceeded on one proposal, the slate of nominees for the Asia Pacific Regional Committee—including one OB-PS scholar!-- and the venue for the 2016 AP Regional Conference. For those readers of this blog who have attended WAGGGS conferences, you will be happy to know that two of these motions passed by general consent, resulting in the shortest voting session I have ever seen! This efficiency can be attributed to both the good-natured but firm hand of session chair, Normala Baharudin, Chair of the Conference Planning Committee, and the conscious, demonstrated unity of this diverse region.
The Summary and Closing proceeded after lunch with many emotions on display—abundant gladness and gratitude directed toward the World Association leaders and staff, the Regional Committee, the Conference Planning Committee, and the 90+ volunteers from the Girl Scouts of Japan; fondness and sadness gracefully expressed by retiring Regional Committee members; great optimism for the future of girls as well as encouragement for the selflessness of leaders modeled by the new Regional Committee chair.
From here, I believe the proceedings of the conference will be best captured in the official report from the conference and in the shared aspirations compiled collaboratively by the young women delegates and 15 Japanese young women. Therefore, in addition to my deepest thanks to OB-PS for the opportunity to attend this wonderful event, I will close with a few serious and humorous “postcards” for your enjoyment, sharing more of what made this particular conference memorable and heartwarming for me:
- Arriving in the cafeteria on the first day to find several small groups of young delegates of different nationalities huddled together over lunch tables, clearly working together, talking eagerly and listening intently, laptops and smart phones at the ready
- Following the OB-PS plenary presentation, World Board Chair Nadine El-Achy rising spontaneously to praise OB-PS for its leadership and dedication in sourcing new donors and generating significant funds for the critical work of the World Association— and encouragingdelegates to become members!
- Four of us gamely venturing into a row of small shops and restaurants a few blocks from the complex to seek local Japanese food, despite the fact none of us had any grasp of the Japanese language, Then, as we were sipping drinks, learning that we had unwittingly chosen a restaurant specializing in French food
- The inevitable glitches with audio-visual systems leading to unplanned sing-a-longs or solos, such as Conference Chair Normala’s unexpected and amazing debut as a pop singer during a protracted struggle with a video presentation and after a brief bout with shyness, performing in her demure headdress and dark clothing a jazzy and flawless a capella version of “Stand By Me”— revealing just how secure and unselfconscious she was in the company of Scout and Guide sisters
- Delegates approving with great excitement the host country for the next AP Regional Conference, Nepal, a nation of 29 million with 103 different ethnic groups, 93 spoken languages, as many temples as houses and four World Heritage sites
- Bystanders and hotel staff fascinated by the parade of non-native conference attendees resplendent and elegant in their native and fancy dress entering and, later, leaving the gala dinner venue.
Yours in Girl Guiding/Girl Scouting,
(Connie Matsui/ USA)