News — November 21, 2016
Developing Compassionate Global Leaders for the 21st Century
By: Emily Anderson, JCI Growth and Development Manager
Each summer young leaders from JCI member nations across the globe are selected to attend the annual JCI Academy, an event that empowers these active citizens to be future leaders of both their organization and community; the participants enter their one-year to lead with strength, spirit and dedication. At least that's what it says on the event website. However, after attending the event myself, this statement in no way comes close to fully describing this 10 day gathering of motivated, young, national leaders and global citizens in Japan who get to experience immersion, exchange and compassion.
Kyokan, or compassion in Japanese, was the theme of this year’s JCI Academy and an integral part of the events program, which included a homestay with a Japanese family, cultural excursions, and seminars and workshops focusing on leadership, action and compassion.
While I have traveled around the world extensively, the homestay experience was quite new to me. My host family at first viewed me as the American foreigner who would eat everything in sight, but by the end of my homestay I felt that I had become part of their family. While I spent two and a half days sightseeing and learning Japanese traditions with them, I also spent my time reflecting on how such an experience develops young global leaders. When you are immersed in a country and culture different from your own, you often find yourself communicating through charades, eating foods you’ve never seen or possibly even heard of, and having to adapt to the culture and customs. Therefore, an experience like this requires skills including strong communication and the ability to problem solve and also characteristics such as an open mind and compassion — all of which are essential to being an effective global leader in today’s world.
Compassion is not a word often used to describe today’s leaders. However, in a world often consumed by war, conflict and violence, compassion is a critical component to global development. Compassionate leadership requires building connections between people, organizations and institutions through respect, empathy and committed action. Throughout the Academy, many activities and exercises were conducted to build understanding of compassion within ourselves. One of the most remarkable moments for many delegates was one where we were challenged to connect in a new way. Individuals were paired together and tasked to look into one another’s eyes without talking for four minutes. Some delegates could not keep from laughing, while others broke out in tears, some perspired in fear while I could not stop smiling the entire time although I began the activity feeling very uncomfortable. No matter the reaction and response to staring in someone’s eyes, everyone had the same thoughts following the exercise — we shared the idea that maybe if we took the time to look into people’s eyes, to see them and not the differences between us, then we can begin to see the humanity in others, the humanity that unites us all. Regardless of our borders, culture, religion or beliefs, all people essentially want the same thing — to live a dignified life.
Those of us that attended the Academy recognize both our responsibility and that of all global citizens; to respect our friends, family and neighbors, but most importantly those individuals we don’t even know; the ones that make up our diverse world. It is because of this that we choose to be JCI members, ready and empowered to be compassionate leaders committed to taking action for positive change.
Compassion is not only understanding the situation and suffering of others, but it is the motivation and desire to help. Kyokan action is what we commit to as leaders of JCI and our communities; this term was also the final focus of the Academy program. As graduation drew near, and the closing ceremony approached, many of us committed to increase our collaboration and connection across communities and borders as well as with diverse groups and individuals. We outlined the concrete actions we would take following the Academy, which included ensuring greater transfer of knowledge from year to year in order to prepare leaders as well as securing increased communication and understanding of the organization at all levels. However, as we boarded planes, traveled over oceans and settled back into our routines, we were hit with shocking news heightening our reflection on our commitments.
In the early morning following the final day of the Academy, one of our own, Mr. Salheddine Mathlouthi from JCI Tunisia passed away. An intelligent, passionate and motivated young active citizen, Salheddine had dreamed of attending the Academy for nearly a decade; he represented the compassion that we all were there to understand and develop within ourselves. In life and death he inspires all of those around him to live each day better than the one before. With mixed emotions, those that attended the 2016 JCI Academy in Mito, Japan will contend that the experience cannot be described without mentioning Salheddine and his passion to empower others to be compassionate leaders themselves. That mentality and practice became the commitment each delegate of the 2016 Academy would take home — to live each day as if it is our last chance to empower, act and leave this world a better place.
Since the start of the JCI Academy in 1987, thousands of young active citizens have attended the event, emerging as innovative business pioneers, impactful civic changemakers and humanitarian diplomats. Those that have joined the JCI Academy in the past and those who will attend in the future are likely to agree that after completing this remarkable experience, as time passes you may forget the presentations, the exercises and only remember some of the faces, however, the deep understanding of humanity, newfound perspective on building peaceful societies, and the motivation to see the world as your responsibility can not and will not ever be forgotten.