Article (October-2018)


Entertaining the conference style - A growing trend

Dr. Vinayshil Gautam

Designation : -   Internationally Acclaimed Management Expert. Chairman, DK International Foundation

Organization : -  


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The season of conferencing has arrived. The writer recently received, the invite for a major 2018 event. It will be over by the time you will be reading these lines. The theme of the Conference was announced as -- India (some years down the line) and the expectation of creating a US $ XYZ trillion economy. Truly amazing!
It is not amazing because of the aspiration of a US $ XYZ Trillion economy. It is amazing that this bouncing forecast is measured in US dollars.  Countries in Asia such as Malaysia have developed the practise and put in place a system by which all financial measurements are in Ringgits, that is their local currency, and not in an alien one. India gained independence a decade preceding that of Malaysia.
China went the communist way in 1949. Nehru felt flattered, in 1954, to concede to China, a permanent Security Council seat that was offered, by US, to India. That was the extent of the grand narcissistic self-image of a part of the Indian leadership, then. Since this is not a story telling piece, a look at the implications of these two facts may be in order.
Malaysia is smaller in geographical size to India. It is the melting pot of three ethnicities, the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian. It runs its courts in Malay language. Its economy measures in Ringgits and thanks to Mathir, its information highways far preceded the Indian attempts at it. It has developed its ways to institutionalise local economic symbols. The Chinese today, race ahead in technology, water management, population management, command over the seas and indeed presence in several non-Chinese economy.
Many of our professional leaders are still thinking and talking in US Dollars. It symbolises the orientation and roots of thinking of an influential part of the Indian elite. If it was ordinary mortals like the writer of these lines or presumably a large percentage of the readership of these lines it would be understandable. As one went through the programme schedule of this particular event, one found all species of Page 3 characters in the programme. It was led by a financial expert now a self-proclaimed human resources specialist. Foreign consultancy company, foreign multinationals were suitably represented. The kick off with awards ensured a significant participation. The presence of a television channel CEO on the programme ensured adequate coverage. The convention attempted to create thought leadership about this US $ multi-trillion economy in India by discussing 'relevant' themes such as the following: 'creating a global order based on compassion, trust and peace' 'diplomacy in time of disruption' 'a country for the young: refreshing the Indian dream' and several topics of this order. However, what was remarkable was devoting an entire session on 'Aap ki Adalat'. Clearly, there was variety and entertainment galore.
The final coping stone came by way of the valedictory session having the announcement of a 'keynote address'.
As noted earlier, by the time this column appears in print, this 'National Convention' would have been over. One is hoping to get to it -- if problems of travel and livelihood permit. The writer of these lines has never tried to beat 'them'. The event has many names with whom one goes back many years. Hence no question of 'beating them' one can only wish to 'join them'.  The problem however is deeper. About 35% of these speaker names will be repeated in other summits and conferences which will be held between now and January 2019. 50% of the audience would also be common. This is so because over the years it was felt that if you levy registration fee, participation drops. It is so much simpler to ensure speaker slots to the leaders of groups which undertake to become sponsors by paying for it.
The writer remembers raising this to a key functionary of one of the most 'successful' institutes of the profession. This institute has made good money and brand in following the above noted method. It also holds a regular event in UK. The venues are always very well chosen. Some of the ethnic Indians of influence in UK are invariably lionised, for the event in UK, and their reference does the rest. When the writer of these lines elaborated this model before the key functionary of the so called institute, the key functionary was not ruffled. He had a counter question. He said, "What alternate revenue model would you suggest"? One chose to close the conversation.  There is nothing unethical about this approach. The fascinating point is, it completes the commercialisation of academic exchange processes, whose attempt at one stage seemed to be to push the frontiers of learning.  The reader of these lines will notice the incremental raising of the glamour content of such does across the years. The media, the publicity channels, word of mouth, all spread the charm. To be seen in such conclaves, conferences, summits is like been seen in the marriage reception of a VIP's ward. One cannot afford to be counted out. Progressively, like the spread of corporate entities who run taxis without owning one, one wonders whether as a group one is headed towards creating a knowledge endeavour populated practically with no knowledge content of its own but only from hired sources? Or is the purpose to entertain through the mode of 'conferencing'?
Never the less there seems a general self-congratulatory aura at these events. Those on the dais are happy with the light beaming on them and the audience is happy with food and drink, not to forget the company! The organisers rake in sponsorship money and some dubious goodwill, of some famous names (who have already arrived) by giving them one more award. The embellishments seem poised to grow.
Perhaps, like all fashions, this too shall pass, but not before it grows further.