LGF Retreat Day 1: ducks on bikes

I’m in Madrid! The surroundings are gorgeous, the other Fellows and IYF team are incredible, and the food is delicious. It’s really hard to be present, though, because I’m taking my major exam in 2.5 months, and it’s the biggest hurdle of my PhD yet. One thing that is making it easier, though, is that the retreat is structured in a way that really helps me feel comfortable: an intimate group of people, close interaction with the IYF team (who also share their stories as we go along), and a good deal of unstructured time built into the day to help me process.

And as I’ve learned that blogging is how I process, here I am trying to capture each day’s learnings in the here and now.

Today is all about personal leadership.

Our icebreakers were first about building relationships (walking around the room and acknowledging others in different ways – high fives, handshakes, winks! – and a name game where we got in a circle and tried to call out the names of those on either side of us before the split-second time ran out). I surprised myself knowing all but two names in the room this morning. Admittedly, I’m inspired by an MIT professor, Ana Miljacki, who takes the time to memorize her ~25 students’ names before the second class.

We then moved to connecting with our purpose. Joel walked us through a visualization exercise where we envisioned our ‘workspace’, then thought of our team surrounding and connecting to us, followed by our family/mentors/supporters, followed by our communities. Figuring out whether to envision my desk in Cambridge or the Kakkaiyankulam classroom reminded me of my daily mental tug-of-war in apportioning my attention, and envisioning ‘supporters’ with whom relationships have become strained reminded me of how I want to be better at both strengthening great relationships and repairing ones that have frayed.

Jessie talked us through IYF programmes as a means to give us context for where we are now. I was struck at how they’ve scaled, not by having more Fellows annually – it’s still 20 a year and I think that number is perfect – but through strategic partnerships that allow for replicating and adapting the programme to different local contexts. Definitely useful to think about as I struggle to keep Building Bridges a ‘high-touch’ arts programme while reaching more young people.

Also, coming up with a ‘social contract’ for the week!



I loved the life map, because I’ve done a few similar things before but not quite as visual, and it was really fun to be working in colour. Also, great facilitation tip: I really appreciated how Joel shared his first, which collapsed the gap between the IYF team and ourselves. Here’s mine:


Three ways my personal story influences or shapes the leader I am today:

  1. Definitely my unending meditation on identity (although in a nod to my major exam reading, Frederick Cooper would probably berate me for using the term too loosely). I have an enduring sense of both belonging deeply and not belonging in Sri Lanka, I’m trying to figure out what form of identifying as Australian feels right to me, and I’m mulling over my fondness for Boston at a time when temporary visitors (and even permanent residents) are made to feel more unwelcome than ever.
  2. My fascination with meaning-making and stories themselves – not only because theatre changed my perception of self and others, but because it has made me fully aware that the shape of my story depends on which ‘beads’ I choose to string together – and my attempts to share this exploration through Building Bridges.
  3. Have to think more on this one!

A few key turning points I can use to talk to donors, staff, volunteers, and others about why I do my work:

  1. I can speak more explicitly about my “playground to playground” journey, from being bullied in one playground to building a playground through work that brought people with very different views together, although my ‘first play’ and ‘graveyard visit’ story-beads fit oddly in the middle.
  2. I’ve never really talked about how many plane journeys I’ve taken – my first time flying alone at age five! – and how these have completely transformed my outlook through immersion in different countries and given me reasons to think about who I am (and who I have been) in a particular place at a particular time.


Ducks on bikes: Jim’s use of David Shannon’s Duck on a Bike to help us think through what it means to lead (especially re: starting something we may not feel we know much about, and in the face of criticism or naysaying) was a hilarious and simple reminder to stay courageous – and to see the fun in the adventure!)


I was completely thrown (in a good way) by the very direct conversation about gender that happened directly after we discussed the ‘leaky pipeline’ problem – although more than half of new hires are women, less than 3% are CEOs. We did a “five minute fishbowl” where some participants chose to sit in the inner circle of two rings of chairs, and tried to honestly answer questions around gender discrimination, why the leaky pipeline exists, and what we can see being done to combar gender bias. I’m so glad we just tackled the subject head on, rather than skirt around it in our discussions around women’s strengths and under-representation.


Daily dose o’ inspo: Nat, who’s worked in Sri Lanka, and who I want to talk to about her gamification strategies for My Green World; Innocent, whose My Little Travelling Library really appeals to the lifelong reader in me (and who also works entirely with volunteers); Cristina, a fellow Tiger whose journey in creating and sustained EscueLab is weirdly similar to mine; Katia, an architect who went from unpaid commissions to working with the Ministry of Culture on Beirut Design Week and more with Architects for Change.

Also, here are my not-so-live tweets from today’s session, which include some other fun nuggets that seemed to belong better on Twitter.

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