Harvard,AUD host conference on global socioeconomic issues in Dubai
It was an international conference by students, of students and for students. Bright minds from the Harvard University in the US and the American University of Dubai came together to hold the 22nd Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) conference in Dubai from August 22-26, which was attended by several hundred delegates from international academic institutions who participated in panel discussions, case study workshops on a variety of socio-economic issues relevant to the region and likely to have a global impact.
Purpose? To enable students to come together and hold a cross-dialogue on global issues as diverse as business leadership, energy, advertising, marketing, environment, infrastructural development, public and private partnerships to name a few, in the context of Asia’s destiny and its relationship to the world. As such, the theme of the conference this year was, “Extending Horizon’s Charting Asia’s Flourishing Future.”
For AUD students, who worked hard to bid for hosting the conference in Dubai, the conference was a landmark event.
The HPAIR Asia Conference, which was first held in 1991 in Taipei, is a 5-day academic program with seven panel workshops moderated by Harvard graduate students and conducted concurrently throughout the conference. Besides students from across continents, there were eminent speakers from the government and the industry who provided a pithy intellectual dialogue on wide-ranging topics. Willy Hoang, the Harvard organising committee in Boston, felt the time was appropriate for the conference to be held in a place as dynamic as Dubai. “Me and my team, felt that it was time that HPAIR itself identify Middle East as part of Asia. By bringing it here, it opened lot of doors for discussions.”
Dr Lance de Masi, president of AUD, said, “The magic of HPAIR 2013 resides in the journey - the intellectual rigor, sincerity of expression and respect for controversy - that helps to shape leadership in thought and action.”
In an exclusive chat with Education, he reflected on the enriching impact of the conference.
Since AUD participated and bid for the HPAIR to be held here in Dubai, what do you believe is the takeaway from a conference like this?
DR LDM: Harvard and AUD, AUD and Harvard, have proven to have enough in common to bring together from places near and far delegates and distinguished contributors from academe, business and government to deliberate issues relevant to Asia and hence, the world. In this organisational exercise, there was learning; and over five days, the learning continued - through objective analysis, free expression, vigorous debate and networking.
The conference was completely handled and run by students, How does something like this help a student?
Finally, HPAIR’s claim to being instrumental in “shaping the leaders of tomorrow” might, at first sight, seem hyperbolic or even arrogant. It’s neither, really. Like anything that cuts through the smoke of polite word mincing, it’s gutsy - pertinent to my line of thinking - and boldly relates education to leadership. To attain or maintain the gold standard, an educational institution of the 21st-century must offer students ample opportunities for 360-degree learning; that is, learning everywhere, at all times and through diverse media and agents. The world’s best universities - that is, those that harbour as faculty and produce as graduates, true leaders - publicly recognize that limiting the opportunity for intellectual and personal growth to the classroom reduces the institution’s leadership quotient.
Leaders are extraordinary people who are born from extraordinary circumstances. My view is very simple: as leaders are not a commodity species, their formation is not favoured by commodity environments or experiences. HPAIR, through its high caliber intellectual agenda, propensity to turn thought into action, cultural diversity and activities multi-dimensional in nature, is one such extraordinary experience.
Do conferences like these help students bond better with their counterparts elsewhere in the world?
There are two words in the conference theme, “charting” and “future,” that serve to uncover HPAIR’s essence as an educational enterprise. It is outmoded to think that knowledge acquisition is what education is or should be about. Oh sure, there is value in knowing. But even in disciplines as seemingly disconnected from the professions as many in the liberal arts, the excitement of education comes from knowledge application, appreciation and creation. So, that the objective is “to chart” should please us all none too little and signals that conference attendees are not so much looking to absorb information, but through knowledge production and integration, to unleash insight and spawn new paradigms that actually have the potential to influence real world policy and decision-making.
Likewise, from an educational perspective, your focus on the future is equally comforting. Of course, an understanding of the past and present is both enriching and serves to provide the gravity required to face tomorrow with confidence. One of education’s greatest gifts, however, is to hone judgment and intuition. The educated person is distinguished by an ability to detect trends and prescribe strategies to encourage or prevent.