COHRED Symposium: Boosting Research for Health in the New Arab World

Bellagio, Italy, March 2013

Client: Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) (Geneva, Switzerland)
Project: Boosting Research for Health in the New Arab World
Challenge: Researchers from the Arab world to discuss how best to use the current opportunities to strengthen research, science and innovation for health in the region.
Location: Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Bellagio, Italy
Date: March 2013
Client Contact: Debbie Marais, COHRED
FWB facilitator: Karen Hodges

COHRED Arab GroupThe objective of the Symposium was for leading researchers from the Arab world to discuss how best to use the current opportunities to strengthen research, science and innovation for health in the region. The group met Feb 26 – March 1 at Bellagio, the exquisite villa and estate owned by the Rockefeller Foundation that lies high on a hill at the bifurcation of Lake Como in Italy.

Following a series of background presentations, FWB colleague Karen Hodges facilitated discussions using a World Cafe format, followed by random word and picture stimuli combined with the Productive Thinking EFFECT technique to identify issues, opportunities, and implementation challenges. Although the group was highly academic and politely skeptical at first about the value of such tools, the session was extremely productive. In fact, one of the delegates was so impressed with the methodology, he created a personal mnemonic to remind him of how powerful the tools were.

As Karen reports: “It was inspiring to see that by the end of this day, people had shifted from having their individual agendas into a coherent unit wanting to make a change. They were so enthusiastic and inspired by their now common goal that there was only one person seated in the whole room, while the rest were all moving around the room, sharing their ideas.”

On the final day, Karen led the group through a roadmap of the future, using the infinity symbol with desired outcomes outlined on one side and motivators and actions needed to realize it on the other, with the mission statement of the previous day in the centre. The group readily adopted the concept of Beyonders and focused on incorporating the characteristics of Vision, Courage, Perseverance, Creativity and Passion into their work. At the end of the day, the “outsiders” (donor companies, reporters, and COHRED staff) left the room and allowed the group to design and populate an action plan. As Karen reports, “We were called back and presented with their plan — discrete steps, target dates, and personal responsibilities to reach the goal. I was exhilarated and proud of what the group had achieved in so short a time.”