Recently I had the honor of being the chief guest at the inaugural session of a two-day international conference on globalization and public administration at Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University (BAMU) in Aurangabad, India. Most of the attendees represented universities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from various states within India and from other countries in the region such as Nepal, Bangladesh, China and Thailand, with one person from Kenya and myself from the United States representing the most distant locations.
The conference, Globalization and Public Administration: Pros and Cons, examined the demand for and the challenges of promoting greater accountability in government and developing a more engaged citizenry. These are issues which are grappled with globally and for which there are no easy or one-size-fits-all answers. The particular emphasis of this conference was on what India can learn from others and what it can teach to the rest of the world. There was much consideration paid to how much is transferable from one culture or context to another, recognizing that policies and programs which are successful in one place may not have the same impact in another area, given differing history, cultural values, political systems, and financial, human and natural resources available in each area.
This was my first trip to India and I made the trip there and back in a week, which is not a schedule I would recommend. I have since had time to sit down and reflect on the experience. Here I focus on how the experience reinforced valuable lessons for all people – students, faculty and community leaders – interested in working internationally.
The Value of Networking
This opportunity was made available to me as the result of networking at another conference in Thailand several years back. While sharing a shuttle bus between the hotel and conference site, I had engaged in casual conversation and exchanged business cards with colleagues from India and they mentioned that they would like to invite me to India. This is a common occurrence and I really never expected anything to come of it. I was quite surprised when I received an email more than two years later asking if I would be come to India to make what was essentially the keynote address for the first international conference in Public Administration hosted by this university. While we regularly advise students of the importance of networking, particularly when attending professional conferences and events, this event reinforced that message and demonstrated that you never know who or what will manifest and lead to a future opportunity.
Flexibility and Intercultural Effectiveness
The conference itself was robust but quite different from anything I had experienced elsewhere. In addition to opening and closing sessions, there were three substantive half day panels that had about 25 papers each, in addition to four key panelists. The job of the panelists was to integrate material from the presentations and papers, as the nature of the conference required a significant amount of synthesis in a short amount of time. This format was a new experience for me, as was the level of formal ceremony associated with recognizing special guests, myself included. My inherent task- and time-orientation was challenged by the structure of the event and I had to regularly remind myself to enjoy the experience and learn from it. At the scheduled starting hour for the opening plenary, the conference organizers, dignitaries and I were being served coffee and tea and discussing Indian and world events and swapping stories in another location on campus. When we did travel to the conference site, we were greeted by a beautiful and colorful Hindu ceremony providing blessings to each of us individually. The conference sessions themselves included exchanges of gifts. Amidst all of this, there was still time for a wealth of interesting presentations and engaging discussions over communal lunches in the courtyard. The experience reminded me of the value of seeing the potential for learning in each new experience and trying to avoid feelings of frustrations or judgment. Setting aside our own cultural expectations of how an academic or professional event is supposed to go, and employing a “go with the flow” method of engagement, will assist you in enjoying yourself and what you are learning.
Know the Audience
It is always best to know one’s audience before making a high profile presentation. As mentioned earlier, this was my first trip to India and I had only briefly met my host at a previous conference. As such, when I first received the invitation, I asked a lot of questions and was sometimes surprised by the answers. I was intrigued to learn that despite its long history of formal bureaucratic structures associated with British colonial rule and continuing into Indian independence, India has only recently begun to develop public administration and a formal academic discipline with programs at the graduate level. BAMU is one of a handful of universities across this huge country have independent departments of public administration or offering graduate degrees. The NGO which co-hosted the conference – Lokprashasanshastra Vikas Mandal – is working to develop public administration as a scholarly discipline across the country. While many of the presenters focused on the actual practice of public administration and presented research on the implications of globalization for policy design, implementation and evaluation, I chose to speak about the implications of globalization for the teaching of public administration and, more specifically, the implications for pedagogy, because of my research on the needs of the audience. Another aspect of knowing the audience is knowing a bit about the history and culture. Although my time in country was extremely brief (only 3 days), I spent the first day touring sites of cultural and historic significance and incorporated references to key concepts, values and history in my presentation. My talk and paper were very positively received and I attribute this to having developed a message informed by an understanding of my audience.
It was a whirlwind trip. In the process, I met many interesting people and exchanged many more business cards. Perhaps my next invitation will be to Nepal or Bangledesh. Where will your professional networks take you and how will you use that experience to enhance your intercultural effectiveness and to demonstrate your ability to be responsive to different audiences?
Dr. Nadia Rubaii
Associate Professor of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University