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338. Rio – new experiences, new friends, new family…

August 8, 2013

I have written about the event I attended in a previous blog. I have also written couple of columns which will soon be published in an online outlet and an article for an Indian Youth Magazine which focus on the communications and organisational aspects of the event. This blog focuses on my experiences of being in the marvelous city, the exposure to culture and lifestyle & the new friends I made ending with some philosophical thoughts.

The most beautiful aspect of the event is where several delegates (comprising pilgrims and volunteers) have the good fortune of being hosted by local families either during the event or for the sheer experience of living a semi-exchange programme before the event in a neighbouring city. I was lucky to be hosted by the Cereja family – Renato, Ana and Renata (father and daughter have similar names). This is a simple, middle class family where all three are working – the couple in their 50s and the daughter in her mid-20s. They live in a decent two-bedroom apartment in a suburb and had me stay on an air mattress in their living room for two weeks. Except for their complexion and language they would pass off as any Indian nuclear family. We bonded like we were long lost cousins but in reality I was not even aware of whether I would get to be the guest of a family or end up in one of the schools like many others until the date of check-in. The daughter is Maths teacher and has a boyfriend who spends a night every week in her home (I share this to convey how liberal the society there is). The mother and daughter like most other Brazilians are hooked onto Facebook. And I’m glad our paths crossed.

The culture of Rio in many ways is similar to that of Mumbai and definitely closely linked to Goa because of the Portuguese influence. People are friendly and ready to help. The food is really good. All the three tourist attractions I went to and the three beaches I walked on and played in are world-famous and worth visiting. The city is natural disaster proof and is surrounded by hills, mountains, an urban rain forest and all kinds of water bodies including a lagoon, a bay, the Atlantic Ocean and a river from which the city gets its name (January River). Men and women look gorgeous. The white collar workers dress to kill and are leaders in public display of affection. The city is indeed expensive. On Brazilian Rial is almost half a US dollar.

Last but not the least I made some very interesting friends who were mostly international volunteers like mefrom different continents. The first friend was Martyna Glazik, a Polish girl who lives in Sweden. We were a riot. The next was Dominique Fernandes from Malaysia, who is super fun. Then there were two Indians (one of whom I knew from before) Ankna Arokiam from Hyderabad who lives in Scotland and Sacha Lobo from Mumbai who breathes about Canada. The next set was a brother-sister duo of Martin and Fathima from New Zealand who made this trip so they could bond. Finally, two Americans – Yaxaida Dorame and Tanya Fernandez from Arizona and Texas respectively.

Outside of WYD I also made friends with a coupe from Colombia whom I met at the hotel I spent a night in transit – Andres and Liz who were on their engagement holiday. This in addition to the 20 odd Brazilians including middle aged Rio-based English professor whom I met randomly at a restaurant. This trip was indeed marvelous and  I believe every young person should get a chance to attend at least one World Youth Day in his or her lifetime for the sheer experience that it offers. I went for one in 2000 as a pilgrim. At this one I was a volunteer and I want to pay it back. So in 2016 I will sponsor one young person from my home town.

I wish every young person who gets a chance to go to WYD makes sure that he or she gives another brother or sister the chance to get the same experience in the future. If we have paid it forward we have achieved a great deal. It certainly is exciting to go again and again but the joy of sponsoring someone else is living the faith of being Joyful, Kind and Humble. Therefore, I will not be at the World Youth Day in 2016 in Krakow, Poland. If you have not been to one, start saving now so you can go. And if you have been to one find a person you can support. The time is now.

337. What the World Youth Day is all about!

August 5, 2013

It all started with a meeting hosted by Pope John Paul II in 1984. It was an encounter embraced by the youth. Voices that needed to be heard and a heart ready to receive them. The World Youth Day (WYD) as it was named in 1985 continues to show the world the witness of a living and renewing faith in every young person.

The World Youth Day, international event is held every 2 or 3 years as an international meeting of young people with the Pope, which lasts about a week. After the Rome events in the mid-80s international gatherings were held in Buenos Aires, Argentina ( 1987), with the participation of 1 million youth; in Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1989) with 600 thousand youth; Czestochowa, Poland (1991) with 1.5 million youth; in Denver, USA ( 1993) with 500 thousand youth; Manila, Philippines (1995) with 4 million youth; in Paris, France (1997) with 1 million youth; in Rome, Italy (2000) with 2 million youth; in Toronto, Canada (2002) with 800 thousand youth; in Cologne, Germany (2005) with 1 million youth; in Sydney, Australia (2008) with 500 thousand youth; in Madrid, Spain (2011) with 2 million youth and in Rio, Brazil (2013) with 3 million youth. The next edition in 2016 will be hosted by Krakow, Poland (the birth place of John Paul II).

In addition to being in a new country, with its tourist charms, participation in the day requires a prepared body for the pilgrimage and an open heart to the wonders that are in store for each one. They are catechesis, testimonies, sharing examples of kindness, music festivals and cultural activities. Finally, it is a meeting of hearts that are driven by the same belief and hope that the diversity in fraternity is possible.

The WYD is one of the largest gatherings of human beings in a new location each edition. Two other events that outnumber this event are the Haj pilgrimage and the Kumbh Mela but these take place in the same location and infrastructure is tried and tested. That aspect makes WYD highly challenging for the organisers. Other than Rome 11 cities have hosted the event and the event has taken place in every continent except Africa. The 2013 edition in Rio was unique in many ways. It was being held in a nation which has the highest number of Catholics and it was the first one with Pope Francis (who hails from the region) among several other factors. And for me personally, it was two weeks of learning, sharing and serving. I was selected as one of the 3000 international volunteers. The other 55,000 volunteers would be from Rio and from other parts of Brazil. Yes – that is the number of people required to serve in 10 departments to pull off an event that has 3 million people coming together. Delegates to the event are called pilgrims as the event is not a conference and the luxuries are few. A lot of walking is involved and one half of each day is devoted to celebrating the faith about which I will discuss in the next paragraph. While the event is organised by the Catholic Church for young people anyone who is willing to attend from any religion is welcome to attend and there is no strict age bar.

The six day event typically kicks off on a Tuesday evening with an inaugural mass being the first of five main events. This is celebrated by the local Bishop. The following day is when the Pope arrives and the evening is devoted to the second main event of Welcoming the Pope with a cultural extravaganza. Through the six days various parts of the city host a variety of cultural programmes that are free for all to attend. The third day is when special exhibitions are held that run through the end of the event. The fourth day is the Way of the Cross evening where the pilgrims participate in an enactment of Jesus’ final journey through 14 stations. The fifth evening is the night vigil with the Pope after which all pilgrims sleep at the venue in sleeping bags under the sky to wake up in the morning for the final mass with the Pope which includes the event closure and announcement of the next venue. The special events run from Day 2 to 4 which are held in 250 to 300 centers spread across the city which are called Catechesis and are led on each day by a different archbishop or cardinal. As a volunteer I was in a group with two other international volunteers to help organize the Catechesis at one center over three mornings. A bulk of the logistical work is undertaken by the local volunteers. Several of us our fortunate to be hosted by local families and live their life for the week of the event but as volunteers we are expected to be at the host city a week prior to the event for orientation and training and so we get an additional week with host families.

During the time of preparing for the event many of us manage to do some touristy things and check the sights the city has to offer. Most other pilgrims do not have the luxury of this time and have to squeeze in as much during the event days which makes it harder given the swelling of the crowds. I will write in a subsequent blog about the people, the culture, the food, the attractions and my observations of the city of Rio De Janiero.

My biggest learning from the event is about my religion and I learnt that at two levels from two sets of people. First, from the local people I interacted with most of whom are Catholic but do not practice the religion. And the learning is to be kind, helpful and friendly, no matter what. The second was from two rockstars – one is called Pope Francis whose every action was a genuine act of Public Relations and the other is a potential future Pope whom I had the opportunity to closely interact with and who explained that to be catholic and practice the religion is not about converting others, showing off religiosity, distributing free bibles or making a show in Church but as cardinal Timothy Dolan put it is about being Joyful and spreading that joy to others, about being Kind and helping others in need through charitable ways and about being Humble and not trying to live a life of entitlements. To me that is the religion of humanism.

And I believe every young person should get a chance to attend at least one World Youth Day in his or her lifetime for the sheer experience that it offers. I went for one in 2000 as a pilgrim. At this one I was a volunteer and I want to pay it back. So in 2016 I will sponsor one young person from my home town.

I will write a couple of public columns about my learning from the event from a communications standpoint and my observations of Pope Francis’ public relations acumen. Hope you enjoyed reading. Here are few links

Next World Youth Day

My pictures 

Videos

If any of you wants to attend the 2016 edition in Krakow feel free to reach out to me for guidance.

336. Musings from Rio and the World Youth Day

July 29, 2013

Over the next few weeks I will write a few blogs and columns about my two week experience in Brazil as one of the 2800 international volunteers chosen from across the world based on an application to help organize the largest gathering of young people – the World Youth Day (WYD). I saved my annual leave to devote these days so I could learn from and serve fellow youth from around the world. In one line I can easily say ‘these were some of the best days of my life’. New friendships that were forged and great experiences I was exposed to are the hallmark of this trip.

The World Youth Day is a once in 3 year gathering of young people from around the world. While the majority of participants are young Catholics as it is organized by the Catholic Church a number of non-Catholics attend as well and the event is open to anyone who wishes to participate without any restriction. Participants are called pilgrims and those who support the organizing team are called volunteers. The Pope’s presence is the highlight of the event.

I landed in Sao Paulo enroute to Rio de Janiero on 14th July. after a weekend in Sao Paulo I was in Rio to prepare, plan and train for the main days of the event which includes main events and special events. The best part is working with new people with quick turn around time in a new setting on various tasks ranging from logistics, communications, helpdesk, security, transportation. The only other 2 events that come close in terms of numbers are the Kumbh Mela and the Haj pilgrimage but these are monitored by governments and generally happen at the same venue. The World Youth Day is more complex and intense because of the age group and temperament of the target audience. The biggest hurdle is language as majority of the Catholics have Spanish as their mother tongue.

Three of the most interesting aspects for volunteers of which I was one is that we all pay a registration fee to attend. Nothing is free but everything is subsidized. Secondly, accommodation ranges from being hosted by local families (I was fortunate to be hosted by one and this is all organized by the main organizing committee) or staying at schools and institutions. Thirdly, the volunteers have better chances of seeing the Pope, something that most people who attend look forward to.

This edition of the WYD was special in several ways and my future blogs will touch upon what made it special. Learn more at http://rio2013.com/en

To check out some of the pictures from the event and my trip click here

If you would like to attend the next WYD in 2016 in Poland click here

335. The World Youth Day at Rio – why I’m going and what it means

July 9, 2013

In less than four days I will be on a flight to a city, a country and a continent I’ve never been to and embarking upon a task I’ve not done before in a scale and scope it will offer. I will be one of the few international volunteers from India (four have been selected) helping organise one of the largest gatherings of human beings. And certainly the biggest gathering outside of Asia. (This is the third largest gathering of people at one place after the Haj Pilgrimage and the Kumbh Mela)

I was a delegate for a similar event in Rome in 2000 and ever since I attended the World Youth Day (WYD) 13 years ago I had decided that I would attend one as a volunteer and was keen that the one I would volunteer at would be in Brazil (Some weird fascination for this country because of it’s unique position in South America similar to India’s in Asia). I had heard that when WYD takes place in South America it will be in Brazil as Argentina had hosted one. This dream finally comes true next week and I’m excited to have saved money for this journey.

I have always believed in servant leadership and devoted considerable time over the last 15 years trying to contribute time, money and energy to various causes. The cause closest to my heart is Youth Development and there is no greater global event than the World Youth Day. Read more about this event here and here.

I will be at World Youth Day at Rio de Janiero between 12th and 28th July, 2013

(first in volunteer training and then the actual event)

Here’s why I am going:

a) To learn from others how a gigantic event is organised

b) To help in organising it with a week of selfless service (the money and time I’m spending could have easily got me a holiday in Hawaai)

c) To meet other young people from around the world and share my faith, belief and culture

d) To discover a new culture and be exposed to a week full of events that include cultural shows, catechisis, chill-time and more

e) To experience a global event where a million young people are the chief guests and Pope Francis is the guest of honour

What does this all mean to me and to thousands of other young people who will attend as delegates and volunteers from all around the world

a) Firstly, it is a rare opportunity to be selected to be a volunteer and help in one of the departments that is organising the event

b) Secondly, it is going to be a spiritual experience as we journey with strangers who will become friends over two weeks managing various tasks

c) Thirdly, given all the chaos that is affecting the world this event is certainly aiming at instilling a new belief through faith formation and fellowship that there is more good in this world than evil and that ordinary people like you and I can make all the difference through simple acts of kindness.

PS – While the event is organised by the Roman Catholic Church every delegate who is referred to as a pilgrim pays for his or her own travel and registration and is open to young people of all faiths. This event is not an effort to convert but to enlighten and enrich. Indian delegations in the past have had inter-religious delegates. Follow the event at https://twitter.com/wyd_en / https://www.facebook.com/worldyouthday

334. The curious case of Charudatta

July 7, 2013

Corporate India and corporate communications in India has seen a lot of online chatter in the light of the untimely demise of a much loved and well respected professional. The issue got larger because of the size and reputation of the organisations or brands involved with it and I will not refer to any names of companies or living people in this blog as the matter is sensitive and sub-judice. (DISCLAIMER-  I’m connected with one of the organisations referred to here as an employee of its international office. But I write this in my personal capacity, as a human being first and the promoter of The PRomise Foundation next. Neither my past, present or future employers have anything to do with my writing or have authorised this piece.)

However, I would do grave injustice  if I do not write this blog, both as a case study and a diary of an incident that will repeat in the future given the circumstances that have come to become par for the course. Well first things first – I have no regard for people who take away their lives. But to each their own and sometimes what may seem bearable to some maybe unbearable to others.

I have voiced my opionion on Twitter when Jiah Khan committed suicide last month as an immature act but sometimes it is easy to comment without actually being in the shoes of the one who is suffering. A suicide note helps sort out the mess but in the case of Charudatta there was no such note that has come to light. A few observations  and learnings follow based on conversations I have had with few friends in the media and the various reports I have read.

a) At the time of his death Charudatta was not an employee of any organisation. If his previous organisation had harassed him the best thing for a learned man to do is to blow the whistle either by sharing his plight (in this case by using his connections as a former journalist and a seasoned communicator) or writing a blog with facts and ask for police protection – that is what I would do if I were in a similar situation.

b) In general, while it is easy to blame an ongoing situation it is also possible that other circumstances could have led to one taking their own life including health issues, financial problems and until a thorough inquiry is undertaken there is no point playing the blame game.

c) Dragging the PR firm into a controversy is the flimsiest things media or rival PR firms can do. while the PR firm definitely had no role to play in the death there have been several blogs and articles that point fingers at the PR firm which in my opinion is led by vested interests. At best the PR firm would have taken steps to protect its clients interests given the complication of the case

d) Some reports that featured in various outlets are baseless and speculative which creates unwanted chaos. Some examples are these –

1. Business Standard

2. MxMIndia

3. Business Standard

And here’s the Forbes India story that let all hell break loose.

Well, neither the formal body of PR firms in India which has member firms comprising all except 3 of the Top 10 firms nor the informal grouping of corporate communicators have come forward to voice their opinion on this issue. It is interesting to note how a group of 9 journalists (majority of whom were involved in the Forbes India original story that set the cats among the pigeons) and one HR officer at Charudatta’s previous employer.

Learnings from the aftermath of the suicide –

a) Getting an orthopedic surgeon to perform a cardio-vascular surgery can never ensure a success. Similarly, a bunch of journalists are moving into corporate communications roles now and then. Some of them believe they are better paid while others end up in tragic circumstances. The point to note is Public Relations and Corporate Communications is getting increasingly complex and certainly needs formal training and eduction. Connections and relationships is just one part of the professional qualification. But dealing with egos, expectations and endless demands is the other part. Not to be discounted is a sound base in strategy, execution of tactics and multiple nuances that surround organisations. That is why in-house Public Relations is one of the few professions that has over a dozen names and offshoots – Communications, Corporate Communications, Corporate Affairs, Corporate Relations, Public Affairs, CSR, Internal Communications and many more. If you cannot deal with pressures then this is not a career path to choose.

b) The PR firm representative may have acted in good faith. But if a family had not authorized him or her to speak to the media on the cause of death he or she had no business making that small mistake and pay a heavy price. Suicide is still taboo and most families naturally feel ashamed to state that one of their own has committed suicide. They often will pass off the death as a heart attack but when the truth cannot be concealed in high profile cases an issue is certainly bound to become a crisis. Hence there seems to be a tragedy of two errors that have led to everyone missing the point and focusing on the trivial rather than the core issue. If you are not authorised to represent an individual or organisation don’t cross that line, even in good faith unless you are acting as an individual.

c) While some of the Group of Nine carried the note shared with them by the heads of the PR firm, they did so by putting it up on their Facebook page instead of uploading it on a public site. Similarly, the PR firm which has been wrongfully implicated should have shared their note on a public online forum rather than selectively send it out. Leaders don’t do different things, leaders do things differently. 

d) The point we forget is the nature of the death and what led to it. Instead the focus is on mudslinging and who said what after the death. India is a nation that forgets and sadly this episode will soon get buried when another issue comes up. What we need to do  is focus on the real issues of threats, depression, politics at the workplace and ways to tackle it. If we can’t get our act together with issues as basic how are we going to rule the world.

e)  Lastly, I wrote earlier in the month about another PR firm and how its client are ridiculed on social networks. You can download and read the same here. I say again that a PR firm will most often act like a law firm protecting its client’s interests in good faith acting based on available facts. It is easy to rumour monger and tarnish each others reputation. If only the time and energy wasted  on badmouthing another organisation was spent in building the reputation of the profession much good would be achieved. 

I want to end by saying the oft-repeated line: Tough times don’t last, tough people do. 

Protected: 333. An Open Will…

June 23, 2013

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332. The ABC Award for the Young Professional in Public Relations

June 21, 2013

Under the aegis of The Promise Foundation for Public Relations, three of us fellow professionals Chitrangada Somaiya, Bodhisatya Basuthakur and Amith Prabhu – who are currently based abroad, working for different PR firms have come forward to institute The ABC Award – a first of its kind cash prize to recognise a young professional who is an Ace Business Communicator in the Indian Public Relations community. This is a small step to commemorate 10 years of being in the profession and to celebrate a decade of knowing each other.

We were part of a batch of 13 professionals that a leading Indian PR firm hired directly from various campuses in 2004, to create a unique programme for the profession. Today, some of us have worked in international firms transcending borders and in various continents, thanks to the solid foundation built during our formative years. While we are grateful to our seniors, we believe we owe it to future generations by instituting this award and we are hopeful others will join us by making contributions to increase the number of awards we can offer each year. Our initial commitment is for 10 years. We will review this initiative in 2023 and in between to improvise on it. We are confident that this is small step and will go a long way in identifying future leaders who will be torchbearers for the profession.

The objective of this award is to recognise young professionals who hold promise for the future. Over a period of time, the hope is that this group of diverse individuals who win year-on-year inspire a culture of giving back to the profession and to the community, besides setting benchmarks for the business of Public Relations. We wanted to give back to a profession that has given us a great deal and we could not think of a better way to do this.

The criteria to apply to The ABC Award for the Young Professional is simple and as follows

– be below the age of 30 as on June 30th 2013 and currently be employed by a PR firm

– have worked for at least the past two years continuously after graduation or post-graduation and be employed for the last 12 months (as on June 30th) in the current organisation

A three member jury consisting of in-house Public Relations (corporate communications) professionals will evaluate the one page application independently, to arrive at the annual winner. The founders of the award will have no role to play in deciding the winners. Special mentions of those who are in the Top 5 will also be announced. The winner gets a certificate and a cash prize of Rs 25,000/- The bonus will be a fully paid-for registration to attend PRAXIS 2013 (the premier summit for Indian Public Relations and Corporate Communications professionals), where the winner will be honoured publicly in the presence of professional leaders and peers.

There is a plan to add more categories in the future based on partnerships that are being worked out, including a similar award for a young in-house professional and for professionals at different levels of experience.

Those interested in applying should send a one page application in a pdf format. It should contain a statement of purpose typed, which is no longer than 300 words which describes professional achievements and aspirations for the future, signed by the applicant. This should be followed by a note of recommendation that is not more than 100 words from the branch head of the office, where the applicant is currently based, including his or her name and signature. The application should include links to the applicant’s Linked In & Twitter accounts and  names and email addresses of two individuals from two different organisations that are not part of the applicant’s current organisation (preferably clients or media professionals) that the award promoters may contact for a reference check, to enable the jury to make a better decision. 

Entries maybe emailed to promisefoundationforpr@gmail.com with the pdf document attached to the mail, between June 24th and July 31st with the applicant’s full name underscore ABC 2013 (Full Name_ABC2013) as file name and as the subject line. A second attachment may include a proof of birthdate in the form of a scanned copy of either a driver’s license or a passport. During the month of August a three member jury which we will announce on August 5th will evaluate the applications and the winner will be declared by September 5th. There is no entry fee to apply.

More at –  http://bit.ly/ABCAward