EWC Leadership Fellows Turn to Doris Duke’s Shangri La

At the Honolulu based East-West Center, an education and research institution for public diplomacy, cooperative study, and leadership development faculty are tasked with training ambitious, emerging international leaders to create a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia Pacific community. To ensure relevance, trainings often involve a project based, service learning experience with a partnering community organization or business based in Hawaii.

In the past, partners supporting EWC experiential learning opportunities range from the Hawaii Food Bank to the US Department of State. Recently however, faculty of the EWC Leadership Certificate Program sought a case study that would help their fellows clarify and question how values and priorities can inform leader’s legacies while enhancing their cultural literacy.

The 2014 EWC Leadership Certificate Program cohort is comprised of ten fellows from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, and the Philippines. All are supported by the Asian Development Bank – Japan Scholarship Program (ADB-JSP) for graduate study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Faculty determined that the Doris Duke story embodied in Shangri La, Duke’s former residence overlooking Diamond Head, provided the ideal case study. So they turned to the staff of Shangri La for help.

Seeking to utilize Shangri La as a laboratory, EWC faculty reached out to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) who agreed to collaborate. They then tasked their Leadership Certificate Program cohort with a seemingly simple leadership challenge: fulfill Doris Duke’s legacy. However, seeking to simulate the high-pressure, short time frame conditions leaders find themselves in today, faculty challenged the cohort to complete the task in four weeks while still attending to their full-time graduate study at UH Manoa.

Fellows began by reflecting upon the leadership styles and approaches of Duke and DDFIA’s leaders as well as the organization’s position of leadership in the community. Fellows then attempted to develop expertise in Islamic art & culture through visits and discussions at Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Through in depth conversations with Carol Khewhok, Program Manager at Shangri La, fellows realized the need to build on successful past projects of DDFIA and align their ideas with the following more specific leadership challenges:

  • What educational events can DDFIA use to break through prejudices and stereotypes against Islam?
  • What types of new programming can DDFIA develop that reach a diverse public while adhering to the conditional use permit for Shangri La?
  • How can DDFIA address the severe conservation needs faced by the collection given the property’s location and the open-air nature of the museum?

At the end of the four week module, EWC Leadership Certificate Fellows pitched their responses to the Shangri La Executive Director Deborah Pope and Program Manager Carol Khewhok in what faculty term a “Reality Test.” Also joining were the EWC Director of External Affairs Karen Knudsen, EWC Education Director Terance Bigalke, EWC Dean of Education Mary Hammond, EWC Director of Leadership Programs Scott Macleod, and fellows from other EWC leadership programs.

A few of the EWC Leadership Certificate Fellows innovative proposals included:

  • A DDFIA sponsored certificate program at the University of Hawaii facilitated by the East-West Center to increase understanding and break through prejudices and stereotypes against Islam
  • A walk through virtual reality tour of Shangri La hosted at the DDFIA partner Honolulu Museum of Art to increase exposure without violating the limitations set by the conditional use permit
  • A natural disaster resilience plan for severe tsunamis, fires, or hurricanes that could threaten the structural integrity of the facilities housing the collection

Fellows diversity enabled them to go beyond applying knowledge gained from past professional experience in their home countries. The interdisciplinary background of the cohort, which includes Urban Planning, Law, Public Policy, and Economics, enabled them to offer unique perspectives and insights from their different fields and thus a broader range of EWC Group, Oct. 31innovative ideas.

Shangri La leaders provided helpful and meaningful feedback for the EWC Fellows work. “I really enjoyed the presentations and was impressed by the participants” commented Ms. Pope. “I was frankly excited to see Shangri La used in this very active, engaged way.”

About the Guest Author: Lance Boyd is an international leadership educator at the East-West Center. Lance’s experience in Asia includes two Fulbright Fellowships in Japan and Singapore, service as a USAID environmental education consultant for ASEAN, and an Earthwatch funded researcher on insectivorous bats in peninsular Malaysia. In Europe, Lance studied as an undergraduate in Austria, completed a MA at the International School for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and completed a Goethe Institute funded study of the environmental movement in Germany. While working for the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science he also earned a MA in Education Foundations.

Pelin Esmer in Honolulu

Although Hawai‘i, as a crossroads between the United States, Asia, and the Pacific, is a very cosmopolitan place, it is rare to find connections to Turkish culture—and visitors from Turkey are even rarer. Shangri La was pleased to host Turkish filmmaker Pelin Esmer for a five-day residency January 10–14, 2014.

Esmer arrived on January 10 from snow-bound Idaho, the previous stop on her lecture tour. She seemed shocked as she emerged from Honolulu International Airport into the blazing sunshine and warmth. She was delighted to learn that her hotel sat on the beach in Waikīkī, and was able to add a daily swim to her busy schedule.

Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Esmer’s first public presentation was on January 11—an afternoon talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker. The talk was moderated by Dr. Vilsoni Hereniko, an award-winning Fijian filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Hawai‘i. That evening, Esmer introduced a screening of her award-winning film Watchtower at the Honolulu Museum of Art and answered questions from the audience following the film.

Esmer also gave a presentation and screened film clips to students enrolled in Global Studies classes at James Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach, which gave her a chance to experience O‘ahu’s more rural settings. The students enjoyed her clips and comments, and had many questions for her about how she writes the stories for her films, about how she gets her films made, and about everyday life for people in Turkey. Her presentation at Campbell High School was co-sponsored by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a Honolulu-based organization with a mission to promote greater awareness and understanding of international affairs and to strengthen Hawai‘i’s role in the Asia/Pacific Region.

Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

In every presentation, Pelin Esmer clearly demonstrated that her stories about life, everyday problems, and the complexities of human emotions resonate with people worldwide. Those who were lucky enough to attend her events are already asking when she will return to Honolulu. Shangri La staff are grateful to Caravanserai for helping us bring such a wonderful and talented filmmaker to Hawai‘i. We hope that the transition from Honolulu to Anchorage, Esmer’s next stop, won’t be too much of a shock for her!