The GBC’s First International Leadership Sanga (ILS)

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By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News

A unique second festival will be held alongside the world-famous Mayapur Festival this year in West Bengal, India. On behalf of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission, the GBC’s Strategic Planning Team will organize the first International Leadership Sanga (ILS) from February 10th to 17th.

The festival is the GBC’s attempt to reach out to ‘middle tier’ leaders all over ISKCON—unsung heroes working hard on the ground to keep their temple going day to day. At ILS, they will see the big picture (that ISKCON is alive and well and vibrant around the world); meet and share challenges and successes with fellow leaders; and be entertained and inspired by seminars and special performances. The GBC hopes that they can then take these experiences back to their base and encourage and inspire their individual constitutencies.

Another major aspect of the event is to give the leaders the chance to meet and build rapport with the GBC members, and vice versa.

“The GBC hopes that the International Leadership Sanga will give devotees the chance to see the relevance of the GBC body in action, thus helping to increase awareness of the GBC and develop its identity in ISKCON,” says ILS onsite organizer Laxmimoni Dasi, who is also the GBC secretary and a member of the Strategic Planning Team since 2008.

She says that the GBC will use the ILS to gather information by polling and surveying leaders. “We want to get a dialogue going, hear what they have to say and use that information to better serve devotees,” she explains.

The ILS is invite-only—each GBC member was asked to recommend outstanding managers or preachers in their zones for invitation.

The event is reported to be the biggest sanga of ISKCON leaders in the society’s history, with 309 devotees from all over the world already confirmed, including temple presidents, non-GBC sannyasi and gurus, regional secretaries, and leading preachers.

Attendees will begin each day with the traditional ISKCON morning program at the temple, including a themed class by senior devotees like Hari Sauri Dasa and Malati Dasi on topics such as leadership qualities and Srila Prabhupada’s style of management.

The days, meanwhile, will be packed with seminars, plenary sessions, and question and answer sessions with various leaders and GBC members.

Speakers will include ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Dasa on communication skills and how to present Krishna consciousness to the media; European Comunications Director Mahaprabhu Dasa on interfaith dialogue; Devakinandana Dasa on fundraising; and Laxmimoni Dasi on polarity management.

Meanwhile Vraja Lila Dasi and Harideva Dasa of South Africa will discuss caring leadership in Devotee Care Made Easy; Bhakti Marg Swami will give some tips on how to build a drama team in Exploring the Culture of Vaishnava Art; and Jaya Krishna Dasa will speak on succession in ISKCON.

“We’re trying to get the temple presidents and preaching leaders to realize the need for finding and training new leaders,” Laxmimoni says. “We are getting old and passing on, so we need to bring them on soon.”

Seminars will be held in ISKCON Mayapur’s Sankirtan Building, and in the Mayapur Academy of Deity Worship. The plenary sessions—which will be translated into Chinese, Russian and other dialects through radio transmission for foreign language attendees—will be held in a large pandal (tent) on the lawn in front of the Vamsi Building.

The plenaries will include presentations by heads of the various recently established GBC Strategic Planning Team committees, such as Devotee Care, Community Relations, and Organizational Development, in which the committees’ plans will be laid out and attendees will get the chance to get involved in these exciting initiatives.

“The lawn in front of the Vamsi building will also be home to a large 1,500 square foot display by the Rural Development Committee, showing village life and explaining how some aspects of it can be included in temples around the world,” says Laxmimoni.

ISKCON Mayapur will provide three delicious prasadam meals daily for the attendees. And the ILS will also offer plenty of spiritual activities, including five parikramas (pilgrimages) to different holy places in the area, led by Lokanath and Bhakti Purushottama Swamis for one hour every afternoon.

Then there will be entertainment, which, like everything else at the event, will be centered around the focus of strategic planning, and will cover topics like increasing ISKCON’s unity, and making more devotees and happier devotees.

If the event is a success, the GBC’s Strategic Planning Team hope to put on an International Leadership Sanga regularly, around once every three years.

“We hope that the ILS will give devotees an appreciation for the vastness of ISKCON,” Laxmimoni says. “When we are in our little homes in remote corners of the world, struggling alone, we don’t realize we are part of a big family. The ILS will give devotees a chance to taste that.”

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