If one has received a letter or written statement from The Duke of Edinburgh, one is witness to a clarity of thought and economy of pen second to none. Consider this:
“The structure of the conferences has remained constant simply because it has been shown to work. The principal of learning by observing and discussion was established from the inception and every opportunity is provided for opinions and assessments to be debated forcefully, but objectively.”
Here is the essence of the Duke of Edinburgh’s study conferences, designed by His Royal Highness, initiated in 1956, and continuing to challenge the assumptions of up and coming leaders 63 years later. By design, it is the only leadership program where one completes the curriculum quite aware you know less at the end than when you started. Once again, Prince Philip:
“The purpose of the conference is to look at the tensions, problems and opportunities created by this dichotomy between industrial enterprise and community development.”
Here the study conference process – the plenaries, the study groups, the strict Chatham House rule, the vigorous but respectful debate, the report-backs on observations (not recommendations), and of course the diversity so critical to the experience.
Some have questioned the value of investing significant resources in such a relatively small group of emerging leaders. The analogy used in response is that it is like adding a drop of red wine to a glass of water. It changes everything. Developing more mindful and sophisticated leaders changes the organizations and the societies in which they operate.
As we near the centenary of Prince Philip’s birth, there can be no better time to celebrate what he achieved with the Commonwealth Study Conferences and their vigorous spin-off conferences, and to remind ourselves of how much he has personally cared about improving civil society. And now (as he said all along) the task of extending this profound gift to future generations lies with those of us who have been the beneficiaries.