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A Manner of Speaking

By Bonnie and Roger Neugebauer

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When does an idea begin? Is it possible to unravel thinking and events to discover the spark? And, when and if this nascent moment is illuminated, what can be learned? As work continues to create a new project based on the values of the World Forum Foundation and to extend the impact of these values, we have been asked to reflect on the process of creating them. 

  • Children
  • Change
  • Relationships
  • Differences
  • Spirit

How did these five values come to embody what is precious and unique about the World Forum? We’ve been enjoying the journey of our conversations as we’ve reflected and researched. Looking back, it seems quite simple, really; but at the same time, there is a depth to the history that we wouldn’t have anticipated.

Perhaps the greatest insight has been that we didn’t create or choose these values for the World Forum. They were part of us, important aspects of who we wanted to be and how we tried to be with others, and how we intended to spend our lives. Personal values were developed through childhood, honed by how we responded to family and context and experience. Because we share many values with Bruce Schon, Bonnie’s brother, the three of us were drawn to each other; working together was a good thing.

Values in personal life and values in professional life must align if we are to live authentic lives. And when others perceive and share these values, connections are made and communities are built.

The marketing flyer for the first World Forum on Early Care and Education, distributed in 1998, doesn’t call out the World Forum values as such, but you can see them embedded in the messaging from the very beginning.

When we met to imagine a World Forum on Early Care and Education, we began with how we wanted the experience to feel; what would be the impact, the outcome? We wanted to do big work and we wanted it to matter. We weren’t bold enough to say we wanted to change the world, but indeed that was in our hearts.

We wanted people to relish differences, not tolerate them. We constructed an environment in which everyone would be respected equally, no matter their resources, education, or status. We hoped to create possibilities for better futures for all children. We wanted each delegate to experience being a learner and a teacher, and to stimulate change in others at the same time as they were making themselves vulnerable to being changed. We wanted the joy and energy of being together to enable each of us in our own work, and all of us together as a community, to be changemakers for children.

But the most surprising thing of all was that while we—Bruce, Roger and Bonnie—had the first conversations, when people arrived in Honolulu in 1999, the “we” immediately became all of us as a community, protecting our special opportunity of being together and creating this new initiative. This complex, engaging larger “we” has just kept growing. Delegates from all over the world came to Honolulu because they sensed and shared our values, and it is these values that continue to engage people.

So, to be clear, we did not invent a list of values as the World Forum grew. The values for how we did our work and how we wanted others to be with us grew naturally from who we were and from our experiences and contexts as family, community, and partners.This was true for all of us who became part of this initiative, no matter what roles we played.

Here is how it was for us: In raising a family of four children, and in relating to each other as spouses, our approach—or at least our intent—had always been to keep everyone involved in making decisions, to support our children’s explorations of who they could be, to insist they take responsibility for their lives, to always have dinner together no matter what, and, most importantly, to laugh and enjoy each other. We read, talked, and traveled as a family to explore the wider world and see things from new perspectives.

With Exchange magazine, we found great pleasure in connecting people and ideas. We made sure our booths, presentations and events were unique and focused on connections and relationships across boundaries and over time. When we launched a series of Directors Network Retreats, administrators from all types of organizations and communities connected and changed each other in profound ways. There was something innovative about how we engaged in these activities that drew people. Perhaps it was how vulnerable we made ourselves, how inclusive we tried to be, how we were always in search of a new risk, a cutting-edge idea. We put ourselves out there and we loved what we were doing and the people we were doing it with. That had to be part of it. 

When we arrived at the point of designing the very first World Forum on Early Care and Education, we were naturally inclined to create an event that:

  • Focused on the lives of all children throughout the world. (CHILDREN)
  • Made it easy for people to connect and develop friendships. (RELATIONSHIPS)
  • Included early childhood professionals from all cultures, resources, life experiences, beliefs, philosophies and geographic locations. (DIFFERENCES)
  • Provoked delegates to take action to change the world for children. (CHANGE)
  • Celebrated the importance of this work and the people doing the work—with joy, playfulness and hope. (SPIRIT)

In 2013, we convened a group of key stakeholders in the World Forum to think strategically about where we were and what the World Forum could become. One exercise was to brainstorm our core values. What was unique and precious and must be protected? The values articulated were embedded in the work—it was not a list of values that we wished for, but rather of what was already in place. By identifying these values, we were better able to speak to the strengths of the World Forum. They gave us a roadmap for decision-making and a way to keep the World Forum safe.

These shared values will continue to guide the journey of the World Forum. They will continue to draw in new advocates and changemakers. Our values will ground our mission and vitalize our intentions. We are bolder now. We do intend to change the world for all children.



World Forum Foundation Values

Children — focusing on the rights and needs of children worldwide

Change — changing ourselves and others in order to change the world

Relationships — creating authentic connections grounded in empathy

Differences — valuing differences as opportunities for deeper learning

Spirit — being joyful and steadfastly hopeful


Author Bios

Bonnie and Roger Neugebauer are the founding editor and publisher of Exchange magazine and co-founders of the World Forum Foundation.