Recently, I was one of a fortunate group of 30 museum professionals who undertook training at the Getty Leadership Institute in Claremont, California.
Founded by the Getty Foundation, the institute has been training museum leaders since 1970.
There are several extremely interesting factors about the training and the group of trainees that show the big contrast in approach and concept between the Kenyan and American cultures.
Out of 30 trainees, only five were men. While Kenya is struggling with the two third rule and tokenism in public representation of women, American society is unapologetic on the achievement of women, and can allow the enjoyment of high-powered, female led and dominated groups without reservation or apology. Quite refreshing for a Kenyan.
Most amazingly, not a single person has raised an issue about it or even commented, suggesting that it is normal in this part of the world.
The group was predominantly composed of Americans, a couple of Europeans, a Chinese and a Kenyan. I was the only black person, if I might just say it.
This might also be an indication of a global shift in the gender equation. Acceptance into the program is very competitive and the fact that the majority of competitors are women in itself points to a certain global trend.
It gives me the idea that Kenyan women do not need to have places reserved for them in politics or even in government, especially those who are competitive. Kenyan women are just as capable of getting into these positions as other women in the world.
"DEBATE WITH YOURSELF"
Appointments are, of course a completely different story, as patriarchy and politics may still rule in spite of the obvious qualifications women hold that may match or even better those of their competition.
Another difference is that everyone talks way too much, even when they do not seem to have anything “useful” to say. I put useful in quotes as it is a perception.
Someone raises their hand starts to talk, and halfway through they give up presenting an idea and claim they’ve thought of a counter idea.
It seems in this part of the world you can have a full blown debate with yourself, loudly, in public, and in an organised formal environment among your peers.
That is brave by many definitions, the kind of bravery exhibited by a Kenyan politician. Just open your mouth, let words pour out and think later.
The training was amazing, well thought out, conducted by professionals of the highest calibre and intended to create leaders in the museum profession.
Many people do not necessarily think of museums in a business sense, but that is the current global dispensation.
I am particularly fascinated with a concept called thought leadership. It reminds of the great political giants of pan Africanism, such as Kwame Nkrumah, who thought of these great ideas that had the potential to change Africa, but which were only followed through in the short term.
While the downside is that they were not practiced or maybe believed in long enough to make the desired impact, the bright side is that philosophies are accessible to any one at any time.
For philosophy to be considered successful, however, there have to be followers who are able and willing to test, implement, follow them through and review them.
Our training took place at Claremont Graduate University, on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles.
Like many university towns in the west, it is picturesque, interesting, with a large student community and an idealist atmosphere about it. But that may be just my perception as a visiting trainee -cum -academic.
This city has six universities and or colleges, which is what our capital city is aspiring to be, with all the stateliness of public and private universities.
The training had a lot of group work, and I was, for a while, quite over my head with all the futuristic ideas that were floated. Everything seemed to be “Star Wars”-based, yet the challenges and issues facing museums seem to be very similar regardless of geographical locations.
It might be that similar is just not so similar after all.