Editorial & Analysis
03 May 2013
The Global Leadership Foundation, chaired by former South African President F. W. de Klerk, had a problem; its members, including de Klerk himself, are among the most capable yet time-starved people on the planet. Video conferencing was a good way forward.
The objective of the organization is to offer discreet and confidential help to today’s decision makers and policy makers from their predecessors. Sir Robert Fulton, chief executive of the GLF, explained to Unified Communications Insight that the calibre of members is high. There are 35 members including Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations Secretary General’s special representative in Syria, Baroness Lynda Chalker in the UK, Javier Solana, former secretary general of NATO, HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan, Hans van den Broek, former minister for foreign affairs in the Netherlands and many others – the chairman, Mr. de Klerk, having been largely behind the end of South Africa’s apartheid regime and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
Sir Robert confirmed that inevitably these individuals are time-starved and yet in high demand. “If I want some of their time I’ve got to make best use of every single minute of it,” he said. The issue was that board meetings and indeed many other meetings would typically include people from different parts of the world, and making this happen as painlessly as possible for all the members was very difficult.
Sir Robert joined the organization in the summer of 2010. The first stage was to persuade the board that going down the video conferencing route was the right thing to do. “We had to convince them that the whole issue of video conferencing was worthwhile,” he said. “We’d tried voice conferencing and so on and none of it was very satisfactory.” It was the quality of the LifeSize picture and sound that convinced people, he explained, that led to it being used for a live board meeting which was deemed a success. This was in October 2012 and included sending the three American board members to a studio in Washington to ensure quality.
“People commented very favourably and it is now a part of the way we do normal business,” he explained. It is now used on the desktop in London and a weekly team meeting takes place in both London and Paris using the technology, as well as briefings between Sir Robert and Mr. de Klerk in South Africa.
The core staff is tiny, three full timers and two part timers, but the real benefit is in getting quality time from the aforementioned members – meetings that would otherwise not have taken place, would have involved travelling time or would have taken place by phone now have that extra visual dimension. “[[The members] are senior people, former presidents, prime ministers, who are accustomed to talking face to face to people and they want to see the person to whom they are talking. They need to see them with quality approaching that of a face to face contact. The problems one used to get with video conferencing, of blurred speech, indistinct or fuzzy pictures, those are the quickest way to lose people’s attention when they get frustrated. This offers us a way of guaranteeing the quality that is important to me and gives me the confidence to say ‘be there at that time and you will have a good conference with X or Y’.”