In an event held at Finster Auditorium on 3 May 2024, the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) community gathered for a pakighinabi (conversation session) led by Fr. Karel S. San Juan, SJ, the University President, to discuss the University’s upcoming strategic planning. Organized by the Office of the President, the session provided an opportunity for faculty, staff, students, and alumni to reflect on and contribute to the university’s strategic direction in a spirit of discernment, leadership, and synodality.

Fr. San Juan began the session with an overview of the pakighinabi, setting the stage for an in- depth discussion on the university’s strategic planning process as its current plan approaches its end in 2025. He stressed the crucial role this process plays in shaping ADDU’s future path, underscoring the key themes of discernment, leadership, and synodality as fundamental to the university’s direction.

Drawing from his experiences and leadership philosophy, Fr. San Juan offered insights into different leadership styles, underscoring the necessity for flexibility, adaptability, and service- oriented leadership. He advocated for a transcendent approach to leadership that prioritizes the common good and empowers individuals at all levels of the university community to actively participate in the strategic planning process.

The discussion touched on ADDU’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) context, both within the university and the broader global landscape. Fr. San Juan acknowledged the challenges these realities present and encouraged the community to face them with conversation and contemplation, striving for clarity, creativity, and confidence.

Lead Conversants (Reactors) from various units and roles within the university shared their perspectives on the discussion. Ms. Glynes Jean V. Ibañez, Assistant Headmaster for Administration, appreciated the focus on thoughtful discernment, while Mr. Paul Ivan Lendl F. Gelvosa, Assistant Principal for Formation, expressed both excitement and apprehension about the journey ahead. Mr. Evan A. Larona, Philosophy Cluster Leader in Senior High School, valued the holistic approach and emphasis on relationships and collegiality, and Mr. Noriel R. Rogon, Faculty in the Philosophy Department, found the emphasis on synodality and the university’s Catholic identity particularly resonant.

The open forum allowed attendees to ask questions and seek guidance on how to integrate these themes into their work and relationships. Fr. San Juan encouraged continued dialogue and reflection, acknowledging that the synodal process goes beyond strategic planning and requires sustained effort to grow together.

During the session, participants engaged in a reflective exercise, addressing key questions about how synodality influences their understanding of effective leadership, moments of discernment, and insights for integrating these principles into strategic planning. Responses highlighted the challenges and rewards of a consultative approach to strategic planning, particularly in a large institution like ADDU.

One participant noted the empowering nature of this approach, despite the challenges of coordinating the diverse perspectives of the university community. Others expressed their belief in the audacious and transformative potential of synodality, emphasizing the need for openness, trust, and prayerful contemplation throughout the process.

Participants also shared their experiences with current strategic planning challenges, such as issues with implementation and operational plans, as well as concerns about resistance from those who may not share the vision of synodality. However, the conversations remained hopeful, with a collective commitment to address these obstacles and pursue meaningful, Spirit-led change at ADDU.

The session closed with reflections on how strategic planning can be enriched by the integration of synodality, discernment, and effective leadership, while also recognizing the need for a clear plan and consistent follow-through. Through these discussions, the university community demonstrated its readiness to embrace a more holistic, consultative, and Spirit- guided approach to planning for the future.

The key takeaways from the pakighinabi highlighted the importance of unifying efforts and fostering honest and open conversations. Mr. Ricjan R. Ricablanca, representing the non- teaching personnel, emphasized the value of being adaptive, discerning, dialogical, and mutually supportive and respectful in the dialogue process. Ms. Leen Juliet S. Lapatis, president-elect of the SAMAHAN student government, found the event crucial for providing a framework for her administration and promised collaboration between the student body and administration. Dr. Vida Mia S. Valverde emphasized the importance of integrating data-driven decision-making before moving beyond abstractions in strategic planning at Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU). She highlighted the necessity of effective collegiality and honest conversations to establish a foundation of synodality, which will enable the university to proceed as a truly synodal institution. Ms. Carl Michelle T. Ong, representing the alumni, appreciated the open and honest atmosphere of the event, noting the empowering nature of the discussions.

The event was moderated by Ms. Lilibeth L. Arcena, Assistant to the President for Advancement, and the closing message was delivered by Atty. Romeo T. Cabarde, Jr., Assistant to the President for Advocacy and Legal Affairs.

As ADDU begins this new chapter, the University community’s shared commitment to discernment, leadership, and synodality will be instrumental in guiding its future. By fostering ongoing dialogue and engagement, ADDU strives to overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities, nurturing holistic growth while upholding its mission to serve and lead in Mindanao.

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