Corporate Community Connections

 British Airways World Sales Conference –'Inspiring People'  (1998)


In April 1998, 350 British Airway’s top sales executives, from 83 different countries, came to Chicago for their world sales conference to bring to life their value of "Inspiring People". Imagine Chicago was their chosen partner. The intergenerational cross-cultural conference paired the executives with 400 members of the Chicago Children’s Choir for a day of music, coaching, good questions, reflection, and exhibit creation. The conference was held at the Field Museum of Natural History, a museum known for its educational emphasis on cultural understanding. The executives brought objects to teach the children about music-making, everyday life and inspiring community activities in their home countries.

The day began with the children singing to the executives as they walked through the museum and into the theatre. Once seated together, they participated in coaching sessions led by British corporate performance consultants. They put their coaching skills to practice throughout the museum, working in teams to ask questions that expand ways of seeing, and to understand how an exhibit tells its story.

At lunchtime, the children taught their adult partners a South African freedom song, which they then performed for the children. The adults’ anxiety turned to wonder when their collective sound was good. Together the teams created ‘inspiration’ exhibits from objects the executives had brought from their home countries, reflecting important aspects of everyday life, music, and inspiration. An activity guide, created by Imagine Chicago and the Field Museum, took the adults and children through key steps necessary to create a museum exhibit. Embedded lessons reinforced active listening, team-building, imaginative thinking, seeing connections, and keeping the whole in view as key skills for coaching. Each team gathered questions and stories, which were combined with the objects, to create inspiring activity boxes from which children could learn about cultures around the world. As a lasting legacy, the objects were subsequently organized into traveling exhibits within the Field Museum’s Harris Loan Center collection to teach about different cultures.

The intergenerational dynamic created an energizing, active learning space. The day, described as "magical" by the British Airways director of sales world-wide, met three key Imagine Chicago criteria for building effective partnerships: it helped develop the individuals involved; it built capacity for the organizations involved and helped each accomplish and extend their own institutional mission; and it built valuable citywide and worldwide connections.

As far as British Airways and Imagine Chicago know, this was the first time that corporate executives were linked with children to develop management skills, and was viewed by participants as a great success. The connections established led to British Airways’ sponsoring a Chicago Children's Choir 1999 summer U.K. tour.