Jun Ryan Comodero Orbina, who completed Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge 2014 Summer Course, works as the Laboratory Manager and Communication and Engagement Officer for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the national infectious disease agency of the Department of Health in the Philippines. He revealed his thoughts and impressions on the Fujitsu Scholarship program, the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program, as well as his Capstone Project, and his ambitions towards the future. His remarks follow:

―How did you find out about the Fujitsu Scholarship program?

I found out about it through Facebook. I was looking at the newsfeed and the information came at an opportune time when I had a lot of mid-career questions, such as how can I further emerge to become a good leader? How can I better motivate people? How could I make good decisions for my organization? And how can my organization create a better impact in public health? The newsfeed on the Fujitsu Scholarship program really sparked my interest, so I researched more about it, and that’s why I’m here now.

―What appealed to you most in terms of the scholarship and the program to participate?

For the past 14 years, I have been working as a specialist in molecular biology in an infectious disease research institute. However, I now also work as a science communicator, and my job requires my technical background to bridge over to the non-technical audience. Being a science communicator requires me to be exposed to different cultures outside the field of science.

The program appealed to me as very relevant to my professional context. First, the program’s courses are diverse. The program has courses that I never took before, like courses in business and liberal arts. These subjects are offered because at the core of the program is the philosophy that knowledge and skills in these areas are prerequisites to be a good leader with practical wisdom. Second, the program has unique and diverse learning approaches. The participants do not only undergo the usual classroom learning, are also exposed to case studies and actual environments in various industries. The program has guest lecturers from various companies, as well as company and field visits – all of which aim for participants to learn more about a business topic not just in theory but how it is used in actuality. Third, the program congregates professionals from different countries, all of whom are eager to develop their leadership skills. I was interested in what that multi-cultural learning environment would be like, especially that the group will travel from one country to another, and will exposed to different cultures in a short amount of time. By attending the program, I saw myself as becoming more permeable to and accepting of other cultures. I thought that such would make me more flexible as a science communicator, more adaptable in going out in the field to find out and help address what the real public health needs are.

―Upon actually attending, what are your impressions and opinions for the program?

I find the program both exciting and challenging. I constantly had to extend my perspective beyond my limited and specialist way of thinking. The 20 participants of the program come from specialized fields and as mid-career professionals, most of us are accustomed to thinking along our specializations. The challenge was for us to go through courses that most of us have never experienced before, and to get into discussions and environments which stretch our thinking skills beyond our fields of specialization. For example, in the Hawaii module, we would learn about economics in the morning, and in the afternoon, we would discuss philosophy. It was this daily grind which allowed us to stretch our minds and have a wider worldview and more informed opinions. Our interactions with our professors and lecturers – all of whom are experts in their own fields – enabled a more enriched learning experience.

Another exciting aspect is the daily interaction with classmates. Each class would have its own share of group work. The group composition changes every time, and you will never know who you would be grouped with the next day. With the pretty interesting mix of people with different academic backgrounds, different expertise, and different ways of doing things, I think that all of us learnt how to be flexible and adapt to each other, so that we would efficiently deliver output while maintaining harmonious working environment.

―How about the staff?

I think that the Fujitsu-JAIMS staff were all very kind, but at the same time they ensured that we had the right discipline in this program. The program has a very tight schedule. The staff were very kind to ensure that we had a comfortable learning environment. At the same time, they were very organized to ensure that we follow the very strict schedule, especially that the program entailed a lot of transfers from one place to another.

―Among the things you have learnt, what do you think will become useful in your next action?

One of my core learnings from this program is that for every decision in an organization, or for every situation which requires an innovative solution, a leader should always exercise the skills to find the essence of the situation, and subsequently find the root cause of the issue. The root cause needs to be addressed to successfully tackle the issue. Too often, when we get into a situation, we tend to see and get distracted by the other issues which appear on the surface – issues which may just be symptomatic of the root cause. The program taught us how to immerse oneself in the situation, use all our senses and our intuition so that one could identify the root cause and address such by making judgments or decisions based on common good.

Another key takeaway is having a more open mindset in experiencing cultures. One of my favorite classes in the Hawaii module was the multi-culturalism and global citizenship course. The course was about Hawaii – what Hawaii is beyond the image that tourism has created. We learned of Hawaii’s history and its present struggles, including the fight of Hawaiians for their sovereignty. What we learned in the course extended beyond Hawaii – that when we experience an new place and culture, we shouldn’t just accept what we see initially, but we have to delve into the situation and learn of its history and hear of stories of its people, so that we can have a better sense of the identity and culture of the place. Personally, I find this applicable as I go beyond the scientific culture and communicate and form relationships outside the sphere of what I have been used to – that we shouldn’t take other cultures at face value, but should immerse ourselves in the culture to better understand it.

―Can you tell us about your Capstone Project?

We have been working on our Capstone Project from before coming to the program, up to our last day. All of us started out with a bit of an idea on the issue we wanted to tackle. Along the way and as we learned from courses in the program, we analyzed our issue further and proposed the solution.

The initial trigger issue I had for my Capstone Project was that with my 14 years of work at the RITM, why don’t all our research work and surveillance work – create consistently strong public impact? Some of them do, of course – there are quite a number of success stories – but why are these stories not all across the board, with all scientific output? As I went along the project doing interviews with people at work and visiting actual site called Gemba Watching in similar institutions in Tokyo, I found out that the problem was not limited within the Institution, but involves other institutions – particularly how my institute fosters relationships with other institutes within the Department of Health. I realized that the core problem was that RITM doesn’t collaborate very well with other institutes, such that the knowledge we generate is rather limited within our own Institute. The need then is share our scientific output across institutes and combine the knowledge with those produced by others in order to make a more effective decision on what public health measure should be taken to tackle certain problems.

I decided to focus the project on Dengue fever because Dengue is an endemic problem in the Philippines. What I envision is the integration of all the information we have on Dengue, and to form an interface to combine knowledge across all the institutions working on Dengue. For example, our laboratory produces information on the virus, such as looking at viral characteristics. Another institute deals with looking at how many sick people there are, while another institute looks at how many mosquitoes carry the virus. When all these knowledge are combined and integrated, all the different stakeholders will have a more comprehensive view of the Dengue problem in the country, rather seeing all the data discretely as what we have been used to doing. The combined knowledge will make the individual work of the institutes more efficient. It could be used to create an early warning system for Dengue outbreaks in the Philippines, to look for relevant research questions which address real public health needs, or to provide a platform where Institutions could experience collaborative successes in Dengue control.

The initial challenge I have when I return to the Philippines is lobbying for support for the project. I work at only one of the institutions which will be involved in the project. I thus need to convince my director to support the project so she can also champion the project to other institutions we collaborate with. I think what is important all the institutions buy in and have ownership of the project, that this is a project that all institutions would want to do together and sustain. This would pose a challenge, but I’m excited at how this project will unfold.

What I have also learnt through the program is that while I lobby the project, I should also be flexible to changes. When I get into the actual situation, some specifics which I have in mind might not be always be the applicable in reality. It may be different from what the people actually need in the field, so I also am also ready for the concept to be challenged in order that it becomes more useful to all involved.

―On a longer term, what do you intend to do after attending the program?

Before coming to the program, I was assigned by my Institute to head our Communication and Engagement Office, with the primary role of translating scientific information for use of our non-specialist audience. This is on top of my job as lab manager for the Molecular Biology Laboratory. Having learned about knowledge management in the program has made me rethink on how my office should function more effectively. Since the Institute I work with produces a lot of information which may not necessarily be knowledge or usable information for other stakeholders, I am now thinking of how to transform the new office, not just for translate information, but more importantly for knowledge creation. Knowledge creation needs to take place not just within my own institution, but also as we work with other institutions, in order for all health agencies to create optimal public health impact.

I also personally want to further my studies in a graduate program where I can meld my biomedical science and science communication background with a better understanding of the communities which will use the interventions created in the laboratory. I am aware of such programs in this translational field, and I am eager to pursue one in the near future.

―What are your future ambitions?

I intend to excel in both the biomedical science field and in the area of health science communication. I aim to be a global leader in ensuring that the technical knowledge produced from the laboratory as applicable to and useful for the public health needs. The endpoint is always to help the public in the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

Also, I want to look not just at health problems of my country, but also global health problems as well. Infectious diseases don’t recognize boundaries, and a disease can spread from one country to another very fast. I desire to be a prime mover in optimizing the use of scientific knowledge in addressing global public health issues. The program has provided a lot of catalysts to this dream. The program not only provided the needed knowledge and skills for global leadership. It has al provided me with good networks of classmates with different backgrounds, all of whom are experts in their own fields. The program introduced us to faculty from various countries and backgrounds, from whom we can seek for advice. The program also has provided us access to a wide network of alumni, which again could help us in our respective career goals.

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