27The Beijing Exploring Culture Development Holding Company, Ltd. and The Tai Initiative are once again working together this summer to bring practical lessons about leadership to dozens of Chinese youth, helping and guiding them to develop real, workable plans for pursuing their life dreams.

This program, named the Gobi Expeditionary Army (戈壁远征军), enters its third year in 2016, for the second year to be held in the Gobi Spring, 95km east of Dunhuang (敦煌) and 40km south of Guazhou (瓜州), in Gansu province.  In this isolated, protected yet also inspiring and nourishing valley, the campers learn more about themselves and others than they could have ever imagined.

1908Tai Initiative Executive Director Carson Tavenner (泰卡森) is the camp commandant, responsible for the design, development and execution of training curriculum in coordination with Chinese friend and partner Zhou Baolin (周宝林).  Zhou and Tavenner met in Changsha, Hunan, in the summer of 2014 through mutual friends.  Knowing there was a great need for rigorous training for Chinese youth and young adults, not only for gaining leadership skills early in life but also for nurturing ethical and moral development in themselves and others, Zhou had earlier set out to work with excellent partners in China who shared the same vision.  His years of friendship and work with Beijing Exploring Culture Development Holding Co. CEO Qu Xiangdong (曲向东) soon brought Tavenner closer into the picture as well; they then collaboratively brought their complementary skills together in a summer camp producing campers with grit and physical fortitude, but also having compassion and a heart for serving others.  The result was the Gobi Expeditionary Army.
The training camp at Gobi Spring is the first of two important halves of the program.  The second half is a four-day hike crossing a segment of the famous Gobi desert with hundreds of additional walkers; the nomadic group camps in austere locations at night, walking by day past ruins and relics of the ancient Han dynasty.

04This year, the training at Gobi Spring is going to be more than twice as challenging, exciting, and fun!  Whereas last year’s curriculum focused primarily on developing a marching program alongside the development of introductory leadership material, this year will add an element of camp organization in which returning campers from last year’s program will take on leadership roles over new first-year campers; a new schedule of interlacing challenges themed on 34treasure hunting in the desert will also create new experiences to stretch the imagination and enhance camper confidence.  This year will also see the introduction of a physical challenge designed to be the starting point of a year-round standing obstacle course at the oasis facility.

Producing high-quality candidates for global leadership in the professional world is a long-term goal of the program and its founders.  Public communication, critical thinking, and giving feedback are three skills expected of junior and senior leadership in the international system of public diplomacy and multinational institutions.  Zhou and Tavenner work together to ensure such lessons are appropriately nestled within the GEA curriculum.  In addition, to further heighten and strengthen the international experience for all, American youth and other internationals will be sought out and encouraged to attend in future years.

32The second half of the overall two-week experience is a four-day hike including hundreds of younger Chinese children and their parents.  The graduates of the previous week of training in the Gobi Spring of the Gobi Expeditionary Army are then tested in “real time” by their placement with small teams of younger hikers.  GEA campers are expected to attend to the organization, goals and needs of the walkers under their care (with adult watchful provision never far off).  For nearly all of the GEA campers, this experience is the first time they have ever been put in a position of responsibility over a small group of their fellow human beings.  To be expected to perform this role within the physical context of the dry, windy Gobi desert further intensifies the experience for them, ensuring it a primary place in their personal album of life’s memories, never to be forgotten.

The Tai Initiative is proud to be the sole curriculum provider for this outstanding program.  A deep appreciation for Chinese traditional and contemporary history combines with contemporary experience with 09leadership education to expertly inform the content design.  Physical training is as important as the intellectual and moral development.  The value of an individual is taught alongside the strength of group identity.  Protecting the environment is valued alongside management of resources.  We look forward to the growth and maturation of the program to include even third- and fourth-year returning campers, in time becoming responsible for organization, planning, and execution of the camp.

The future of the world is in the hands of American and Chinese leaders.  Where contemporary leadership on both sides of the Pacific has risen in many ways to the challenge, more emphasis on the generation and maintenance of a leadership development pipeline is needed.  The world needs leaders with hearts of compassion for others, inspiration for service before self, and the personal courage and confidence to do hard things requiring trust and teamwork.  We look forward to seeing the success of this program in ways not even yet imagined.

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This year’s Gobi Spring will take place from July 24 to 31; the Gobi Crossing will take place on August 2 to 5, 2016.  For more information, email edge@xuanzang.com.cn and tell them you read about the program from The Tai Initiative.