Group discussion at last year's successful three-day American CVC.
The IET’s series of Community Volunteer Conferences (CVCs) kick off this month with the UK event. We take a look at the work involved in organising these conferences and the regional issues they’re looking to tackle.
From July through to November 2013, each of the five IET Community Committee (CC) regions - UK, Americas, South Asia, Asia Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa - will be hosting its own CVC. These events give regional volunteers the opportunity to come together to discuss the latest IET developments – including tools and resources to help communities grow and deliver, reward and recognise the volunteers for their work and provide a forum for sharing best practice, knowledge and success stories.
Information and support is of course provided by IET staff back in the UK, however, the strength of the regional CVCs is that the content is largely decided by the volunteers themselves and tailored to be personal and relevant to issues in their specific area.
The CVC in its current form first came to life in 2012, when it replaced the older Volunteer Conference Weekend format. Led by volunteers, for volunteers, they’ve developed an event that better caters to their needs.
Interactivity is a key aspect, with less lecture-style sections, replaced with more interactive training sessions, awards and experience sharing opportunities.
“In last year's CVC, there was a mix of presentations about IET news and products and experience sharing on specific topics,” highlights Clara To, a member of the CC-AP (Asia Pacific) CVC organising committee.
“The presentations were relevant to the situations of the Networks and have addressed the needs of the attendees. The content, together with the active participation and direct interaction among staff and volunteers, made the CVC successful. This year we also have a mix of informative presentations and experience sharing sessions. We have also collected ideas from the Networks about the topics to cover,” she notes.
With each CC covering such a vast area, a lot of work has to go into deciding where to host the conference. For the CC-A (Americas) this was done through a bidding process.
Each year the CVC is partnered with the region’s Present Around the World (PATW) competition, which Local Networks (LNs) are invited to host. Toronto came out as the winning bidder for 2013’s events.
“A business plan is put together to ‘bid’ for the hosting,” explains Tony Cutner, Toronto Network chair and member of the CC-A CVC organising committee. “Costs of accommodation and ease of travelling [are considered] and like any other business process, the lowest bidder or bid that offers the best value wins!”
For the CC-EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) there are a lot of factors to consider across such a large region including language and time differences and alignment with different weekends. This can make scheduling a challenge.
“The initial tasks were to draft a list of countries from which delegates would be coming and a list of countries where the IET was present and we could get some local support when organising the event,” highlights Hisham Rojoa, CC-EMEA CVC organising committee lead. “These countries also have to be well connected for flights as most of the people would be coming by plane. Visa processing is also something that we need to consider,” he adds.
It’s also important to make sure venues change, as Rhys Phillips, from the CC-UK’s CVC organising committee highlights.
“We hosted the first one at IET Savoy Place in London, but it can feel that, in the UK, everything is too London focused - particularly for people living in the north of Scotland, where it is not easy to get to Savoy Place for this type of event. So this year we chose IET Teacher’s Building in Glasgow for the event. This brings us closer to those who struggled last time, plus it is still easily accessible to most of the UK by plane or train.”
For 2013’s regional CVCs many of the topics and themes are similar, focusing on IET goals including education and inspiration, as Prakash Nayak, chairman of CC-SA (South Asia) notes.
“The 2012 theme ‘Inspire | Engage | Grow’ achieved its objective to a large extent, however, in a member-driven and volunteer-led organisation like the IET, this theme can never outgrow its purpose,” he explains.
“Member engagement and growth through inspiration will remain a constant goal. So, the 2013 event would like to strengthen its focus on inspiration, engagement and growth and take this theme to the next level [by becoming ‘Inspire | Engage | Grow | Impact’]. We want [volunteers] to look beyond their own world to impact and influence bigger issues, using the IET platform.”
Even if the core agenda doesn’t always focus on more regional issues, each CVC organising committee makes sure it provides some kind of regional or cultural spin.
“Of course, in some small parts the local flavour does underline aspects of the event. For example, we have a strong local cultural event during the conferences gala night, including local food,” notes Prakash.
During the early stages of planning, many of the organising committees went out to ask their local volunteers what the important issues were to them, and then put together an agenda around them.
“Through our roadshows with volunteers and from feedback that the CC-UK has picked up by representatives attending area forums, the topic of communication has shown itself to be key – communication between staff and volunteers and between volunteer committees and the IET members they represent. So this is our key topic for 2013,” highlights Rhys.
“We try to address the concerns of volunteers, e.g. the need to better understand the IET structure and preparing financial plans etc. We have invited ideas from volunteers through emails and the CC-AP MyCommunity and have received a number of constructive ideas,” adds Clara.
The CC-AP is also using the CVC as a great opportunity to share experiences and help Networks to learn from others’ strengths.
“For example, a Network in China is planning to develop student sessions in universities. The Malaysia LN has rich experience in this and will be sharing their experiences,” she notes.
One of the issues many volunteers have highlighted around the globe is awareness of the IET. In some areas the IET is still relatively unknown and so this is an opportunity for volunteers to discuss, and get advice from the IET directly on how to promote the Institution, attract new and younger members and also get existing members to become more active within the organisation.
For the CC-A they’re using the merging of events as an opportunity to introduce local business and academia to the IET.
“The IET is still relatively unheard of [in the Americas], says Alyssa Randall, member of the CC-A CVC organising committee. We utilise the CVC [and PATW] to bring industry and academia and show them what the IET is and how we can partner with them,” she highlights.
All these volunteers give up a lot of their time and put in so much effort to make these CVCs happen, and for this we give our thanks, but as Tony highlights, being an active part of a community is an important part of being an IET member.
“It’s hectic organising so much over one weekend, however, it has brought everyone together with a common cause and that's how teams are built. They don't teach you [this kind of work] on an engineering course - so this is a good reason to join the IET and develop all those other human skills.”
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