#73 International Conferences
Submitted by Ringo Bingo
As an Expat Aid Worker, nothing says “You are Important” like having to leave your post for an International Conference… even if the only reason you are going is because the regional office has demanded representatives from each country and the really important people in the office are too busy or can’t get a visa or passport in time, and you are the only one left to go.
Every INGO, and every INGO worker, knows perfectly well that there are just too many international events. That does not cancel out the dire need for this particular event, addressing this key issue, tackling these identified gaps in capacity building and supporting this special kind of necessary sensitization around this important issue. And the Expat Aid Worker simply must be there.
Flying out (even if the conference is in the next county, the EAW will fly due to an inherent attraction to a big carbon footprint), the Expat Aid Worker’s local Entry Permit and well-stamped passport will be on prominent display, so that all travellers know she or he is a long-term, real worker, not one of those other expatriate passengers who are clearly backpackers or short-termers. The EAW will greet the Immigration Officials as long-lost friends (part of blending in).
While on the plane the EAW will eschew novels and in-flight entertainment in order to focus on papers for the conference, catch up on work on the laptop, or do some serious Development Journal reading.
The category of international conference clues the EAW in to how excited to get about it. At the most mundane level are the in-house, regional, or global leadership meetings. Leadership at these events normally involves watching the “leaders” deliver serial Power Points that could have been emailed and discussed on Skype or Elluminate. Key decisions from these events revolve around when and where the next event will be.
Of more interest are sectoral forums, particularly those involving lots of other agencies. These events truly deserve the heading of “international conference,” since they have more interesting people and ideas. Note: other people’s ideas are always better than those from the EAW’s own organisation. The Expat Aid Worker will work hard to be officially involved in this type of event, “Oh yeah, I presented at the 2009 Regional Symposium on Micro-Consignments” probably only means a foyer poster presentation on the agency’s Village Savings and Loan Program, but it sounds good and fits well on the CV.
Despite the pleasure of “being on the road again,” the EAW will feel obliged to offer everyone his or her views on the location of the conference: Bangkok is too congested, Mexico polluted, anywhere in England too dreary, Dakar too French, Bali a tourist nightmare, Dubai too hot and Nairobi too dangerous – for the other attendees of course, not the EAW who spent many wonderful years there.
On arrival to the conference venue, the Expat Aid Worker can look forward to spending time with four categories of people: 1) those from exotic places who will assist his or her field cred; 2) people who can help the EAW’s future career; 3) people to drink with; 4) people she or he wants to sleep with. If it is a UN conference, there is a good chance all four categories will be fulfilled in one person. If it is a religious NGO’s conference, the pious Expat Aid Worker may have to settle for 1) and 2) only (unless it’s a conference related to emergency or disaster relief).
No conference would be complete without conference swag. Folders, lanyards, T-shirts (always size XXL) and particularly shoulder bags will all be criticised openly “Surely we don’t need another satchel? What a waste of agency money!” Yet since they all announce the role of the Expat Aid Worker as “bigger than just one country,” they all will end up being well used back in country, until they are superseded at the next international conference.
In the meantime, the Expat Aid Worker will be holding out for the SEAWL International Conference. Ah, the potential paraphernalia, the stories, the breakout groups and the poster presentations!