Conferencitis – wows and woes

14 Apr

Fancy people at fancy conferences

One of the nice things of working in a European resource centre is the business trips. You get to see new destinations (with a bit of luck) and new people, which makes working a little bit less ‘work’.

Since SALTO Inclusion is working for the next 2 years on Unemployment, I was invited to the youth conference of the Spanish EU presidency, which had as central theme: Youth and Work. And I had a chance to discover Jerez de la Frontera – yep, the place where the Jerez (Sherry) comes from.

  • The ideas were super, the practice sometimes a little less.
  • Or how every conference coin has two sides…
  • And getting back was even more of a challenge (read here)

I was there ;-)

The running up to the conference was a windy road. I had already asked the organisers several times, whether SALTO Inclusion could contribute, especially since we had been working for a year already on the topic of the conference. It would be a great occasion to combine forces.

  • Silence…

So I sort of gave up on the idea (I was busy enough as I was with IdeoScript and my Thailand trip). But then two week before the conference I hear from a colleague that I was on the list as a resource person for one of the conference workshops. Really? So I asked the organisers again, and one week before the conference they officially confirmed.

  • Nice.
  • Except flights were double price by then.

The working group I was resource person in - last minute

The whole of the conference was a bit like that: full of pluses and minuses:

  • (+) The conference brought the Directors General of Youth & youth representatives from the EU countries together to develop policy, super, real dialogue (–) but half of the officials never showed up in the workshops and the young people were not invited for the final meal with the officials.
  • (+) The workshops allowed for quality interaction between policy makers and young people, and they had invited a variety of resource persons, me being one of them (–) but at the opening of the conference, appr. one hour before the workshop, I am told that they expect me to do a 45min input on Inclusion in Europe, to kick off the discussions. They must be joking! I improvised a 20 min powerpoint using my writing pad as slides.
  • Beating the SALTO drum

    (+) SALTO had a great chance to present its work at the conference, I build up a stand and all (–) even though they didn’t have any space or table for me

  • (+) There were many yummy meals and lovely Spanish wine with the meals (–) which made us fall asleep during sessions and get far too fat for that short amount of time
  • (+) We were accommodated in a lovely 4 star hotel, with swimming pool and all (–) but as usual no time to really use it
  • (+) It was great to be in a new decentralized place – Jerez de la Frontera – so not always the same (–) but it was impossible to get there, first flying into Sevilla, then waiting for hours at the airport before being shuttled in group to Jerez
  • (+) The Spanish had organised interpretation in 6 languages for the plenary sessions of the conference (–) however we were picked up at he airport by 2 guys who didn’t speak a word of English – and did not communicate anything about why we were waiting for hours in Spanish either
  • The famous sherry

    (+) We were invited to fancy receptions and tasting regional specialities (–) but reception was all we got on our first evening. Cheese cubes, greasy fish sticks or fried eggplant are not really my idea of dinner.

  • (+) We were in the Sherry capital and even had a reception in a Sherry winery (–) It tastes good but the head ache the following day is less delicious.
  • (+) The European Commissioner, the Spanish Youth Minister and all kinds of Spanish officials were present (–) but this brought exaggerated police protection with it, and I had to show my badge several times. (maybe I should take it as a compliment, that I still look young and crazy enough ;-)
  • (+) There were so many important and interesting people there, an ideal occasion for all kinds of fringe meetings (–) but because so many people had fringe meetings, they didn’t show up in the working groups
  • (+) They had many important people opening the conference (–) but they killed the audience with 2 hours of speeches and a 1 hour delay before the conference even had started
  • (+) They had nice logos, visuals, roll up banners, etc (–) but no info about what would happen where and when (but then again none of the timings were respected)
  • (+) It was great to be involved in the policy making, defining the future priorities regarding youth and work (–) but nobody got the results of the work (the actual priorities), unless you knew where to find the hand outs on one or the other table
  • (+) We were lodged in a fancy perfect four star hotel (–) but the working spaces were in barely separated corners of a former wine depot – very noisy – as if you were in 4 workshops at the same time..

Having said this, the conference definitely had its merit!
The results were there, I would have just taken a different road to get there
(and perfectionists are the worst participants – sorry ;-)



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