The CEMS Global Alliance is a purpose led organization, powered by our beliefs that great leadership starts with self-leadership and societal progress requires continual exploration. In this series of interviews, we take a look at CEMS students and alumni that are contributing to make this world a more open, sustainable and inclusive world.
In the context of today’s difficult times, we want to share some positive news and show how we, as a global community deal with the current crisis and share some personal stories from fellow CEMSies. Social distancing, travel bans and a regain of nationalism all fundamentally go against what we stand for, but they also lead to new creative ideas that show resilience.
We will start today with Patrick, currently finishing his CEMS degree at Aalto University in Finland. He is part of the CEMS Student Board, a body facilitating global collaboration across partner schools and voicing students’ opinions on a global scale. In addition, he led the organization of the Virtual European Forum, a conference with over 400 participants and 13 corporate partners that was the first of its kind and entirely set-up by students.
1. How did you come up with the idea of the Virtual European Forum?
With the increasing impact of the coronavirus and new government regulations in Europe, the major CEMS regional conferences, where students and companies meet physically around Europe, were cancelled. It obviously led to great deceptions for our cohorts, but some students were also missing their academic requirements since they could not validate the necessary skill seminars. On the other side, corporate partners were missing this interaction point with students. And lastly, I previously contributed to the organisation of the Virtual APAC Forum, and knew that this kind of initiatives could also work in Europe.
2. How did you organize such a large forum in this short timeframe?
Timing definitely was the main issue – we wanted to make the event happen before the end of April. I immediately talked to the organizing committees of the Nordic & V4 Forum and other Student Board Representatives, so that we soon got a team of more than 15 students from 14 different countries together to realize this project in four weeks, most of us not knowing each other before.
From there on everything happened kind of simultaneously: collaborating with CEMS stakeholders to confirm necessary accreditations, reaching out to Corporate Partners, developing a marketing strategy, and setting-up the required technology back-end in only a few days. The key was that everybody from the team took of their time and accepted to take a bit of a risk. On a funny note, due to the tight schedule, we needed to promote skill seminars to students without having a formal confirmation from some of our partners.
3. What were the biggest challenges you faced besides the short preparation time?
Probably the management of various time zones. I love how international the CEMS Alliance is but setting-up call with 14 hrs time difference within the team, from Hong Kong over Europe to South America, is quite a nightmare. We ended up doing only one global update call per week and did the rest in smaller functional teams.
Another difficulty was to manage expectations from the various stakeholders. The academic staff obviously wanted to ensure that requirements were met, while there was no real precedent for virtual skill seminars. Over 700 students applied for only 300 spots, so even if we worked to finally open 100 more with newly acquired companies, everybody could not be satisfied. And 13 corporate partners needed to receive the necessary onboarding for this one-in-a-kind forum.
Overall, the Virtual European Forum was a great team effort, where motivated students from across the globe showed that the current situation also provides great opportunities.