Getting things off the ground – together

© SPRING Alumni Chile

It was a major project that a few DAAD Alumni had managed to organise in late October 2020: a three-day virtual conference, broadcast live, with an opening and closing event, talks and workshops, speakers and participants from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. Even weeks later, the international organising team is still relieved and happy that everything went off without a hitch.

About 230 interested participants had registered to discuss from 23-25 October 2020 how to tackle the challenges presented by the Corona pandemic sustainably (""). “We hadn’t anticipated this many participants,” explains conference coordinator Mehmooda Maqsood from SPRING Alumni Chile, the alumni association that organised the event.

herself is from Pakistan. She graduated from the (“Spatial Planning for Regions in Growing Economies”) where TU Dortmund University has been training urban and regional planners from developing and emerging countries for almost 30 years. After her first year of study in Germany, Maqsood went to Latin America. The SPRING program stipulates that the second year should be spent at a partner university in Chile, Brazil, Ghana, Tanzania or the Philippines.

About 80 Latin American, African and Asian SPRING graduates who spent their second year at the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia (UACh) are actively engaged in the SPRING Alumni Chile alumni association.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the Alumniportal”

Originally, the alumni conference was going to be held in the Philippine capital of Manila. The Corona pandemic made this impossible: in April 2020, during a brainstorming session on Zoom, the organising team decided to move the conference to the virtual space and to focus on addressing the impact of the pandemic in different world regions.

The organisational and technical challenges were enormous. “Without the Alumniportal Deutschland, the conference wouldn’t have been possible,” Mehmooda Maqsood says. For some time now, the network for people from all over the world who studied, did research or worked in Germany has been offering comprehensive support for organising conferences, webinars and other events to the about 160 alumni associations it cooperates with worldwide.

These services are free for the alumni associations and range from conceptual support and finding speakers to advertising and participant management all the way to providing the technical infrastructure. “It’s really important to us to provide our alumni with support for exchange and networking initiatives like this conference – especially at a time when in-person meetings are no longer possible,” Admir Lleshi from the Alumniportal Deutschland explains.

Finding speakers and attendee acquisition

To recruit conference speakers and session chairs, alumni can search the portal’s database or publish a call for speakers on the website. The SPRING Alumni Chile found three of their six session chairs via the portal. In addition, they employed their own contacts and those of the Faculty of Spatial Planning at TU Dortmund University, which also supported the conference.

The Alumniportal promoted the event on social media and in its newsletter. As Mehmooda Maqsood explains, the technical support was invaluable: “I’m not very good with technical things – and it was quite complicated because there were always two workshops being held at the same time and there were break rooms as well.”

Live via web conferencing tools or streaming

The Alumniportal took care of technical support as well as the platform on which the conference was held. Not only was the entire conference recorded, it was also broadcast on the Alumniportal YouTube channel. Co-organiser , who hails from the Philippines, explains why this was important for the participants from a total of 28 countries: “Some countries don’t have very good internet.

But whenever the Zoom connection broke down, the participants were still able to receive the live stream.” Neither did the organising team have to worry about talks falling through because of technical issues: to be on the safe side, they were all recorded prior to the start of the conference. Last year, Marygrace Balinos organised the alumni association’s first SPRING Winter School in Valdivia, which was also supported by the Alumniportal Deutschland in terms of organisation and financing. “That experience was extremely helpful,” she says.

Opening session of the Spring Alumni Conference "Build Back Better"

Opening session of the Spring Alumni Conference "Build Back Better"
Opening session of the Spring Alumni Conference "Build Back Better" ©

Lots of positive feedback

The main focus of the alumni conference revolved around four UN sustainability goals: zero hunger, no poverty, good health and well-being as well as quality education – in times of the “new normal” during the pandemic. “We received lots of positive feedback,” SPRING alumnus  from the Philippine University of Santo Tomas, who chaired a workshop on strategies for food security, explains: “The participants really appreciated how the conference incorporated various regional contexts and perspectives as part of one overarching, current and important topic.” His university’s magazine, “Unitas Journal”, is now publishing a special edition with scientific publications about the conference topic. This publication is also supported by the Alumniportal Deutschland.

Vinson Serrano sharing his Germany memories

Vinson Serrano sharing his Germany memories
Vinson Serrano sharing his Germany memories ©

Meanwhile, Mehmooda Maqsood and Marygrace Balinos are already thinking about putting together another SPRING alumni conference next year, either at a university or once again virtually. “After all, we have now demonstrated that it isn’t strictly necessary to meet in person,” Maqsood says. Marygrace Balinos agrees: “Many alumni were really happy to see each other again online. Especially in this difficult situation, these encounters were more emotional than usual.” Balinos hopes that more alumni associations will now have the confidence to get similar events off the ground: “That’s what I said in my closing statement at the conference as well, my message is: all alumni can do this!”

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