EUROXPRO and On the Relevance of AIESEC

EUROXPRO was both exactly what I expected to be and then that bit more, which makes it all worth the while.

The conference takes together the Western Europe North America Growth Network (woohoo) and the Central Eastern Europe North America Growth Network leadership – the LCP-elects (I count since most people transition in about May) and MC-elects – to work together on how AIESEC’s goals are coming along and how we can work together to create and increase quality exchange. This is the area I am most interested in now as LCP, and the conference mostly satisfied in its coverage of the topic.

The opening ceremony left much to be desired, and I think it might have annoyed the US consular officer who was there, as he later called Naoufel and I back and said he had nothing for us for the Global Village. After that we bussed up to the Hotel Olgino, on the Bay of Finland, where the conference was held. It was a Russian “resort,” which was both fairly nice and also fairly post-Soviet, an interesting kind of kitsch to a Western viewer. The LCPes were in their own track for home group portions, which at first is kind of like “what the hell!” but actually wound up being really great. We have different issues to focus on, and the MCes had different issues to focus on. I gained quite a bit from our sessions, but most importantly I got a very real sense of the global team of LCPs, which is an empowering feeling. I firmly believe that it is the LCPs who are the true, rubber-hits-the-road leaders of the network and we have the power to do so much when we work together. How many other organizations bring students from over 100 countries together, with such diverse backgrounds but such similar interests and working goals?

The sessions in general though left a good bit to be desired. This is usually the case, and it’s what I expected. “How can we focus on our 2010 goals and how can I contribute to them?” A very pertinent question, but not five times. Most others agreed with these sentiments. The LCP track was a bit more useful in general, but I was also pretty frustrated at a lot of stuff which had little to no relevance to AIESEC US, both in terms of how WENA is mostly “WE” and not “NA,” and how differently AIESEC US does things especially in the way that I as a US LCP have a good bit less power than other LCPs from other countries.

To this effect, on the second day of the conference we were to fill in our Balanced Score Cards to indicate the “health” of our AIESEC country. The point here is not that we don’t use the BSC; I’ve seen it before and understand it. The point is that during the exercise I realized just how very different the things that AIESEC US focuses on are from the things that the rest of the global network focuses on. I kind of freaked out during that part, and I was so visibly thousand-mile staring that people came up to me and asked me if I was okay. I carried a lot of uncertainty with me that day, especially coupled with the fact that AIESEC US is on “member-on-alert” status and that making the changes necessary to return to full member status takes a conscious and active decision by our national organization. This cloud, with varied thickness, hung over me during the whole conference. I feel like I have a great responsibility to connect AIESEC US and the global network, because I have a great competency with how both work (or at least I think I do) and I don’t worship the leadership of either one.

The party that night was pretty good though so the largest part of the stress was taken away, and also I had some good conversations with the LCPs and people from other countries.

I also noticed something distinct about my own behavior, which I have kind of noticed before but really came out into the forefront at this conference. I tend to the the kind of person who flings myself into the giant river of what’s going on, interacting with many different things in a valuable way and learning as many things from as many people as I can. If I am a part of a delegation at a conference (the US delegation, of course, but sometimes I’ve been in a support or working role) and I’m not the only person from that delegation then I will of course come together to check in with my delegation but in general I find great excitement, worth, and experience from going about, actively seeking out connections and experiences. This served me very well at YOU CAN! in Poland, and also at ITC since Kyle is pretty much the same way. However, when I was on the CC at IC and there was a substantial US delegation, and as well at this conference when I felt some kind of camaraderie with the UK as the English speaking types (and because Ariane was a part of their delegation) I felt a strange dichotomy. I met with Naoufel often enough, but the UK was a much more tight-knit delegation, which is okay because they were doing a very good job of teambuilding and I noticed quite a bit of the kind of chemistry between them that I felt in the team with Tiffany, Arcadiy, and Amy and myself when we were starting up AIESEC at Georgia Tech. Nonetheless, for some reason I couldn’t help but feel slightly “pushed away” by the Brits, and it’s not their fault; it’s just some strange internal feeling. Maybe I was slightly jealous of how well their team is gelling compared to how difficult it is to getting all of my EB team together at one time. Maybe it is a subconscious desire to identify with something more common (in this case, the English language) in a sea of diversity. It was so pronounced because this was the first time I realized it so heavily. But that is the challenge which I seek, and which I sure as hell won’t get being a lazy bum trying to pass his classes under fluorescent lighting in Georgia Tech classrooms.

The Official Dinner was the second-best AIESEC event I have ever attended after the Global Village at IC 2006 in Poland. The food was good, there was plenty of Russian-grade vodka, the settings were swanky, there were tons of alumni and partners, and most interestingly the two founders of AIESEC USSR spoke. It was so fascinating to hear how they went about founding AIESEC in the USSR so that they could keep it both mostly independent and yet allow its members the freedom to travel. Since it is the 20th anniversary of AIESEC in Russia (as the successor MC to AIESEC USSR) and the 60th anniversary of AIESEC, there was a very nice AIESEC cake made to the delight of all involved. There was some good dancing after that.

The LCPs had planned on having an LCP Nordic circle that evening, so we planned to snag a few unfinished vodka bottles to aid us as there are 35 LCPs. However an AI member saw us carrying a few bottles and got pretty unhappy and tried to forcefully take them away. I became unhappy at this myself, and argued that we are LCPs trying to do a teambuilding activity, and that her repeated attempts at preventing us from doing so were a very uncool reflection on the lack of respect for LCPs over MC members and AI. Finally, she relented as long as we promised to be in opening plenary the next day. Then, on the bus, everyone but me had their bottle taken up by a faci. This is when I began to get really incensed because it’s not like the faci was going to turn the bottles back in to the restaurant. I was fuming pretty badly, going on to another AI member about how little LCPs are respected when we are the ones who do the real work of the organization, and how we are the future national and global leadership of the network. Finally, still angry when we return to the venue, a CC member said we couldn’t use the LCP plenary which we had agreed on using for the Nordic circle. At this point, I kind of lost it and became consumed with anger. I was angrier than I had been in years, no doubt. I had come all the way to St. Petersburg, and I was already stressed by my inability to affect much connection or change because of the situation I come from in AIESEC US, and then this happens. A sincere conversation with one of my fellow LCPs helped to calm me down, and I made a point of apologizing to everyone whom I had offended. His most well-rung words were “think of how you are making LCPs look… think of how you are representing your country.”

We eventually did get to have the Nordic circle with the half bottle of vodka I smuggled out, and although it only got to go around the circle once, it was a very worthwhile teambuilding effort.

Then came the last day. I realized that I had not yet met all of my networking and exchange goals for the conference (and alas, a couple of those particular goals remain unmet). But something had been on my mind for the whole conference, which has also occupied my thoughts for some time as an engineering major in AIESEC. A lot of the conference had been a discussion about AIESEC’s relevance and the diversity of our TN/EP pool. I had tried to get people to understand the importance of engineers in achieving AIESEC’s mission and vision, but most of them did not understand. Renewable energy, the design of sustainable devices and processes, and the open source economy all either made no sense to them or could be entirely developed and executed by managers. I was disappointed by this for most of the conference, until in the end I decided to do something about it. So at 10 o’clock the last night, twelve hours before I was to leave, I had a conversation with the AI VP Exchange. After explaining to her my beliefs about partners, engineers in AIESEC, and the lack of support for a quality science or engineering experience (outside of being a code monkey for TCS), and how I wanted to get up a project for committees which could provide high-quality engineering AIESECy EPs for entrepreneurial, engineering-based TNs in one of these subjects which could offer the EP a high level of freedom and challenge, her advice to me was “Talk to other LCs.”

I was disappointed with this at first, but after a bit, I decided – I have only twelve hours, so I will try just that.

By midnight, I had gotten confirmation from Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland that they were interested and able to produce such TNs, as well as EPs in the case of Switzerland, for a project like this. We followed up the next morning, to prove it wasn’t bullshit.

I was very excited about this project proposal, and I still am. I truly believe that this could be very successful not only for my LC, but that it could ultimately steer the network back into relevance and create a much-needed space for engineers and science majors. I spent some time on the plane writing the below, which will serve as the initial project proposal – it does not have a name yet.

AIESEC has become visibly a management organization. This is a kind of structured culture and expectation built upon years of facilitation in this direction. All of our partners’ workshops encourage us to worship the ideal manager, at the expense of respecting the other agents in society that have the same ability described in the AIESEC Way. Conversations with AI team members show a happy reliance on this structured culture, and an admittance of the influence of our largest partners’ money on some of our culture. It seems that the most likely thing for someone with a “successful” AIESEC Experience to do is to go on a traineeship for, and enter employment with, one of our global partners. Many of these skip the traineeship entirely.

As an LCP studying electrical engineering, I see AIESEC’s unique relevance drying up completely if we continue to wholly focus on management and HR production, which is usually happening without a Change Agency Sanity Check (CASC). In 1948, Europe needed young people with global understanding and the ability to lead their countries with economic and commercial skills. In 2008, the world needs something else. I cannot deem myself cognizant enough to state exactly what the world needs today, but I am can say one area where AIESEC’s core assets, competencies, and potential meet the global issues that require students to begin meeting those challenges now, which I can affect. It is the need for engineers and scientists who hold AIESEC’s core values at heart to develop skills which AIESEC can offer and exercies them in a combined learning, traineeship, and issue-based AIESEC Experience which will challenge them as they deserve to be challenged to deliver sustainable and society-conscious change in a way that only engineers and scientists can do.

For about ten years now AIESEC has offered technical traineeships (TTs) which broadly cover “technical” intern experiences. What this means, in both numbers and to the understanding of most of the network, is “IT” internships based around coding or support. This is insufficient in its focus and challenge to achieve AIESEC’s mission with its highest potential. The leaders of tomorrow want and need more diverse, challenging, and entrepreneurial experiences which will enable them to lead the development of such subjects as renewable energy, sustainable design, processes, and supply, and the rise of the open source world in physical and organizational reality. These are the crux of relevance in the coming decade, and AIESEC has the ability to focus to affect these issues through Change Agents by enabling not only those who will manage these issues, but also those who will design and execute the science of these issues.

I therefore propose a collaboration among Committees who have the capacity to produce EPs and TNs which can fulfill this need. Let those Committees with access to high-quality EPs in engineering, science, and IT who seek an entrepreneurial experience in these issues to produce them, and those Committees with access to TNs in smaller, entrepreneurial companies with a focus in those fields and a desire to give the EP more challenge and freedom raise them. I have begun this with Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland, and IGN is to follow. Early results are intended to generate a wave within the network with the goal of a committed focus on supporting the aims of this project globally.

As an addendum, sustaining this project will inject AIESEC with leader-scientists and leader-engineers, which coupled with greater realization of these TNs with these EPs will generate a positive-feedback mechanism enabling further competency development for the network in these areas. Also, our partnership pool can deepen, diversify, and become redefined. Those firms which take such EPs should be encouraged to become, if not also economic partners, idea-partners with AIESEC. This will further bring AIESEC forward in its quest for relevance and will also help to balance the large reliance and influence by our larger partners.

Maybe it isn’t nearly as refined as it needs to be, but it’s the best I have now. I anticipate looking upon this as a great achievement two years from now.