There’s a commonality between planning a group trip abroad and a conference. You start by selecting a location and hotels, then attract and register attendees, determine programming, deliver information and get participants there. Throw in a foreign culture, a desire to transform attendees’ perspectives and a lot of rice, and you’ve got CIY’s Engage: The World.
If those demands aren’t enough, add the fact that the locations the organization takes trips—Cambodia, Zambia, India and more—put participants (typically aged 18-24) face-to-face with some of the most difficult circumstances on earth from dire poverty to human trafficking and bonded labor. In August, I helped Tommy Nobis, a regular attendee of our Rejuvenate Marketplace, lead one of these trips. I, along with 14 fellow Americans and a nursing student from Japan, experienced the joys and sorrows of the kingdom of Cambodia.
The similarities of being an on-site planner at a conference and being in-country for a mission trip quickly separated when we arrived. Being in a foreign country with, well, a bunch of foreigners who all have different food preferences, emotional capacities and energy levels, creates one set of challenges. Another challenge was the weightiness of conveying an alternative perspective to attendees about service trips while serving the local organizations and people in the best possible way.
The key mission of these trips is “do no harm.” Like any good physician, the goal of the trip is to help, but CIY’s higher priority is actually not to leave the community in worse condition. That might sound obvious, but North American groups have been known to plow through Third-World countries with good intentions that cause more harm than good if not carefully thought out. We learned what it meant to experience a culture, develop relationships with people doing incredible work before we arrived and who will continue long after we left, and how to encourage people without doing anything for them.
I’ve always been in awe of the organizational skills of event professionals, but helping lead this trip gave me a new appreciation for the responsibility so many carry. Your reach is wide. From the impact felt by the city in which you meet—whether you do any community service or not—to the effect education and programming has on attendees, your work extends beyond keeping things on schedule and ensuring the AV works.
Statistics prove the economic impact of meetings. Your impact also is felt by attendees who leave an event with a new perspective, a new idea to implement at work or an inspiring message to spread.
What experiences have helped you realize the significance of your role?