On June 27, 2020, YES Alumni Bangladesh had the opportunity to implement their first ever online—as well as international—workshop to date. The workshop involved 34 YES alumni participants across five countries: Bangladesh, Morocco, Liberia, Tunisia and India. The workshop was also conducted by a YES alumna from Morocco. Most of the participants were either recent returnees of the YES program or alumni from the previous three years. This workshop for alumni development was focused on the following concept: “Growing Together: The Power of Networking and Collaboration”.
The main objective of the workshop was to teach participants the importance of networking and collaboration in the development of our personal, social, and professional life, and the ways we can practice networking and professional development effectively in our daily life and career. The collective concept of “Networking and Collaboration” is one of the main mottos of YES Program itself, and a basic principle for any YES alumna/alumnus as well. Networking and collaboration is one of the key ways to establish Sustainable Development Goal 17 - Partnerships for the Goals; in other words, it’s one basic skill that every individual needs to apply before starting any community-based project or activity.
Thus, keeping this skill in mind when implementing any alumni project or activity, it is important for alumni to have a proper idea about networking and collaboration, and to be able to differentiate them. Another goal of this workshop was to create an opportunity for alumni from all over the world to reconnect and feel mentally uplifted during these tough days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone is suffering from physical separation due to lockdowns in most of our communities.
Ghizlane Akourim (YES 2015-2016) from Morocco was the trainer for the virtual workshop. Zarin Masah Chowdhury (YES 2015-2016), former Alumni Relations Officer of the current 3rd Executive Committee (EC) of the YES Alumni Bangladesh Association, and Ghizlane were YES students during the same year and both of them were also D.C. Orientation (DCO) instructors to the YES 2019-2020 cohort. Zarin formed a friendship with Ghizlane and shared many stories about YES alumni in Bangladesh, which inspired and motivated Ghizlane. Ghizlane wanted to connect to her fellow alumni in Bangladesh and conduct a development workshop for them.
Hence, she reached out to Zarin and shared her ideas to do an online Alumni Development Workshop with YES Alumni Bangladesh. Zarin redirected her to the Alumni Development Team of the EC, which is how she got in touch with the Alumni Development Officers Talat Hassan (YES 2016-2017) and Aryan Andaleeb Azim (YES 2017-2018), and shared her idea with them as well. The Alumni Development team loved the idea and saw this as an opportunity to enhance alumni development, a them they were already brainstorming about for their next alumni development workshop. The EC decided it was best to focus on the theme of “Growing Together: The Power of Networking and Collaboration,” one of many topics that Ghizlane proposed, for this particular workshop.
With the input of the EC of YES Alumni Bangladesh, it was decided to allow the workshop to be open to the international YES Alumni community since it seemed fitting as the workshop was an opportunity to build larger networks and create future opportunities of collaboration as well. YES Alumni Bangladesh was really excited to collaborate with Ghizlane because of her experienced in leading sessions on cognitive concepts. All throughout her alumni life, she has been conducting projects on leadership, self care, and self love, in addition to being a professional development trainer and a learning facilitator. She also had the experience of being a DCO instructor. YES Alumni Bangladesh was extremely appreciative of her enthusiasm and saw her to be a great fit as a trainer for such a workshop.
Due to the nature of an online workshop, there are many challenges for a trainer to deeply connect with his/her trainees. Technical difficulties, difference in time zones, lack of face to face interactions, and limitations of chat box texting are some of the inevitable problems of online workshops. However, YES Alumni Bangladesh’s first virtual alumni development workshop was very successful and no technical issues arose during the project.
The workshop not only went smoothly on a technical level, but it was also successful in terms of meeting its goals. The credit goes to Ghizlane for her creative and extremely interactive approach of conducting the workshop instead of making it a lecture. In her powerpoint slides, she explained the concepts and practices of networking and collaboration through many flowcharts and motion diagrams, which helped the alumni to visualize the concepts practically, replacing the need to utilize interactive games and activities widely used in physical workshops. Both the trainer and the organizing alumni (Talat Hassan and Aryan Andaleeb Azim) tried to facilitate the session by keeping the environment very friendly, informal and discussion-based. Everyone was encouraged by the trainer to actively share their thoughts and questions after a particular point or topic, either through texting in the chat window or by speaking on camera. Ghizlane shared motivational YouTube videos and played relaxing music in between every mini-session in order to making the workshop more interesting.
The best part of the workshop was the mini-activity at the very end: all the participating alumni were given five minutes to brainstorm a real-life problem they hoped to solve, and then had to explain how they would use collaboration to make their dream a reality. Once the alumni finished writing down their ideas, they were asked to narrate it before the rest of the attendees by speaking or typing in the chat window. Keeping them engaged through writing and speaking during the workshop also helped the alumni to boost their self-confidence and encouraged them to speak in front of an audience. The new ideas alumni acquired about networking and collaboration allowed them to explore and brainstorm new ways to stay active, be productive, and practice self care during the pandemic. All in all, the participants got to learn something new and beneficial while at the same time reconnecting with fellow alumni during these difficult times.
YES Alumni Bangladesh thinks that the most powerful tool of increasing alumni outreach and international alumni connections is international events such as this one, in which YES alumni of multiple countries have the opportunity to collaborate with one another and learn across cultures. Such cross-country and cross-cultural collaboration has many benefits. First of all, increased connectivity leads to the development of better and more diverse ideas, as well as more productive projects, therefore achieving widespread impacts by connecting two or more communities that are geographically separated. Secondly, it’s a great opportunity for the alumni to reunite with their fellow alumni friends from different countries, permitting them to reminisce on the days of their exchange years. Lastly, such events ensure that alumni continue to engage in intercultural exchange even after the completion of their exchange years.
Similarly, arranging online and virtual events have very crucial roles and many benefits both as YES alumni and for any sort of youth engagement during this COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has brought a halt to normal lifestyles, where we are getting to spend long periods of time at home to stay safe and keep each other safe as well. Instead of sitting idle, arranging virtual events can boost the productivity of alumni and can keep their mental health sound. In fact, the extra time spent at home can be utilized to explore the depths of online resources. Acquiring the skills needed to use technology and engage with virtual resources is one of the most effective ways of becoming a knowledgeable and efficient individual in this modern world. Organizing virtual events like this on various topics can motivate one another to engage in virtual learning, research, and interactive programs.
It is important to keep a few things in mind whenever any group of alumni would like to host such events in the future. One is to further explore various platforms for organizing virtual meetings. For example, this may be using sites where collaborative art or design can be made for virtual design workshops, instead of just organizing a conference call. Another thing is to make sure when there are many people from many timezones involved, it is best if the time is set according to the timezone that is median to all the other ones in order to be fair to all the participating countries.
Since the workshop ended, the participating alumni have been more positive and spontaneous in their overall social interactions. They have passionately shared their new project ideas with other alumni and are interested in knowing about collaboration opportunities for their project ideas. The virtual workshop on “The Power of Networking and Collaboration” gave the participating alumni new skills, information, and perspectives. The success of this workshop indicates good prospects for the alumni association to host many more such events in the near future.