Regional GEDSI Summit

Breaking barriers by virtually engaging 600 alumni in the Indo-Pacific

The Gender Equality, Disability, and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) Leadership Summit supports the ongoing commitment of the Australian Government to promote gender equality and women empowerment as a means to contribute to growth, peace and security, development, and stability.

This year, the regional GEDSI summit was organized in July as a three-half-day virtual summit bringing together around 600 Australian alumni across key sectors in the Philippines and other Australia Awards programs in the Indo-Pacific region. The theme of the summit was Breaking Barriers: Working Together Towards Inclusive Recovery.

AAAEP recognized that a major challenge in embarking on this type of event during the pandemic is sustaining the engagement level of participants since the event was conducted purely online.  The team reviewed various digital collaboration tools/platforms that fit the needs and budget and found Howspace as the most appropriate platform to conduct the online event.

“Seeing Howspace used in another conference and experiencing how the platform enables engagement and collaboration was one of the key reasons we chose to go with Howspace,” describes Milalin Javellana, Program Director, Australia Awards and Alumni Engagement Program – Philippines, one of the organizers of the 2021 Regional GEDSI Leadership Summit.

How did the organizers of the GEDSI Leadership Summit break barriers by engaging 600 attendees across 18 different countries and multiple time zones with the help of Howspace? Let’s find out what their keys to success were and what they learned from their journey.

Pre-event activities boosted engagement

As the summit participants had never met each other, the Howspace platform played a critical role in building a sense of community and connection among the participants.

“Howspace was very helpful as it offered the participants the opportunity to start conversations already before the actual conference. It made it easier for people to open up and give their insights and actively participate in the discussions,” concludes Angela Ferrer, Senior Project Manager (Alumni Engagement), Australia Awards and Alumni Engagement Program – Philippines.

From the start, it was evident that whatever platform Javellana, Ferrer, and their team were to choose for the GEDSI Summit, had to accommodate pre-event activities. The organizers insisted on creating energy and excitement about the event and giving the participants a chance to connect with each other ahead of time.

One of their concerns was whether the participants would be willing to learn how to use a new platform. In addition to boosting the excitement around the event, the pre-engagement activities were designed to help participants become comfortable with the platform.

“We really wanted the participants to experience the platform already before the event. The pre-event activities really warmed up the participants,” explains Ferrer.

Another benefit of pre-event activities was to introduce the idea of asynchronous collaboration on the platform. As the participants came from different time zones, the organizers wanted to offer everybody the possibility to connect and share their experiences on their own time.

The worry of introducing a new tool to participants quickly proved unnecessary. When the platform was first opened for the participants, they jumped into it straight away.

“The participants welcomed the new platform and the opportunity to learn it. It validated to us how user-friendly Howspace really is,” says Javellana.

A safe space for conversations and collaboration

The organizers had three objectives in mind for the event:

  1. Enabling the alumni to share best practices and their own experiences related to women empowerment and social inclusion.
  2. Allowing those who are not yet involved with GEDSI to learn from others already working in the field.
  3. Encouraging networking and collaboration across borders and countries.

“Howspace was helpful for us as we could give the alumni a space to share their experiences and what they were doing with GEDSI. We also wanted them to get to know each other. We feel like we really reached our goals,” Javellana explains.

What made the participant engagement so successful was the user-friendliness of the platform. As a web-based platform, Howspace is similar to social media platforms, so it’s easy for people to jump in and engage with each other. However, the big difference is that Howspace allows the conversations to happen in a safe environment where the data isn’t public. This was one of the biggest factors that convinced Javellana and Ferrer to go with the platform.

For the pre-engagement, the organizers set up Virtual Institutional Visits to showcase the different GEDSI projects. In addition, they asked the participants to share photos that were then put on the platform for the Social Impact Exhibits. In the exhibits, participants could leave comments and questions to each other, which allowed them to get to know each other before the event.

Becoming the benchmark for other virtual events

“After the summit, people have said to me that we set the bar high for virtual events. The 2021 Regional GEDSI Leadership Summit has become the benchmark for all other organizations,” Javellana adds.

One of the factors that made the event so successful was how it connected people around the important topics. The GEDSI organizers used AI during the event to make sense of the conversation and to make fast decisions. 

From the administrator’s point of view, customizing the workspace visuals on Howspace is very easy. Along with the visuals, the GEDSI organizers found the emailing system and user management very powerful.

The participants also praised the platform, especially for its interactivity and described how well it supported collaboration and sharing among the participants.

The majority of the participants said Howspace & Zoom encouraged their participation at the event.
The majority of the participants said Howspace & Zoom encouraged their participation at the event.

When it comes to learning, Javellana and Ferrer agreed that one of the most critical and challenging parts for them was to brainstorm good questions that would enable participants to reflect and be engaged. In the future, they hope to maximize the use of the different features available on Howspace in order to create an even better user experience. Some of the participants are recurring participants, so being able to show them some new things is an added plus. That’s why both Javellana and Ferrer were happy to welcome the new features of Super chat with sticky notes and  Built-in AI Insight.

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