The 2017 Talloires Network Leaders Conference was a more than a community engagement conference. Normally separated by borders and language, conference-goers, volunteers, student ambassadors and the conference staff interacted as friends and family — a family bound by more than the work they do. A family bound by a core set of values that are practiced in their personal and professional lives.
The Network is special and though it has operated for more than a decade with few setbacks, the past year has been replete with challenges including concerns about its financial sustainability. The conference proved to be fertile ground for reflecting on, rebuilding and, most importantly, re-energizing the Network and its vital role in advancing the university civic engagement movement.
The TNLC was a success by a variety of measures – 90% of survey respondents were satisfied with the conference content, location and facilities, among other aspects. 98% considered conference presenters experts and felt their presentations were clear. Finally, 90% of respondents felt the conference was relevant and important to their work. While these numbers indicate a positive outcome, they do not fully explain what made the conference a success.
The conference was a success because of the diversity of people represented, their community engagement experience, and passion for leveraging higher education to achieve societal change. The people who attended the conference were from all backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. Despite language and other differences, there was a common theme among all attendees: their resilience, positive energy and unwavering commitment to the work, students and the community.
The Network believes that the power to create impact is not in the number of projects or media coverage but the relationships among the people who carry out the work. Many of these people, as we saw at the conference, may never get the recognition they deserve for the personal and professional sacrifices they make to carry out their engagement work.
As the lead conference organizer for the Talloires Network secretariat, I saw firsthand the level of commitment from our staff as well as all ranks within the Universidad Veracruzana. Every task, no matter how small, was skillfully managed by UV staff. I recall the night before the opening plenary, after the welco
me toast, the entire UV Local Organizing committee was lending a hand to make sure the official launch of the conference would run smoothly. Ranks, job titles, and egos did not factor into the work at hand. We worked together then waited until the last person was finished and ready to leave – no one was left behind. This level of camaraderie was eye-opening. For me, it embodied values of trust, passion, and a love for the team that still send chills down my spine. This commitment to one another was the glue that held every unit (there were many) together as we worked through problems that arose throughout the week.
The UV team’s unwavering support of one another and of TN staff and conference-goers manifested in the seamless organization and professionalism of the conference. Leading with their hearts, they showed the world during the week of the
conference that basic human qualities like respect, trust and standing up for what is right are the ingredients for successful community engagement.