“Have you registered for the conference yet, Michael?” Last year, those exact words echoed through my head for two whole weeks as the Local Committee President of AIESEC UBC at the time, Joshua Sunga, unremittingly attempted to convince me to attend Coastal Conference in Victoria. It had been four months since I had joined and I had yet to attend an AIESEC conference. Joshua had always told me that conferences were that one special aspect of AIESEC that made the AIESEC experience complete—and he was right. After attending Coastal Conference and Western Regional Conference in 2012, I felt that conferences had truly become that one facet of AIESEC that I enjoyed the most. Being able to assemble with other bright young leaders to discuss youth leadership, AIESEC’s national direction, and our own personal interests became something I looked forward to every few months. Fittingly, I registered for National Leadership Development Conference (NLDC) the week that registration opened, anticipating that my first national conference would be an extraordinary experience.

I arrived a day early to attend the pre-conference meeting for Outgoing Exchange (OGX), the function in AIESEC Canada responsible for recruiting and preparing students to go abroad. Within the small group of 30 delegates consisting of highly experienced OGX members and Vice Presidents of OGX from many AIESEC chapters across the country, we discussed topics ranging from marketing tactics to client servicing to operations planning within the context of AIESEC’s mission and philosophies. Having the opportunity to discuss with young leaders from around the country truly gave me a broader perspective about AIESEC’s operations. Leaving the prOGX pre-conference meeting, I already felt that NLDC would be an amazing experience.

On May 2, NLDC officially opened with energetic roll calls, which are dances that AIESEC members create to introduce their Local Committees at conferences. While dancing and demonstrating our energy is an integral part of a conference, a conference is never complete without its functional tracks. Functional tracks are essentially training workshops for AIESEC’s specific functions, such as Communications, Outgoing Exchange, and Corporate Relations. At the OGX functional track, we tackled OGX’s marketing aspects and in particular, how specializing recruitment approaches for a specific target audience pays more dividends than using a generalized method.

Taking what we learned from functional tracks, we moved into a cross-functional planning session primarily aimed at recruitment planning through pipeline and operations management. Janel Kirstein, a member of AIESEC Canada’s Board of Directors, led the session and taught the delegates about the power of using scrums, a visual project planning tool. As I constantly strive for excellence and perfection, one thing that will always stay with me from the session is what Janel said on the importance of project planning: “In the real world, you have deadlines; aim for completion, not perfection.” Being able to see the entire recruitment plan as an overview allowed me to understand how integral every member’s work and every single step are to the success of the project, as well as how important deadlines are.

Planning with AIESEC UBC during the Cross-Functional Track
Planning with AIESEC UBC during the Cross-Functional Track

Although I found planning and having discussions with my own delegation highly rewarding, what made NLDC so great was the ability to connect and strategize with youth leaders from across the country. To facilitate meeting AIESEC members from other Local Committees, NLDC had homegroups, which are groups of around six delegates who would frequently do activities and group discussions together throughout the conference. Having interacted with my homegroup frequently throughout the conference, I feel that I have gained six new friends that I will carry throughout my AIESEC career. Getting the perspective of others across the country certainly broadened my perspectives about leadership and AIESEC nationally.

My Homegroup: Group 21 Photo credits: Amanda Nguyen (AIESEC Carleton)
My Homegroup: Group 21; photo credits: Amanda Nguyen (AIESEC Carleton)

Of course, while having the opportunity to meet and network with members from other chapters was definitely one of the highlights of going to a national conference, NLDC was a great opportunity to connect with my own Local Committee! Having the opportunity to spend an entire week and share meals on a daily basis with the 17 other delegates from AIESEC UBC allowed me to connect on a deeper level with them. Being able to feel their passion and commitment for AIESEC throughout the conference ignited a stronger fire within me to improve our Local Committee.

AIESEC UBC’s “Family” Portrait

NLDC was certainly a turning point in my AIESEC experience, a perfect mix of motivation and inspiration from the incredible delegates and creative spark from the functional tracks. From the conference, I gained new friends across the country, revitalized my inner flame for innovation, and learned a plethora of skills that I want to bring back to AIESEC UBC. NLDC was a significant milestone in my AIESEC experience and I definitely would not have wanted my first national conference to have turned out any other way!

By Michael Shao, Outgoing Exchange