Charting the future of food and agriculture in Europe and Central Asia


FAO's Goran Stavrik reflects on what makes a successful FAO Regional Conference

Opening of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe (Voronezh, Russian Federation, 16 May 2018), from inside the technical control centre. Goran Stavrik, who coordinated Conference preparations from A to Z, is seated at the far right of the frame. ©FAO/Vasily Maximov

FAO assists and advises on food security and nutrition, forest health, fisheries and aquaculture, climate change, plant and animal pests and diseases, international food trade, organic agriculture, rural livelihoods, and much more. Overseeing and setting priorities for this work in Europe and Central Asia is the job of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe. Convening every two years in a different location, the Regional Conference is a complex undertaking for both the host country and FAO's team in the region. Goran Stavrik, who has played a coordinating role in three consecutive conferences, reflects on the many behind-the-scenes factors that make for a successful FAO Regional Conference.

What is most crucial in preparing a Regional Conference?

Most people would agree it's the content: preparing the agenda in consultation with our member countries, and developing the background papers for each of the policy and technical topics to be discussed. In my experience, though, practical and logistical preparations are equally important. It's a thousand tiny details that fit together to create a smooth-functioning environment where the delegates can work and debate without distraction.

What is the starting point on the logistics side?

One of the first and most important tasks is to select the venue. Not just any hotel or conference center will suffice, because this is a three-day conference involving up to 300 delegates and observers, debating in plenary with simultaneous interpretation in at least four different languages. Then there are side events and presentations taking place in smaller rooms during the breaks, meetings of delegations with FAO's Director-General, and scores of journalists, photographers and cameramen. For our recent Conference in Voronezh, the venue was designated well in advance and was really well suited to the event.

And next?

Registration is usually a delegate’s first point of contact, so we work hard to make the online experience easy, flexible, secure, and transparent. Registration sets in motion a whole series of other actions – for hotel booking, visa application, travel itinerary, ground transport on arrival, printed badge, and more. If we do our work well, the participants will arrive rested and in a good frame of mind to work.

In parallel, we are finalizing, translating, and posting all the background documents on the Regional Conference webpages – in English, French, Russian, and Spanish – and all this is reflected on a Conference mobile app. A series of advance communications go out to journalists in the host country and across the region, and we work on how the venue will be set up and dressed.

Finally, it's Regional Conference week.

The FAO team arrives a few days in advance, to oversee set-up:  construction of the podium, installation of the mega-screen and cameras, positioning and hook-up of the interpreters' booths, unpacking and mounting the national flags, dressing the venue, testing the webcast connection, and briefing the volunteers.

Who are the volunteers and what do they do?

Typically these are university students in the city where the Conference is taking place. They are recruited by the host government to help at the Conference information desk, meet delegates at the airport, copy documents, staff the publications desk, monitor the local media for news about the Conference, and act as ushers and messengers in the plenary sessions. In Voronezh we had about 30 volunteers, all of them very competent and enthusiastic. It would be all but impossible to run a Regional Conference without them.

Left: During a break in conference proceedings, FAO programme officer Goran Stavrik resolves a problem with the help of Conference Vice-Chair Spyridon Ellinas of Cyprus, and Secretary of the Regional Conference Yuriko Shoji. Right: Stavrik consults with colleague Norbert Winkler on the final report of the 31st FAO Regional Conference for Europe. ©FAO/Sharon Lee Cowan

The Conference opens. Then what?

From that point on, it's time for the delegates to work. In the Europe and Central Asia region, FAO has 53 member countries and one member organization, the European Union. The members elect their chairperson, two vice-chairs, and two rapporteurs. There are opening statements by FAO's Director-General, a high-ranking representative of the host country, a representative of civil society organizations, and others. It is important that the voices of civil society are heard on all the key agenda items, and this is facilitated by a civil society consultation in advance of the Regional Conference.

The first and perhaps the most important agenda item is discussed in a Ministerial session, where countries are represented by their Minister of Agriculture or other high official. Next, the delegates begin working their way through the rest of the agenda items. Simultaneous interpreters work in three-hour shifts to make dialogue possible.

And what is happening behind the scenes?

Morning and afternoon, the Conference rapporteurs prepare segments of the draft report with the help of designated FAO technical officers. These texts are transmitted to FAO headquarters in Rome where experienced translators are waiting to work on them, overnight if necessary.

On the morning of the third day, the host country usually invites the delegates to visit one or more field locations:  croplands, a livestock production facility, a food processing plant, or a wholesale produce market. This is an opportunity to observe and learn about innovative food and agriculture practices in the host country. By the time they return from the field, the draft report of the Regional Conference is available in all four languages for discussion and adoption.

University students from Voronezh, Russia served as volunteers at the 31st FAO Regional Conference for Europe. Volunteers assist delegates and the Conference team by staffing the information and publications desks, acting as ushers and messengers, and monitoring local media for news of the Conference. ©FAO/Vasili Maximov

Name your top five tips for a successful FAO Regional Conference.

1.  Establish good communication with the host government and its event management contractor.

2.  Settle on the venue well in advance. I cannot emphasize this enough, because until the venue is designated, all other logistical preparations are on hold.

3.  Put yourself in the shoes of a delegate. Run scenarios. At every stage of the experience, try to imagine it from a delegate's point of view.

4.  Have clearly defined roles for each member of the team, but then be flexible. Appreciate the fact that every task is interlinked with others. Even colleagues not directly involved may be carrying a heavier load during the months leading up to the Regional Conference.

5.  No matter how carefully you prepare, a few things will always go wrong. Be creative and willing to compromise to solve problems on the fly.

 


Learn more:

More photos of the 31st FAO Regional Conference for Europe, in Voronezh

Webcast of the 31st FAO Regional Conference for Europe, in Voronezh

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