"Time is a function of change," opening keynote speaker Scott Galloway told the audience at the 40th annual World Affairs Conference on Feb. 5, "and COVID-19 has been an accelerant."
The student organizers would agree wholeheartedly with the bestselling author and NYU professor, since the pandemic forced WAC online in 2021 and necessitated remote delivery again this year. However, co-chairs Jefferson Ding and Nicholas Knoth saw it as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance, and were delighted by WAC’s success.
"This was the smoothest WAC experience of the last three years and a huge step forward," says Ding. "One major factor for our success was Hopin, the platform we chose this year that integrated all the important features we needed. We’ve seen how big an impact we can make delivering the conference virtually."
The event welcomed some 600 registrants in 33 countries.
Says Knoth, "During the networking session, I met someone who woke up at 6 a.m. just to attend our keynote session. It’s nice that people were really keen to join in."
The event is jointly sponsored by UCC and Branksome Hall and the organizers chose Affairs That Matter as the conference theme. The varied speakers reflected the theme well. In addition to Professor Galloway’s keynote about the opportunities presented by the pandemic, there were sessions about cyber crime and security; education; the digital future; truth and reconciliation; sustainability; and diversity, equity and inclusion. Each is a topic at the forefront of conversations in today’s wider world and each one challenges students to make a difference. The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, federal minister of housing and diversity and inclusion, delivered closing remarks and issued one such challenge.
"Make sure you educate yourselves on the importance of diversity and inclusion for our own future," Hussen, a former Somali refugee, told the audience. "Diversity and inclusion is not just good social policy, it’s a very smart economic policy and it’s a smart way to build resiliency and cohesion in our society."
Given his own positive experience organizing the conference, Knoth encourages other students to try new things, even though it can be daunting.
"It can be very rewarding to take risks," Knoth says. "It’s amazing how much you can achieve by giving something a shot."
There will certainly be opportunities to get involved in next year’s WAC as the event continues to grow and change. Ding believes the conference has "moved into a new era online." For example, the organizers established a partnership with a blockchain company that is providing all attendees with a digital credential — a certificate of attendance — to affix to their online profiles.
"I think the hybrid format will continue," Ding says. "I envision the program being offered live next year with a camera crew livestreaming each session to keep allowing worldwide participation."