Every month, ᒪᐯᑎ organises its online Value Networks which strive to boost co-creation and networking within the Leuven ecosystem. Project manager Zahra Elder is the mastermind behind those projects and, therefore, deserves to be in the spotlights. By sharing experiences and knowledge, she gives a deeper insight in her contribution to the ᒪᐯᑎ team and the city of Leuven as a whole.
Zahra, you graduated this summer; how did it feel to finish your study trajectory?
“’Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it as I loved being a student. Those years were definitely more carefree than everything that will come after this. But on the other end, I feel that I am eager to tackle new challenges and learn new things. Nevertheless, I am definitely ready for a new phase in my life.”
As a young and motivated graduate, there must be a lot of opportunities at the job market. Still, you chose to keep investing your time and braincells in Leuven Value Network. You must have some good reasons for that?
“’One thing that is very important to me, is to keep on growing and be open for new experiences. As a consequence, I decided to become and stay part of the Leuven Value Network. It is the perfect context to collaborate with a range of interesting people and add value to that environment myself.“
It seems ᒪᐯᑎ made a significant impact on your personal development. Can you give a more concrete example of the way it enriched your skills and knowledge?
“’The most useful thing was that they gave me projects to work on, accompanied by a lot of responsibility. Especially, starting as an intern, it was remarkable that I was not employed to just execute the ‘easy’ tasks, like you would encounter in other working environments. Here, I am responsible for all the community events, namely the Value Networks. As a consequence, I learned what the most essential features are to organise an all-encompassing event. My communication skills also evolved remarkably by contacting all of our different partners. Moreover, I upgraded my management capacities as I had to brief the team, divide the different roles, and many more stuff.”
You mentioned it slightly already, but what are your daily activities as a project manager?
“’Firstly, my role as project manager consists of organising the Value Networks. Together with the LVᑎ moderators, I produce the powerpoints and discussion points for the breakout rooms. Secondly, I consider myself as the mouthpiece for the entire community by answering their questions, informing them over new events, etc. Basically, I try to adjust our products to the needs of our members and audience.”
The Value Networks are clearly your organisation’s unique selling product. Maybe you can explain more specifically what they are about?
“’The Value Networks are monthly online events, concerning our community, which were initially threefolded. In the first place, we have our Student Network consisting of the presidents and vice-presidents of several student organisations in Leuven. Then, you have the International Network. And lastly, the Event Curator Network, which is the most diverse group consisting of party hosts and event managers. After our succesful Smart City event, in collaboration with Leuven MindGate, we also started integrating a fourth Value Network which will evolve around data use in the context of city innovation. The main goal is to give our audiences the necessary tools and information to help them grow. In order to do that, our events contain break out rooms where they can discuss their struggles, so they can learn from each others‘ inputs. However, it could also be that an organisation is looking for something specific, like a product or person, which can satisfy its needs.”
In these special times, I am almost obligated to ask. What obstacles have you, as a project manager, encountered due the Covid-19 measures and how did you cope with them?
“’From an organisational perspective, everything has to be discussed through Zoom calls and Slack. In my perception, face-to-face meetings experience less pressure to execute everything as efficient and effective as possible. On the other hand, it is more difficult to have longer discussions about the more practical sides of our events as meetings nowadays have a more strict timetable. For the online Value Networks, there was, however, no significant change as we initiated it when corona already hit our society.”
To end this very interesting interview; do you think that, if the Covid-19 measures get eased, you will shift towards bigger, physical events again?
“’Well, we are thinking of organising a physical Value Network again in the far future. But I feel that physical and digital venues, both have their pro’s and con’s. With the virtual events, you have a much higher reach as people can attend from basically anywhere and don’t need to be physically present. However, the networking aspect will be the most beneficial in a real-life context as you are much more flexible to make new contacts and boost the conversation. So, it is not decided yet how we will proceed once the measures are gone or minimised. For now, we keep focusing on the digital events as it is the most convenient and responsible choice.”