Why students should attend international conferences!

Our School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University has expanded over the last years, not only in student numbers but also in international rankings, gaining more visibility in the playing field of business schools and other institutions worldwide.

The school offers many opportunities for students to develop themselves next to their studies, with valuable add-ons to the school’s educational programme such as the Premium  or the MARBLE programmes. Students can also attend career events besides the many social events organized by the wide range of study associations present at the school.

These initiatives usually take place at local level. As students of an international university, however, I believe that we should take advantage of more opportunities to explore the world.

The world is worth exploring!

Apart from International case competitions or SBE’s study abroad programme, there are many lesser known chances to do so.

Every year SBE researchers attend multiple conferences on a wide variety of disciplines and topics. Sometimes these events open up “side-programmes” for students, ranging from very academic oriented to more business or multidisciplinary programmes.

I call for researchers to promote these conferences to students, either to motivate them to do research or to provide them with unique opportunities for networking and development. In the long run I believe that this will be not only beneficial for individual students but also for the School’s reputation and international presence.

What can students gain from participating in these international events? The answer is as much as they put in themselves. They will be a valuable experience for those who are open for new adventures. These conferences almost always offer workshops hosted by businesses, world famous institutes or top notch speakers. Although we might need to invest some time and effort in the application process and in finding funds, I believe that the experience is worth it.

Young Ambassadors @ Africa Leads programme, Global Responsible Leadership Initiative 2012

Last November I had the chance to attend a conference in South Africa and I would like to share my experience to inspire my fellow students to take action. International conferences can broaden our horizon on issues such as poverty, food security or inequality. They enable us to develop leadership skills and connect with other students around the world.

Last October, prof. dr. Mariëlle Heijltjes made me aware of the Young Ambassadors @ Africa Leads programme. The Africa Leads 2012 is a collaborative learning and research event hosted by the University of Stellenbosch Business School in partnership with the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) and the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership (University of Pretoria).

The aim of the Young Ambassadors programme, with the help from the Centre for Creative Leadership and the GRLI GRID® framework, is to develop individual and collective actions towards globally responsible leadership.

Passionate leadership

Before applying, I was very passionate about the topics of leadership and sustainability through courses I had taken during my Master’s programme. However, I had not made the connection between leadership, sustainability and responsibility before. I expected to learn more about this combination during the conference. With industry experts and academics on the list of participants, I believed the event would provide me with unique insights into the latest developments on leadership.

In order to be selected for the programme, I had to write an essay explaining how I envisioned responsible leadership in concrete terms. The focus was on how a responsible leader should aim to become “the best for” rather than “the best in” the world.

I wrote about a previous experience when I participated in an international development programme in Uganda. I was there with other international students to provide education on entrepreneurship and finance. I came across some obstacles and developed some sustainable solutions. Our main success during the programme in Uganda was inspiring people with what they could do and establishing concrete steps towards actions. In my essay I mainly focused on the following red thread: Aspire to Inspire others through Action.

Challenging dicussions and inspirational perspectives

Although the conference was scheduled during my second block period I managed to pass the required criteria for participation. I left a wet and gray Maastricht on November 15 and arrived in a sunny and warm Cape Town on November 16. I had two days to find my way around and visit the area.

The event kicked off on November 18 with a big dinner and many introductory talks. I was overwhelmed by the names and nationalities from all over the world. The over 50 student ambassadors were accommodated in a splendid environment with beautiful gardens in a wine estate in Stellenbosch.

The following day was intense! We woke up at 6 am, had a quick breakfast and started the programme at 7.15 am. My fellow students and I went to Stellenbosch University’s Sustainability Institute just outside of Stellenbosch.

There we engaged in workshops organized by the Centre for Creative Leadership. We looked at different leadership perspectives on individual and collective level and learned that leadership is centred on three fundamental pillars: Direction, Alignment and Commitment. These insights provided the three core elements for the goals of the Young Ambassadors. Which direction do we need to pursue to create an equitable and sustainable society? How do we align various goals, values and norms with each other? How can we create commitment among the stakeholders we are connected to?

The first day concluded with a South African traditional “braai” (barbecue) and a motivational speech by Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney who shared his interesting life story, his roots and the personal values and norms which drive his daily work.

The second day went on with more trainings and challenging workshops which encouraged the international group of students to engage in high level discussions. As a group we had to come up with a plan to present our main findings to the broader audience of academics, business people present at the conference. We were asked to talk about the challenges we see ahead of us and our views on how responsible leadership can overcome these challenges. Finally, we took pictures of everyone and produced a movie which we showed during the final gala dinner.

I was delighted by the quality of the discussions and the inspirational coaches and speakers. I learned a lot from other students around the world on their perspectives on leadership and on the many issues in their culture or country that require a different approach than is commonly accepted. Next to all the experiences gained during this conference I was able to have a quick look around Cape Town and Stellenbosch, where I definitely want to go back to.

What did I take away from this experience?

It is often this seemingly invisible layer of positive energy in action that inspires us to move forward, be courageous, or take up new challenges.

The impact we can have on others is often not visible or noticeable at first. However, if we put our trust in the individual strengths each one of us possesses and live with an intention to inspire, just imagine all the possibilities lying ahead….

By Ruben van der Aa

Ruben van der Aa is Student representative and member of the board at School of Business and Economics – Maastricht University.


A selection of upcoming international events,
by Ruben van der Aa

As SBE students, this is what our personal action agenda of international events and opportunities in the near future could look like:

22-26 April 2013 International Case competition @ Maastricht  – interact with international students across the world and see them present their case pitches in front of corporate executives!

4-8 June 2013  GRLI Ambassadors event in Paris –!!!Subscriptions just opened!!!- A gathering of the next generation leaders of students and young managers. (Please inform me if you get admitted, I might have some tips and funding possibilities)

Yearly event: St. Gallen Symposium

Yearly event: Campus for Finance

Yearly event: International Student Festival in Trondheim

Yearly event: World Business Dialogue

South American Business event



There is one comment

  1. Bhushan M. Sadaphule

    Hey Ruben!! Really nice article and I agree on your points..The world has became a global village and no country is self-sufficient enough to fulfill its requirement.The dependence on other nation is required, may it be for a Trade dependence or intellectual dependence.

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