BRISBANE, Australia – Imagine inviting 700-1,000 people to a five-day party – sound like a nightmare producing proposition? Not only that, but imagine doing it every year in a different country or even on a different continent. It’s no small task, and it’s an exercise the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) goes through annually when they plan their forum. This year WOCCU’s FORUM 2003 will be held in Brisbane, Australia June 22-26. Despite SARS, wars and terrorism, their attendance is approaching 1,000 people, ahead of last year’s registrations in Poland and the year before in Paris. “It’s great that despite all the uncertainties in the world, credit union leaders from around the globe are committed to gathering in Brisbane to learn from each other, to discuss the future and to network,” commented Arthur Arnold, WOCCU president and CEO. Hosting an annual forum of this size understandably takes a lot of advance preparation; in WOCCU’s case, their forum’s are in planning mode for three years leading up to the event. There are three parts to the process: the selection of location, program and entertainment. The location selection process isn’t as complicated as the selection for the Olympics, but a lot of factors still need to go into the process, according to Marechiel Santos, who is in charge of setting up this year’s forum. She says they choose the country by asking, “1. Are they among the member movement countries? 2. Has a meeting been done in the past in that region? 3. Even though it is not a member movement country, does the location attract people to come?” A minimum of two to three site visits are necessary to make sure everything will run smoothly. Once the country and city are selected, the next choice is deciding on the hotel. The criteria are four to five star ratings, ample meeting space, audio-visual abilities and restaurants. Because there’s always a spouse program, proximity to historic and cultural sites has to be taken into consideration. Most hotels have good support staff and actual take charge of about 20% of the ground work, Santos said. Likewise, tons of support materials have to be produced. Sometimes it is done in the host country, sometimes in Wisconsin and then shipped to the forum site. Santos admits that she has lots of help – six to eight members of the WOCCU staff. This conference will be her first forum. She transferred to Madison, Wis. from WOCCU’s office in the Philippines where she said she did a lot of conference work including bringing 12,000 people in from 15 different provinces for a major gathering. Perhaps 1,000 people don’t seem to be a huge number for her in comparison. As usual WOCCU staff arrive at the forum site well ahead of the attendees, up to a week in advance. The ground work is just the first step. Once all the guests are there, what will they do? Since credit unions invest a great deal in money to send their board members and managers, the quality of the program is a major factor. Jackie Bettinger, an outside consultant for WOCCU, is in charge of the speakers’ program. Dynamic speakers who know about the issues concerning the movement or beyond make the difference in the success of a FORUM. She told Credit Union Times, “Our goal for the conference program is to present issues that are state of the art, waves of the future, and/or of immediate concern to many member organizations.” They use many different resources in the decision-making process including, “Institute and Forum evaluations in which participants recommend topics for future meetings , WOCCU staff recommendations based on issues of concern that they pick up as they meet with WOCCU members and other organizations worldwide, topics in the news (e.g., Enron/corporate scandals that are affecting credit unions and their boards, current topics that appear on credit union internet sites, newsletters, and conferences among other sources.” Although they try not to have repeat speakers-at least not from one year to the next they- WOCCU will make an exception for someone who is well received, or if the topic is ongoing and the person is in expert. Diversity is important in terms of nationality, gender, etc., although there tends to be more male than female speakers. She says there’s no magic formula, but this year’s forum is responding to requests for those who volunteer. In many cases they rely on local talent. This year’s forum will feature a number of Australians and New Zealanders. There are also side programs like WOCCU’s Young Credit Union Professionals Program (WYCUP). Credit unions nominate their younger, talented managers to come to network and learn. The program is in its third year with five scholarships to the 2004 forum being awarded to those young leaders that show the most leadership potential. Scholarships include an all expense trip, registration and hotel and living costs. The program was started to counteract the aging of the movement. Other side events include the annual general meeting where a new president will be elected and special leadership training programs. Every forum has a third prong, the social aspect, and that part is often left to the host country. This year, CUSCAL, The Credit Union Service Corporation of Australia, Ltd. has selected by george management, Pty Ltd., which for the two past years has managed WOCCU’s annual convention, annual general meeting and trade exhibition. Their objective this year is “to showcase the Australian culture of today; give guests the opportunity to taste the Australia cuisine, and provide sample food of the various state of Australia; provide guests with a variety of beverages, especially the great wines that have made the Australian wine industry world famous; to entertain guests with activities and performers for a worldly audience.” George Parkyn, owner of the entertainment company says the Australia night on the opening night of the forum “will feature food and entertainment from the six states and two territories that make up Australia, there will be lots of activity, colour and music. So as Actor Paul Hogan said many years ago when he was promoting the country down under, ” G’day, mate. Put another shrimp on the barbie and welcome to Australia.” -

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