July 2020. We were all still grappling with the reality of the global pandemic and reluctantly accepting disappointment after disappointment: job opportunities put on hold, interactions moved online, events canceled. When we were appointed as the next Chairs of the DigitalFuture Summit, the role and its associated responsibilities were both extremely exciting and incredibly daunting.
The first online edition of the DFS was a great success, but we felt the pressures of leading such a fast-paced, constantly evolving organization that aims to inspire change and progress. How should large-scale events look like in the future? How do we interpret hybrid formats? How do we motivate a group of volunteer students in such unprecedented, ambiguous times?
Looking back, these questions should pose some of the biggest challenges we faced in the year ahead. With the virus seemingly tamed in summer 2020, we were hopeful to host an on-site event. It was at the latest in the second wave when we realized that there is a realistic chance that we cannot have an in-person event. In times where you could not even plan your summer vacation, planning an event with 1000 participants seemed to be impossible.
Additionally, we quickly realized that the uncertainty did not only affect the event planning but also our partner management. In December 2020, we were far behind our ambitious target. Companies simply did not have a budget for career events since they did not know what to expect in the near future. Still, signing partners early on remained crucial to attract talents and new sponsors.
Finally, one of the key success factors of the DFS is the team. It is an event that is solely organized by students who want nothing less than to revolutionize the way business interacts with talent. Those students do not fear to go the extra mile and stand out with extraordinary brightness, ambition and team spirit. But how do you put together a team of volunteers when most students lose their internship, struggle to keep up with online classes, or take a break from school?
Despite the difficulties, our personal highlights were always sparked by precisely these challenges. When we kicked off our journey ahead with a complete team of 39 highly-motivated members, we were beaming with pride and anticipation. The logistics were never easy, yet we continued to become masters of efficient, collaborative working via online tools. When we finalized our new hybrid packages that combined the best of the online and offline elements, we were eager to find the best partners for our talents with our innovative thinking.
The lasting uncertainty posed road blockers for our Partner Managers, yet we collectively learned to adapt, re-strategize and improve. When we spent one brisk December morning hand-delivering holiday gift bags for our team members, we felt more connected than ever and re-energized to see their smiling faces. The number of virtual meetings stacked up, yet the team spirit remained high. From reviewing the first inbound applications, onboarding the first confirmed partners, introducing the first ever VC packages and portfolio startups, hosting the first webinar on vaccine development, to fixing urgent website bugs, postponing in-person team events, and announcing the tough decision on moving the DFS21 to an online setting - all the high’s and low’s formed the crucial steps toward a successful, memorable event.
What makes a good and successful event? We both asked ourselves this question over and over again. Looking at the event, we are very happy and proud that 1093 students and young professionals from 97 countries took part in our mission. Together, they represented 702 universities and met representatives from 32 companies. All in all, the DFS21 was the most successful DFS in its history. By overcoming all obstacles, we even took advantage of the new reality by making the DFS accessible to a global audience.
So which learnings are we taking from the DFS, for our careers and for our lives? We learned to leverage the combined strength of a diverse, effective team. Without the individual strengths and collective power of our amazing team, we would have never been able to achieve our goals and organize an amazing experience for everyone. The leadership, but also people skills we acquired will without a doubt empower us in our careers and future endeavors.
We learned to communicate frequently, transparently, and with intent. As Chairs of an organization, we were faced with many different decisions, but only by including our team in the decisions and proactively communicating to various stakeholders were we able to gain momentum from each decision. The ability to clearly and efficiently communicate our messages will enable us to further develop into mindful leaders and team-players.
We learned to be bold and dream big. Our predecessors and the path they paved allowed us to aim high and think: Why not? Why not invite high-profile politicians to be our Keynote Speaker? Why not pioneer the best of both online and offline worlds in student conferencing? Why not fight for what is best for our talents and for our partners, even if others might think we aim too high? The confidence we gained from leading such an ambitious organization will forever guide us toward the better.