Harnessing Chevening networks to tackle climate change, promote economic prosperity, and protect media freedom. It seemed no regional or global challenge was beyond the ambitions of the dynamic Chevening Alumni who gathered in Warsaw in May to discuss the future of Europe, and an agenda for strengthening networks in a rapidly changing world.

Building upon an earlier gathering in January 2019, alumni from 18 European countries, from Portugal to Moldova, came together for a dynamic meeting of minds, organised in collaboration with Wilton Park.

Enduring friendship

Welcoming the delegates to Warsaw at a lively reception at the British Embassy, Ambassador Jonathan Knott emphasised the importance of the enduring friendship and warmth that exists between the UK and European alumni who have studied at UK universities. Indeed, this enthusiasm for promoting strong bilateral relations set the tone for the overwhelmingly positive and proactive discussions that would take place throughout the conference.

A wealth of expertise

A quick-fire round of introductions on the first morning of discussions displayed a wide range of knowledge and expertise around the table, with alumni from professional fields ranging from law, to media, to business, joined by representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and other external experts from the UK and Poland.

In his opening remarks, FCO Head of Scholarships Ben Coates reflected on the great potential of this gathering, highlighting that ‘it is communities and networks, rather than individuals, who effect truly meaningful change’.

Thematic discussions

To kick off thematic discussions, a diverse group of external experts delivered compelling overviews of some of the global challenges facing Europe over the next decade. From seismic demographic shifts, to rapidly developing technology, liberal values under attack, and the looming threat of climate change, alumni were invited to ruminate on these challenges, but also focus on the opportunity to work together to influence policy and develop action-based solutions.

Based on their areas of professional expertise, alumni were divided into five breakout groups to further tease out some of these pressing issues and to plan an agenda for closer regional collaboration going forward.

Audience at the presidential palace

Following a long day of productive discussions, alumni were invited to the Polish Presidential Palace where they were granted an exclusive audience with Tomasz Szatkowski, Deputy Defence Minister in the Government of Poland. At an informal roundtable, delegates had the opportunity to engage the Deputy Minister in a candid conversation about public policy and international relations, providing substantial food for thought for the sessions still to come.

Role of alumni associations

Central to discussions throughout the forum was the importance of partnerships, and the unique opportunities provided through the Chevening Alumni network, based on bonds of friendship, professional expertise, and thought leadership.

To demonstrate the proven impact of national alumni associations, delegates heard from three speakers from Croatia, Kosovo, and Portugal, who shared practical tips, and examples of best practice, for establishing and maintaining momentum. Besides valuable opportunities for professional networking, alumni highlighted opportunities to give back to society through social projects and mentoring schemes as some of the key benefits of maintaining active national networks.

Offering a broader perspective, Sharon Spiteri offered an overview of the activities of the London-based, yet globally engaged, Chevening Alumni Alliance, while Chevening Alumni Relations Manager Aba Quartey shared details of the work of the central alumni team based in the Secretariat, and the support that they can provide for global alumni activities.

Actions speak louder than words

After two days of talk and debate, the seemingly indefatigable alumni were challenged to convert their words into actions, making practical pledges to build upon the progress made at the conference. Ideas included a Media Freedom event in Bucharest, a Climate Change Conference in the Western Balkans, new mentoring projects, and partnerships with organisations beyond Chevening. Participants concluded the event by launching a new Europe Chevening Association, which will foster prosperity, democracy and European values by encouraging a dialogue about the future of Europe. This network will be built on the organisational power of national associations and will hold its first conference in 2020.

With the exhaustive knowledge, passion, and commitment to ever closer collaboration displayed by the European Chevening Alumni, it is clear that this talented and optimistic network will continue to go from strength to strength.

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