In the month of May, with lockdowns installed across Europe, it seemed impossible to host any event. For a young network like ours, this was a significant blow as we were looking forward to hosting our first event with our members and partners. After waiting a couple of months as borders started to open and many considerations later, we decided to move forward with our meeting, embracing the challenges that lie ahead in hosting a safe gathering under Covid-19 protocols.
New Silk Road Network’s (NSRN) first Annual General Meeting was held from 6th-8th of September in the historic city of Warsaw. It was a unique and one of a kind event at a time when many logistics networks opted to host their annual conferences online or even postpone it till 2021. Unwilling to compromise and leave anyone out, we managed to connect not only the delegates who were attending in person but also those who could not make it due to travel restrictions.
Behind the Scenes
When the NSRN team received the green light to host the event, there was a conundrum that had to be solved to make sure that as many people could join the event as possible. On a warm summer day in June, when Ziwei Liu, the CEO and Co-Founder of NSRN, returned to work after a quick lunch break, she had the idea of a hybrid event. This would involve setting up remote stations that would connect our live delegates with the ones who could not attend the AGM in person, and developing a system which could seamlessly switch between live and remote meetings and speeches.
In this way, we began experimenting with different ideas of bringing our remote delegates together on the Zoom video call platform. In addition to software, the equipment was key to ensure the best experience for both live and remote delegates, and we made sure to procure the finest . Each remote station represented one remote company, and was equipped with a brand new iPad Air and two noise-cancelling headsets that worked simultaneously thanks to a y-splitter adapter. All of these devices were tested to prevent any unforeseeable technical issues such as echoing and disturbance at the NSRN HQ. Moreover, we had a total of 7 test calls to check the sound quality at any given point during the event. All these tasks were tackled systematically with meticulous workflow charts layed out with German precision.
Another vital protocol to follow was to maintain distance between the remote stations and meeting tables; this also helped to prevent any sound overlap. The floor plan was created in such a way to have guests move in one direction, as per the standard hygiene protocols due to Covid-19. Each meeting table maintained more than 1.5 meters of distance and was equipped with disinfection products that could be used by delegates. After each meeting round, the staff made sure that the surfaces and equipment were wiped and ready for the next meeting. While the constant odor of disinfect and alcohol was not everyones favorite, it was a reassuring scent that reminded us that hygiene remains the highest priority. Other small details taken into consideration included the agenda’s of each delegate, which were presented to remote delegates in their local time zone, guidelines with visual illustrations of how to use the remote stations, and electricity connection at each remote station.
Three days before NSRN’s first Annual General Meeting, there was electric energy pulsing through the office as we made the final touches. The planning and the preparation that began months before the AGM culminated under the roof of the exquisite Nobu Hotel Warsaw.
The crux of any networking event is to deliver the best possible conditions for two companies to meet and exchange business ideas leading to fruitful gains. Our one-to-one meetings were created in a way where each company could meet with the interested party and embark on new ventures.
Each meeting lasted a leisurely 30 mins, without the rush or the ‘speed-dating’ vibes of large networking conferences. With snacks and beverages in the close vicinity to the meeting tables, our members did not miss their quick caffeine boosts. The large spacious meeting tables allowed for members to open their multiple files and laptops, as they shared as much information as possible with the interested party.
When the time came for a meeting with a remote company, the members simply switched to the corresponding remote station, put on a headset, and continued to network . Our team took note to wipe down all the equipment with disinfection wipes between each session, and sticking strictly to the Covid-19 guidelines, we even came up with a distance maintained group photo!
The venue was chosen after careful observation of the quality of service that we wanted to deliver to our guests. Our team personally visited each of the places and selected the menu for the event. The balance between beauty and comfort was provided to all our attending delegates. The main venue, the Nobu Hotel Warsaw, opened a month before the event. Unlike large chain hotels, Nobu Hotel is a boutique hotel that caters to the refined tastes of its guests by carefully blending aesthetics and service. It was an essential criteria for us while selecting a venue, that the setting had to be private, with no external interference and have an intimate and warm atmosphere, without being drowned in white light. These conditions were fulfilled by the Nobu’s conference area, where the adjacent coffee rooms and a cosy terrace became a spot for our delegates to share some last-minute business details or engage in casual chit-chat.
As our guests began arriving on Sunday afternoon, we could easily spot familiar faces to say hello in the lobby. Our event started with a cocktail evening in the spacious Nobu Bar and Restaurant, where the entertaining game of Jenga broke the ice and introduced all present there. The nimble hands and smart minds of the logistics personnel prevented the Jenga from toppling throughout. With grape-martinis, red wine, and mugs of beer in hand the evening proceeded as the conversations reverberated, warming the walls of the Nobu Hotel. Between mouthfuls of delicious canape and exchanging of business cards, many quick connections were made during this informal event. Throughout the next two days, our delegates had the culinary delicacies served to them in the most hygienic way, that is in Japanese bento boxes.
Our gala dinner was hosted at the Flaming & Co. restaurant in the vicinity of the Nobu Hotel at the end of the first day of meetings. With all our delegates, we walked to the restaurant, which gave us a quick chance to explore the quaint streets of downtown Warsaw. Our delegates welcomed this refreshing walk, as they enjoyed the scenery and watched the setting autumn sun over Warsaw’s historical quarters. The restaurant was situated in a green courtyard surrounded by hydrangeas and the warm glow of candlelight, creating a cosy atmosphere. After a toast, the four-course meal from a delicately crafted menu catered to everyone’s palette and left us all with a fuzzy feeling. Post dinner, the group gathered in a private lounge area in the garden exchanging stories and experiences over the years spent in the logistics industry. The laughter and humour permeated the conversation and good times were indeed in the air.
The Knowledge Hub
One of NSRN’s goals has been to contribute towards the creation of knowledge with our members and partners to create an exclusive pool of resources for companies operating along the New Silk Road. Keeping this in mind, we incorporated presentations and case studies given by our delegates and guests from the industry.
On the first day, the guest of honour, Janusz Piechociński the ex-deputy Prime Minister of Poland and the head of the Polish-Asian Chamber of Commerce presented a well-researched study on the growing involvement Central and East European countries in the Belt and Road Initiative, especially at the height of the pandemic. The next presentation was given by Jaroslaw Macko, Managing Director of Polish Forwarding Company, which addressed the impact of Covid-19 on the cargo movement between North Europe and China. These topical presentations gave the audience a deep understanding of the changing operations in the logistics industry that faced many challenges when the Covid-19 pandemic was raging through the world.
The second day included presentations with industry experts from Duisburger Hafen and Interrail. Cao Guanzhe, Assistant to CEO, from Duisburger Hafen had an exciting and interactive session speaking about their successive business model and what the future holds for the company. From InterRail, Carsten Pottharst, the Managing Director, introduced his company and showcased the vast array of services offered by them. Mr. Pottharst also analysed the growing force of rail freight across EU and China, and how it emerged as a viable option during the coronavirus pandemic.
The central reason to include such case studies and presentations in the AGM is to create a space for collective learning. It also gives a chance for the people from the industry to share the latest know-hows with others, so that we collectively grow our businesses.
What we learnt
After hosting our first Annual General Meeting, which was indeed a step towards ‘Making History’, we were delighted by the fantastic feedback that we received from our delegates. Though it seemed impossible at specific points in the year, our members and partners were genuinely happy to meet each other. Moreover, it was a proud moment for the team when the meticulous planning was met with amazing feedback on the organising side of the event, where the smooth functioning of meetings, both remote and live kept our delegates satisfied. Amongst all the professional meetings and networking, we are delighted that everyone had an enjoyable time and created wonderful bonds with each other.
Ms Liu personally conveys her gratitude and notes, “being able to host such an event during Covid-19 really showcases the dedication of our members and partners. Without their participation and trust, this would not have happened. I would like to thank all who took part, live or remote, and extend our gratitude to our sponsors Kopf & Lübben, GmbH, Polish Forwarding Company Sp.z.o.o. and Alexander Global Logistics GmbH, for their support in these challenging times.“
Even in the face of hurdles created by the Covid-19, the NSRN team always has determined to provide better than the best quality to our members. NSRN has managed to develop a novel way of networking while embracing the new normal. We are now focused on exceeding our own benchmark set this year and produce another remarkable Annual General Meeting in 2021. The preparations begin once again!