What is AIESEC? – a puzzling question that I have been asked often.
Summarising over seven decades of history and the culminating experiences of over 1 million alumni into a short answer that should take no longer than thirty seconds to communicate with coherence is a skill that develops with consistent practice. To cut to the chase, AIESEC is a leadership development organisation that offers volunteering and internship experiences to the youth. One of AIESEC’s striking features is that the organisation- from the global to the local level- is run by the youth, or the members of AIESEC referred to as AIESECers (@ers).
International Congress 2020 (IC 20)
IC is a strategic conference hosted annually by AIESEC International, the organisation’s global team. IC 20, in the light of COVID-19, was delivered virtually and enjoyed an unprecedented 13,000 registrations, a significant increase from an average of 800 attendees (mostly comprising individuals holding higher managerial positions). Make no mistake, the purpose of this article is not to compare virtual settings to traditional physical ones. This has already been evaluated in my previous article.
Rather than condensing the enumerate forums spanning 8 days, I shall focus on evaluating the institution’s mid-term strategic plan that was launched during this convention.
‘’Empowering youth leaders; Building a long-lasting AIESEC; Developing Purposeful Partnerships…’’
… 3 statements that lay the groundwork for actions of tens of thousands of AIESECers, be it the President of AIESEC International or a potential member for a local committee. Defining an ‘aspirational description of the ideal state in the midterm future’ or a mid-term direction is believed to serve as a guiding light for action. A plethora of factors influence how exactly the desired outcome takes place, thus requiring a careful analysis to conclude the extent to which these mid-term goals yield success.
To begin with, the methodology used for devising the mid-term direction should be studied. According to the ‘Process behind Executive Board’ document released by AIESEC, ‘Future Search’ techniques were employed to envision A-2025. Future Search models not only have a solid theoretical grounding in system theories and small-large group dynamics but also have been practically tested in multiple cultures. In essence, a cross-section of the whole system (a representative cohort of stakeholders) engage in egalitarian dialogue in order to establish a common ground. Such a shared encounter was initially fostered at IC 19 as hundreds of national and local AIESEC leaders, contributing their immense wealth of experience derived from their regional entities’ distinctive characteristics and interests. Such a culmination of diverse managerial expertise honed a global midterm direction. The philosophy behind Future Search is not to create rigid centralised systems that are insensitive to local environments, but rather set forth a global context -created by shared local input- to inspire future local action. However, implementing top-to-down communication certainly requires significant human resources. Comprehensively completing A-2025 required initial data reviews, multiple working groups from the global AIESEC office, voting procedures, downscaling, etc. One can be tempted to question if setting streamlined goals is the optimal allocation of senior management’s time. Nevertheless, the countless hours spent in CEO Summits and International Presidents’ Meetings (IPMs) to come up with a robust inclusive resolution promised by the ‘Future Search’ approach seems like a worthwhile investment in preventing the organisation from derailing in the long term.
The interdependence of A 2025 and the product portfolio is interesting. One of the changes advocated for a shift towards paid internships by making it obligatory for internship providers to cover accommodation costs and pay interns who plan on working for more than 2 months. The logic behind this is for the organisation to provide financially sustainable programs, reducing the risk of insolvency and increasing the chances of ‘creating a long lasting AIESEC’. It also goes without saying that ‘Building Purposeful Partnerships’ is inextricably linked to ‘Empowering Youth Leaders’. Stefan Frȕhauf, Project and Change Leadership at PwC (Price Waterhouse Cooper was a major AIESEC partner), explains that the distinguishing quality between AIESEC and other internship/volunteer platforms is the former’s commitment to investing in leadership qualities. Mr Frȕhauf later welcomed A-2025 on behalf of PwC. We can conclude that it is void to nurture ‘purposeful partnerships’ if the institution fails to harness its individuals’ potential.
It is also worth putting A-2025 into a historic context, and evaluating the successes and failures of previous midterm directions. One must note that the themes of A-2020 differed from A-2025 mainly because the former was more focused on growth and satisfying social demands while the latter channels its energy on organisational sustainability and investing in current stakeholders. Although the closing report for A-2020 is an internal document, it is plausible to track progress using the network’s annual reports. According to 2016-17’s summary, ‘Young Person’s Guide: Changing the World Edition’ and other such papers emerged to set up a close connection to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG). This clearly confirms that active efforts were undertaken to at least attempt to ‘shape what the world needs’ (statement 1, A-2020). The fact that every volunteering program was obliged to be linked to one or more SDG seemed promising as well. Furthermore, a record number of 41,000 ‘products’ were delivered highlights the expanding nature of the organisation. However, as the preceding midterm goal did not explicitly mention a target number in their overarching statements, it is difficult to gage if the 41,000 figure was on track for projected growth. On a slightly different notion, one may argue that the emergence of virtual markets (Highlights of 16-17) would not have been possible without the overarching need of increasing accessibility, as outlined by A-2020. A final statistic to consider is that only 47% of the expected product volume was delivered in the backdrop of the A-2005 mission. Such a gross miscalculation certainly throws into question the accuracy and level of highsight expressed by these goals. All in all, defining an ideal state for 5 years seems to have functioned as a backdrop in which AIESEC’s management can develop initiatives (such as the aforementioned virtual markets or SDG collab).
Lastly, A striking aspect of A 2025’s culture design is its simplicity. Breaking down a complex strategic plan into three simple statements makes it accessible for virtually all audiences. Take my example as evidence. Prior to writing this article, I did not have a formal understanding of business studies but that did not stop me from grasping an intuitive sense of A 2025. Kudos to the communications team(s) that have played a vital role in accurately downscaling information for different levels of the hierarchy and for people who do not have a theoretical background in this field. This may also open doors for advertising (eg: creating information booklets for potential customers or employees). This is aided by sleek creative designs made available too. Hence, the final breakdown of A 2025 can be an aesthetic branding tool, available for all.
With that being said, A-2025 has an important role in taking into account the various differences between markets, cultures and finances of AIESEC entities around the world and solidifying a framework for action by finding common ground. Thus, A-2025 is a crucial milestone for over forty-thousand @ers in their walk towards the existential why of the organisation- ‘Peace and Fulfillment of Humankind’s Potential’.