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TECHNOLOGY ISSUE: REMOTE WORK TRENDS (WTC Sharjah)

Saif Mohamed Al Midfa; Chief Executive Officer, Expo Centre Sharjah

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Similar to other WTCs, Expo Centre Sharjah (WTC Sharjah) has faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic to make the decision to postpone, cancel, or move its in-person exhibitions to a digital environment. Considering parameters, we took varying approaches to four events so far this year.

First, we take the case of our 5th Al Dhaid Dates Festival. The United Arab Emirates is one of the largest producers of dates around the world, and this delectable, prized fruit has sustained generations of people, becoming an integral part of our country’s culture, heritage, and identity. Expo Centre Sharjah usually holds the event during the month of July, but with the lockdown yet to loosen, a virtual fair would seem to be the only solution.

However, we are choosing to go ahead with the fair as scheduled, taking extreme safety precautions — conducting thermal screening on exhibitors and visitors, staggering entry, enforcing social distancing, incorporating sanitization facilities, and providing face masks, etc. We have made this decision as the sense of touch, smell, and taste, in addition to face-to-face interaction with the exhibiting farmers, play vital roles in the experience, and cannot be replicated in a virtual environment. For events such as this that need to be held in-person, the exhibitions industry is adapting with lessons learned from the pandemic. Currently, a global framework created by UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, is available with guidelines for the safe and controlled re-openings of exhibitions.

In contrast, we decided to postpone the biannual Watch & Jewelry Middle East Show from March to September, and chose to cancel the Ramadan Nights event, which was scheduled for May. Lastly, we are in advanced stages of planning to move our International Education Show to a virtual platform and conduct digital showcases, which will be held in October.

Separately, Expo Centre Sharjah has played an active role in sending a virtual message of assurance to investors and the business community through a social media campaign called #We'llGetThroughThis (for more information, click here). Along with the Financial, Economic and Industrial Affairs Committee of the Sharjah Consultative Council, we are spreading awareness about the government's economic stimulus package.

While the pandemic has shut down industries around the world, Expo Centre Sharjah is working with all stakeholders to navigate the new normal. We have discovered that through today’s technology, we can conduct meetings and webinars from our living rooms via Microsoft Teams (TM), and develop new exhibition concepts to create something even better. Starting with the International Education Show, virtual shows as well as other digital and social media-based programming will be part of our tools moving forward post-pandemic.

Photo caption: The 16th International Education Show was held January 22-24, 2020 at the exhibition halls at Expo Centre Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates. The next iteration will be held virtually in October.

Photo credit: Expo Centre Sharjah


TECHNOLOGY ISSUE: REMOTE WORK TRENDS (WTC Algiers)

Mahmoud Nedjai; International Relations Manager, WTC Algiers

World Trade Center Algiers started its operations more than 20 years ago and has grown into a respected and recognizable local brand. By offering companies the necessary supporting tools to grow in Algeria — from consultancy to trade services, real estate management to corporate events and trade fairs — we have contributed in the creation of a productive and prosperous business environment in the country. However today, during the challenging times of the current global health crisis, most businesses have experienced considerable decreases in revenue due to the application of strict and preventive measures such as population lockdowns, travel restrictions, and other policies aimed at protecting the population and controlling the spread of COVID-19.

These measures had a direct impact on some of our World Trade Center’s key activities. As trade fairs, conferences, and seminars require people to gather in-person, World Trade Center Algiers decided to transform some parts of its current business model to remain operational, visible, active and profitable. And today, more than ever, we understand that technology is the best, if not the only, way to keep us moving forward. Further, we have been working on new concepts for seminars, conferences and other events which involves the use of digital platforms such as Zoom (TM), Microsoft Teams (TM), and other similar platforms that are fantastic and very effective ways to keep relationships active with our members, clients, and partners all around the world. We are currently in the testing phase for our e-learning platform and will be able to provide updates as soon as we finalize the launch in July.

For the past three months, WTC Algiers — along with many other World Trade Centers around the world — has been very active in exchanging information, sharing leads, and new ideas to maintain and develop our WTCA network via the WTCA Resource Center and WTCA COVID-19 page. Through these efforts, we have been able to work with multiple World Trade Centers — from New Delhi, Lisbon, and Rennes Bretagne, to Venlo, Cyprus, Moscow, and Barranquilla — on some exciting projects. Stay tuned for updates! WTC Algiers will also be participating in a panel discussion, alongside several WTCA Members around the world, on June 12 for a virtual WTCA Day event hosted by WTC Brest and WTC Rennes Bretagne. For more information, click here.

The world as we knew it has changed. The population’s work behaviors, consumer trends and commercial relations — which are key elements in the business world — have integrated new codes and patterns that obliges us to adapt to new ways of interacting with each other. And the use of technology will be at the heart of this transformation.


TECHNOLOGY ISSUE: REMOTE WORK TRENDS (WTC Montevideo)

Ignacio Del; General Manager, World Trade Center Montevideo

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Our WTC complex has six buildings comprised of 200,000 square meters and more than 400 companies that employ over 9,000 people. Although the Uruguayan government did not enforce a lockdown when the pandemic first came in early March, they issued a “Stay at Home” order. Given this situation, we knew that we would need a new way of conducting business and would have to rely heavily on technology to maintain close contact with our team, clients, and community.

We identified three pillars to focus on during the pandemic:
  • Health: preserve and ensure the health and safety of our workspaces
  • Community: continue to build the community that works in our complex
  • Business: strengthen ties with the companies that operate here by providing solutions and advice, and promoting networking under new means
The health pillar was based on the regulations established by the Ministry of Public Health and the interdisciplinary WTC protocol, prepared by our team of professionals and occupational doctor, to effectively and efficiently manage the health emergency. Preventive measures listed in the protocol include using masks and practicing frequent hand washing, maintaining social distancing, limiting the number of people per elevator trip, and cleaning all areas with highly disinfecting products, among others. Further, we created a campaign called “If you take care of yourself, you take care of others” (Si vos te cuidas, nos cuidamos todos) to promote these measures and implemented it on WTC Montevideo's platforms such as mailings, promotional videos, signposts, and webinars.

To serve our community, we continued developing our service platform, providing advice and valuable content for members to collaborate on and learn from. Our training programs were delivered through an online platform called We Lead, granting up to 50% off all course fees. All proceeds collected from the training programs went to our corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign called “the Coronavirus Fund” to help the lower income community during the pandemic. We have also been promoting a series of online webinars called “Free Zone Talks,” featuring renowned speakers discussing topics such as finance, HR, social issues, health, and international affairs. Our Free Zone Talks are taking place through the second quarter of 2020 and are available on our Spotify (TM) Podcast account and Youtube (TM) channel.

Lastly, from the business pillar, we have worked closely with our clients, holding online conferences via Zoom (TM) to identify and understand their current needs, how their operations are performing during this pandemic, and how their teams are establishing protocols to facilitate their return to their offices. We have also been using Asana (TM) internally with our team for the past five years and continue to use it to collaborate. Although COVID-19 has modified our daily lives, technology has enabled us to work together to overcome these challenges and look to the future.

Photo caption: WTC Montevideo recently held a “Free Zone Talk” featuring Dr. Andrés Álvarez Moccia to discuss how anxiety has caused poor sleep during this pandemic.

Photo credit: WTC Montevideo


TECHNOLOGY ISSUE: REMOTE WORK TRENDS (WTC Valencia)

Subdelia Sevilla; General Director, World Trade Center Valencia

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WTC Valencia is widely known in the region for organizing events at the Convention Center of the Hesperia WTC Hotel Valencia. We host various events and activities — ranging from #InnovAcción to WTC Day — throughout the year as part of the WTC Valencia Agenda. Available to our 200+ Business Club members, these events allow our members to network and foster a business-oriented environment. 

After our successful WTC Women event in March (see photos on our Instagram), the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Venezuela. Shortly after, our city and economy went into lockdown. Our WTC’s initial concern was that our business, which is based on networking and events, would not be viable given the lockdown, but we still had obligations, commitments with sponsors, and a community to serve. To overcome this challenge, we began exploring the digital world of hosting virtual events, which we hadn’t used before aside from creating a website and posting on social media to connect with our community. 

We created a virtual meeting through Zoom (TM) and invited our Business Club members to test the platform. It worked well and we received positive feedback from our members. However, we made a few technical adjustments such as enhancing our opening videos to ensure that the platform would run smoothly, it would be secure, and it would best present our sponsors during our first digital event. 

Held in April, the official launch of our WTC Valencia Digital Agenda was well received by both members and sponsors. Some of the directors from other Latin American WTCs participated in our event as panelists, further growing our community throughout the region. With a growing audience without borders, extraordinary worldwide speakers, and fewer costs than physical events, we can affirm that our Digital Agenda will be part of our regular programming moving forward.

In parallel, our team has also coordinated with Jorge Acevedo, President of WTC Guanajuato and Nuevo Laredo, and Guillermo Acevedo, Executive Director at WTC Cali and Medellin, to explore joint efforts. With the support of Carlos Ronderos, WTCA Regional Director for Latin America, and his team, we have promoted and participated in virtual weekly meetings with the regional representatives of each country within the Latin American region to share experiences, ideas, and projects to collaborate on. 

Photo caption: The collage shows the wide spectrum of WTC Valencia’s Digital Agenda event with topics including strategy, leadership, technology, finance, sustainability, and regional affairs. Some events were presented by international speakers (including Eduardo Gil Delgado, Alberto García-Jurado, Melvin Peña and Daniel Coronel) as well as some WTCA members (WTC Guanajuato and Nuevo Laredo, and WTC Monterrey), with attendance from members of WTC Valencia´s community.

Photo credit: WTC Valencia


TECHNOLOGY ISSUE: REMOTE WORK TRENDS (WTC Twente)

Freerk Faber; CEO, World Trade Center Twente

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Every year, World Trade Center Twente organizes “World Trade Day," where representatives of foreign embassies in the Netherlands are invited to participate in a matchmaking program with companies from the region. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition cannot take place. We have looked for tools and ideas to stay engaged despite our event’s cancelation, and concluded that it was a good alternative to organize a series of webinars titled “GO4Export – The Look Ahead.” 

In this webinar series, we used different platforms such as Zoom (TM), Livestorm (TM) and Microsoft Teams (TM). All of these platforms allow participants to ask questions via the chat tool, and, in particular, Livestorm (TM) has a poll function as well. At the beginning of all webinar sessions we mentioned that, per GDRP guidelines, all webinars are recorded, so we can distribute them afterwards to participants and make them available for viewing at a later time. Our first webinar featured Dutch trendwatcher Adjiedj Bakas, who discussed potential trends in the global economy post-COVID-19. Bakas commented on the opportunities that could open up following the pandemic and highlighted the importance of moving production capacity closer to home, or creating shorter supply chains. He also noted that technological developments are gaining momentum during the pandemic, and creative and innovative companies — including Demcon, Hemabo, MiniValves, and Micronit — are growing stronger despite the challenges faced. 

The rest of the webinars in the series focused on opening to and connecting with different markets. For example, some webinars tackled the conversation of doing business with neighboring countries, such as Belgium, Germany, and the U.K. WTC Twente also hosted a webinar about opportunities for Netherlands-based companies in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. This event included presentations from entrepreneurs and the Head of Economic Affairs of the Dutch Embassy in South Africa.

Later this year, we’re hosting our second annual “Techmed Event” with the University of Twente via the Jublia (TM) platform. Due to uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, instead of hosting a two-day, in-person event, we decided to host the event digitally and spread the event over a longer period of time with “Meet the Experts” sessions starting in August, and a seminar and matchmaking event on October 28 and 29. 

The advantage of these webinars is the ability to reach a greater, global audience and quickly share information with companies. However, while these webinars bridge the gap of communicating and connecting with various communities, and are a great alternative given the current circumstance, our members still yearn for the informal contact and networking opportunities provided by attending an in-person event. And we are looking forward to the moment when we can physically meet again. 

Photo caption: WTC Twente hosted a webinar titled “Trade Possibilities in Sub-Sahara Africa” featuring guest speakers Regina Nieuwmeijer, André Loozekoot, and Joop van der Vinne; and hosts Freerk Faber, Corinne Abbas, Floris Koning, and Judith van den Bovekamp.

Photo credit: WTC Twente