The 2016 FFI World Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco took place from September 16 - 19, with 180 delegates in attendance from 17 countries, supported by staff members from FFI Headquarters including including CEO Jeremi Snook, Conference Director Debbie Powell, Director of Operations Matthew Nidek, Regional Support Manager Maryam Jordan, and Director of Marketing and Communications Kaitlyn Ranney. This smaller World Conference allowed for increased collaboration and friendship-building, with many delegates sharing that they were able to make some strong connections due to the smaller size.
The World Conference officially began on Friday, with an opening performance by Gnawa of Marrakesh, a musical group performing ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms. After a warm welcome by Conference Director Debbie Powell and the enthusiastic roll call of countries represented by the delegates, Jeremi and FF Vancouver member (host of the 2015 World Conference) Marian Ennis presented the Host Cup to Lotfi Lamrani. In return, Lotfi gave “Peace Ambassador” medals to Marian and the staff as well.
After an introduction by Board members Kurt Haefeli and Dave Kalan, Jeremi Snook took the stage with his discussion “Reflect, Re-Tool, Reinvigorate, Repeat!” which outlined determined paths forward for FFI. A question-and-answer session followed his presentation, with many insightful queries posed by the audience and answered by Jeremi, Kurt, and Dave.
That afternoon, delegates participated in a variety of optional tours, including ziplining through desert gorges, camel rides, shopping in the souks or tours of historical Marrakesh. Friday night was “An Evening in the Medina” which began with horse-and-carriage rides from the Kenzi Farah Hotel to the Djemaa El-Fna square in central Marrakesh, where delegates took in the myriad sights, smells, sounds, and entertainment, before a stroll to the Dar Essalam restaurant for a tasty and lively dinner, complete with dancing and music. Throughout the Conference, delegates enjoyed a variety of local cultural activities and workshops, including a bellydancing class, a talk about the production of Morocco’s famed argan oil, and a demonstration of tagine cooking.
The schedule on Saturday morning opened with a new program offering of “Unconference” workshops, where delegates could choose from a variety of session topics they themselves wanted to teach to others or learn about. Some of the subjects submitted by delegates were Grandparent/Intergenerational Exchanges, Language Challenges in Exchanges; Innovation in Hosting and Themes and Service and Volunteerism/Voluntourism with FFI. Members had two opportunities to choose amongst these for informal discussion-center hours. All of the subjects and some of the summaries from these sessions can be found here.
Other workshop topics that afternoon included Leadership Training, Strategic Planning, Marketing, Recruiting and Being a Good Ambassador (see all materials from these workshops at the “Presentation” tab on the yellow bar above). Donors to the I’m In Campaign enjoyed a special reception that afternoon graciously hosted by Dave and Pat Meyer of FF Northern Illinois, U.S.A., with Jeremi and FFI staff in attendance.
Sunday opened with a breakfast meeting of the Field Representatives in attendance, followed by the African Plenary session, which featured several fantastic speakers from around the continent. Mounia Ait Allal began the morning with an interactive lesson of Darija or Moroccan Arabic. Representatives from several African clubs also spoke about their countries, clubs and exchanges throughout the weekend, including Fredrick Bombo from FF Kampala, Uganda; Dela Quarcoo from FF Volta Lake, Ghana; Hanaa Rashad from FF Cairo, Egypt; and Cori Nel and Eileen Bintcliffe from FF Capetown, South Africa.
Also on Sunday, delegates heard an informative presentation by Maryam and Skylar Montague of Project Soar, a Morocco-based non-profit organization with the mission of empowering girls. Delegates had the opportunity to donate to Project Soar after the talk and did so generously. The African Plenary concluded with Dr. Rajae Chafil, the Director of Observation, Studies and Planning at Morocco’s Ministry of Environment, who spoke about “The Changing Role of Muslim Women in Morocco” and her work and life.
The 2016 Gala Dinner took place that evening, with wonderful cultural dress sported by many delegates, an abundance of Moroccan culinary specialties, dancing, and friendship. The Awards Presentation took place that evening as well, with Volunteer of the Year going to Lotfi Lamrani, Club of the Year going to FF Bavaria, Germany and the newly-named Charlene Terrell Lifetime Achievement Award going to Erzsebet Steger of FF Székesfehérvár (see all award recipients here). Additionally, Jeremi made an announcement about the upcoming 40th Celebration at Sea Cruise taking place in 2017, while also thanking Dave Kalan for his dedication and service and giving away several copies of Charlene Terrell’s The Other Side of the Mountain books.
The closing plenary on Monday morning was a look ahead to new projects and events in the coming year. Andrew Kelly of FF Manchester, U.K. changed many delegates’ misperceptions and stereotypes of the 2017 World Conference host city of Manchester, England with a lively and humorous introduction to his beloved city. Debbie and Jeremi then drew tickets to select the winners of free conference tickets to Manchester, deciding to choose four winners instead of the original two, sending four lucky delegates to the exciting 40th anniversary conference in Manchester in August 2017.
After the final break of the weekend, FFI staff member Kaitlyn Ranney spoke about many large-scale marketing and communications projects in development at FFI Headquarters, which included a reveal of the new FFI promotional video and a sneak-peek at the new FFI website. Finally, Jeremi closed the 2016 World Conference with heartfelt remarks and a reading of Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem, “Human Family.” As is tradition, delegates stood to join hands and sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” as the 2016 FFI World Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco concluded.