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Praise For Speaker-Focused GeoAfrica4 Conference

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The presentation of technical papers regularly forms the backbone of IGS geosynthetics conferences but it is less common for such events to be more speaker-led.

IGS Egypt successfully adopted this novel approach when it organized the 4th African Regional Conference on Geosynthetics (4th GeoAfrica) in February, this year. Here, some 400 delegates explored the theme ‘Geosynthetics in sustainable infrastructures and mega projects’, discovering the current and potential opportunities for geosynthetics in the region.

However, rather than dominated by a schedule of paper presentations, discussions were led by talks from seven eminent speakers complemented by workshops, site visits and social events.

Speakers: Peter Legg, JP Giroud, Richard Bathurst, Chungsik Yoo, Daniele Cazzuffi, Jorge Zornberg, Malek Bouazza

Here, IGS Egypt Vice President Rami El-Sherbiny reflects on the organization of the three-day event and offers advice for counterparts looking to reenergize their own conference formats.

Congratulations on the success of GeoAfrica4! Please tell us what led to organizers opting for a more speaker-led approach?

Thank you! Unlike traditional conferences which focus on paper submissions and author participation, we were more focused on creating an inviting environment for interaction and rich technical content that would appeal to potential participants and exhibitors. The organizing committee noticed early on that the traditional conference model would have limited the size of the conference and its overall impact. The number of abstracts we received was below expectations, maybe due to the changing dynamics in travel funding and publication requirements for professors and professionals especially in this region, which should be looked into for future events.

We therefore thought of enriching the technical program with exciting keynote lectures and interesting technical workshops surrounded by an exhibit that provided an opportunity for interaction and socialization. This resulted in wider interest and motivation for attendance and participation.

How was this approach supported?

The IGS is gifted with highly regarded experts in the field that are motivated and willing to support. We received tremendous support from all IGS technical committees, and they were quick to respond with a very strong workshop program in support of the conference. Combined with keynote lectures by some of the best in the field covering a wide range of geosynthetic topics, the program looked very impressive and we all felt it would resonate with attendees.

Project owners, consultants, contractors, and regulators are keen on expanding their knowledge, learning about new advances and developments, and finding solutions to their technical challenges. These needs were served through the technical content of the conference and interaction with the experts and exhibitors. We also received some very good papers that further enriched the technical content of the conference.

What sort of feedback did you get from participants?

We had some very positive feedback across the board.

For example, sponsors said they were proud to participate in the Exhibition, with comments including: “I am glad to have attended this conference, having the possibility to meet colleagues and clients sharing knowledge and technical discussions on geosynthetic projects”, and “The GeoAfrica 2023 expo ended on a high note… Our booth was surrounded by amazing people from various industries”.

Delegate comments included: “Attending the impressive conference was a unique opportunity to gain a comprehensive insight into the geosynthetic industry.” Another said: “The conference organization was excellent, and meeting people was the best thing about it.”

Another attendee said: “[We attended] some great presentations of the brightest minds in the field of innovative solutions using geosynthetics as well as a lot of geotechnical applications. It was a good opportunity to exchange ideas with them and learn a lot from their experience and research.”

We also had an exciting program for IGS Young Members and we’re pleased they got a lot out of the conference too, with one student commenting: “Please allow me to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to our respected professors for the excellent organization and coordination of this distinguished event, and for giving us the opportunity, as young researchers, to attend, connect, and enrich our knowledge.”

We also appreciated a comment from Professor Mohamed Bahr, President of the Egyptian Geotechnical Society, who said: “On behalf of the Egyptian Geotechnical Society, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to our colleagues at IGS Egypt for this well organized conference under the professional leadership of Prof. Rami El-Sherbiny and the organizing committee. We hope continuous success and cooperation in the future.”

The conference’s active social program was also popular.

Yes, the atmosphere and the mood were excellent throughout the event. The gala dinner was especially nice with the scenic background of Cairo at night from a 40th-floor revolving restaurant. The views were magnificent and the mood was great with some classic live music. It was so much fun watching Dr. Pietro Rimoldi recording the promotional videos for the upcoming 12th International Conference on Geosynthetics from that scenic setting. IGS Young Members also had a Nile cruise and a fun geosynthetics quiz. We ended the conference with an organizers’ dinner in old Cairo.

Young Members at GeoArfica 2023
Would you adopt such a speaker-led program again?

Yes! I think this model worked very well in Egypt and may also be successful in future events in Africa, the Middle East, or other developing geosynthetics markets. It provides the motivation for attending to learn and interact without having to tie it to paper preparation and presentation on the participants’ side.

The benefit of this approach is expanding the reach of the geosynthetic industry and the IGS, especially in developing markets. It still does require heavy involvement from the IGS technical committees, and also funding and close control of the budget.

I think judgement of the suitability of applying this model should be based on the insight of the local chapters and regional activities committees that understand their regional needs.

We’re delighted our conference was well received and thank you to all who attended and supported our event.