St Andrews: Open to debate

Mustafa Khalifa speaks to the St Andrews Economic Forum's Director of Marketing, Samir Færevic Arab

How did the St Andrews Economic Forum (SAEF) start?

It started in 2007 as a collaboration between the St Andrews Economic Society President and some independent entrepreneurially-minded students. The vision was to put St Andrews on the map by delivering a first-class conference. St Andrews is a small university but with quality and they also wanted to provide a conference which focussed on quality not quantity. This was to provide an intimate relationship with the speakers that were visiting and the students who are attending.

How was the first conference in 2007?

Initially, the set-up of the conference was structured by workshops however that didn't go as planned. The SAEF lost its momentum and a few of the original committee members but was started up again two years later in 2009 with agenda 'Oil - Challenges and Opportunities'. This was the first time it was successful in terms of who we reached out to and the number of people that came.

Who is the target audience?

In previous conferences we've attracted students from many universities, undergraduate and postgraduate, as well as locals from the town of St Andrews. The SAEF welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds. This assortment of people attending promotes interesting debates between students and speakers, providing an inter-generational dialogue between the leaders of today with the leaders of tomorrow.

What distinguishes the SAEF from other student-led business conferences?

Firstly, the SAEF is an annual three-day event with brings many speakers together at the same time, unlike some student societies who provide speakers throughout the year. We aim to bring 15 speakers every year. Secondly, the structure of the SAEF means we bring speakers who support a viewpoint and speakers who oppose it to provide attendees a better understanding of the topic at hand. For example, the 2010 conference saw speakers who support microfinance as a means of alleviating poverty in Africa and speakers who vehemently opposed it. This provides debates, discussions and interactions which aren't seen at many student-run conferences.

This year's agenda was 'Developing Africa: A Lost Cause or a Rising Star?' How was this topic chosen?

At the end of last year's conference the incumbent committee and the new committee came together to decide what would be a relevant and interesting topic to have for next year's SAEF. It was also important that we would be able to find speakers for that topic. After a brainstorming session with all the committee members, it was my colleague Martin Panzer, the Director of Speakers and Content, was the one who suggested it should be on Africa.

How did you feel the 2010 SAEF went?

I'm very happy with the results of this year's conference. Last year was the first time any of the committee had done an event this big which involved so many distinguished speakers under one roof. For me, this year was more enjoyable as we built on the positives from last year, the panels were excellent and the speakers were debating freely with each other and not agreeing on everything which was great!

What advice can you give to students hosting such events?

First of all, you have to be very committed. You can send out a hundred letters of invitation for sponsorship proposals or speakers and you'll get ninety-nine or even a hundred rejections. You must stay focussed, on-the-ball and most importantly committed. It's not easy and it's important that the team supporting you is also committed and willing to work hard to make the conference a success and fulfil the vision of the event. In my opinion, it's important to believe that you are making a difference because if you don't feel what you're doing is special or worth fighting for then you won't give 100%. This was my experience.

The St Andrews Economic Forum was founded by the Economics Society of the University of St Andrews. It is a platform of stimulating discussion for students from St Andrews, the United Kingdom and beyond. Last year, it attracted over 200 delegates including students from Oxford, Cambridge and LSE, as well as from Germany and Switzerland.

*The Forum raises awareness of critical contemporary issues in economics and related subjects and recognizes the importance of inter-generational knowledge-sharing between today's and tomorrow's world leaders. It is a small, but growing conference that is large enough to attract the world's brightest minds from the business sector, academia and public policy, yet small enough to encourage interaction between speakers and students. *

*More information, photos and transcripts on previous conferences and next year's SAEF can be found at www.saef.co.uk *

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