About the Author: Adrian Pratt serves as Assistant Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassy Wellington.
Organizing a conference for future leaders in New Zealand can take a lot of work. But when you bring together 50 vibrant, engaged and driven students from across the country together for the first time, fun is a natural by-product.
The early October "Connecting Young Leaders" conference, coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, wove together a number of top goals: We used social media to deepen our outreach to the young and future leaders of New Zealand, built mutual understanding between our countries as well as long-term relationships.
By way of background, Ambassador David Huebner, almost as soon as he arrived, began assembling student advisory groups at each of the country's universities. These students were selected for the promise they showed as future leaders of New Zealand. The ambassador met with each of these groups while he was traveling, but the students themselves had not met their counterparts from other universities.
"Connecting Young Leaders" was to fix that. We had already established a by-invitation-only Facebook group -- Kiwusdo -- for student discussions.
Now we wanted to get them all to meet.
The students were a little reserved when we brought them together for a reception and political history lesson at parliament on the first night. By the end of the second evening, there was no keeping the group quiet. They had bonded.
Along the way, we organized panels to discuss the state of the world, Kiwi and international politics and law, environmentalism, Pacific development, the global economy and trade. We even invited a leadership guru, who finished the conference on a high note.
The ambassador then hosted the students at his residence for a high-decibel dinner at which the themes of the day continued to be hashed out.
The conference has already been tweeted, videoed, and blogged about. Speakers from Washington, DC, greeted the students via a recorded video message. Questions from the students to the speakers that were not answered due to time constraints during the Q&A sessions were answered later online, through Kiwusdo. Throughout the day photos of the conference were uploaded to Facebook and Flickr, so that the students could share with their friends and family in real time using the free wi-fi provided.
The goals now will be to keep the students engaged -- with each other, and with us. With social media, we're already well on the way to achieving that.
To read more about the "Connecting Young Leaders" conference, visit U.S. Ambassador Huebner's blog.