• Elisa Tuijnder

Why name your company after a fish? And Connection beyond Constraints, what’s that all about?

You might wonder why we would name an event and engagement company after a fish, a sardine at that. It’s actually named after an old English children’s game of reverse hide and go seek. The rules are well-known, but instead of everyone hiding, one person hides, everyone seeks. Once you have found the hidden person, you join them in their hiding spot, when more people find you, the hiding spot starts looking like a tin of sardines. When I first came to the United Kingdom as an exchange student, one silly night my housemates wanted to play this game. I was stunned by the sheer brilliance of how such a well-known kids' game completely changes by flipping one simple rule. While I was hiding in a spot with two other slightly drunken housemates, giggling and bonding in our hide-out community, it struck me that this would be a great metaphor for something one day, I just wasn’t sure exactly what.

Many years later, after completing my master’s degree in International Relations and Anthropology and spending time in research institutes in remote parts of the world, I was asked to organise a large international conference on African Studies at the University of Birmingham. The academic lead of the conference and I were keen on making this conference as inclusive as possible. It was time to put our money where our mouth was and really decolonise the curriculum. Gone would be the days that a number of white men would sit in a stuffy dim-lit classroom in England eating cucumber sandwiches while discussing matters of race, ethnicity, and development, without even one person present from the concerning country. While we were quite successful in attracting bursaries, offering visa advice, and supporting as many academics from African institutions as possible, I was still left with an empty feeling after somewhat of a noble but futile quest. For each colleague we managed to greet at the conference, there were 50 disappointed, excluding them from the knowledge-sharing and networking opportunities so important to advance their careers.

Organising conferences is costly (financially but also for the environment, although that’s a different discussion), UK universities charge vast amounts to hire their spaces, admin costs are steep and the stale coffee being served is not free (but it should be!). Registration prices have risen significantly over the last few years, often excluding students and academics from less-wealthy universities. But even if you have the financial means to join the caravan of international travel that trails to these conferences, you might not have the time as your child needs to be taken to piano lessons or someone has to stay home to walk the dog. You might even be denied boarding because you reside in a country where it’s almost impossible to obtain a visa to come to Western Europe or North America, or you have a disability that doesn’t make it easy to travel. I have had to disappoint many people eager to share their work and learn from their colleagues over the many conferences I have organised. The need for a better digital offering that could foster wider participation and one that would be more sustainable was apparent to me.

Hence Sardines was born, I finally found a place for that feeling I had had many years before that simple changes can mean great things, and that community building is paramount. A silver lining of the global health crisis is that digital and hybrid solutions accelerated rapidly – not only has technology come leaps and bounds, ‘we’ as contact craving human beings are more open to alternative ways of communication. With Sardines we have been able to create conferences and events that weren’t only a placeholder until live events can return, but events in their own right, creating memorable and informative moments that reached far beyond a computer screen. Events that weren’t a repository of information, but felt vibrant and exciting, with spaces for learning, networking, fun, and wellbeing.

While all colleagues and clients forcibly had to innovate at the start of the pandemic, a number have become comfortable with their Eventbrite x Zoom set-up. While this certainly has its place, don’t stay married to the idea, continue to innovate and develop your digital footprint. There are so many more ways for an event and community to reach and engage your audiences. Don’t approach your digital event as a temporary placeholder, make it a permanent fixture even after you can hold face-to-face meetings. Let’s go hybrid, retain physical contact while increasing sustainability and accessibility. Let’s revolutionise knowledge-sharing! Let’s talk!

How can we help you with your digital footprint today?

Elisa@sardines.biz


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