Sections Congress Inspires Volunteer Leaders in Many Ways

Several new features unveiled at IEEE’s triennial event

20 October 2014

This year’s Sections Congress seemed to have lived up to its goal of inspiring IEEE’s leaders of tomorrow. Here are some of what attendees had to say in a survey that gauged their satisfaction with the event: “great experience both personally and professionally, “a priceless opportunity to network with members around the globe,” and “an excellent experience with a number of innovations.”

Held in Amsterdam from 22 to 24 August, the gathering brought together more than 1,000 IEEE volunteer leaders from around the world to exchange ideas and learn about the products and programs available to members in their local areas. The aim is for attendees, once back home, to apply what they’ve learned by offering new programs and improving their old ones. More than 300 sections, or just over 90 percent of the total number, were represented, along with 32 societies and councils. Nearly 10 percent of the attendees were young professionals.

“This year’s Sections Congress was again a truly outstanding event for our volunteer leadership,” says Ralph Ford, vice president, IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) Board, the event sponsor. “There was a strong sense of community and a high level of energy that motivated participants.”

Adds program committee chair Murty Polavarapu, “Our ‘One IEEE’ concept came through very well. We brought in speakers from other operating units—Educational Activities, Publication Services, Standards Association, Technical Activities, and IEEE-USA—so attendees were getting the big picture of IEEE. We also tried to make this a truly global event.”

The congress saw many firsts.

SectionsCongressIgnite300 One of the 31 ignite sessions, which were one of the new presentation formats unveiled at the event. Photo: IEEE


This congress was the first held outside North America and also introduced Program Committee members from Regions 8, 9, and 10.

Among the innovations was a new mobile app developed to help attendees manage meeting logistics and personalize their agendas. It contained the program schedule, interactive maps of the exhibit hall and meeting rooms, and names and contact information of attendees and speakers. With the app it was possible to share documents and provide almost instant feedback about sessions, and carry these discussions into the social media channels.

Polavarapu points out that the app “also made it easier for users to do the networking we wanted them to do because they could exchange contact information quickly.” And the digital storage was environmentally friendly, saving tons of paper.


Realizing that time is valuable in today’s fast-paced world, the organizers introduced two new presentation formats (along with traditional PowerPoint-aided talks) for presenting material more quickly.

“We are catering to the changing dynamics of conference attendees,” says Polavarapu. “People get impatient sitting in one room session after session, listening to paper after paper. We tried to do things very differently this time.”

For example, one new presentation format was an “ignite” talk—a five-minute presentation intended to spark interest on a particular topic. Actually, there were 31 ignite talk sessions that covered topics such as engaging with young professionals, using conferences to build communities, and getting local news into The Institute.

Another innovative session format was a learning lab, a 10- to 15-minute live demonstration that included presentations on programs such as Google Apps and IEEE RésuméLab, an online program that helps you with the many tasks needed for landing a job.

“The short formats promoted an open atmosphere of sharing ideas,” says Ford. “We want to expand these in future congresses.”

The 28 breakout sessions were focused on three tracks: improving the volunteer experience, reaching globally with a local touch, and enhancing member satisfaction with IEEE.

“These tracks are very important to us,” notes Polavarapu. “We’re a global organization and we have to be aware of local conditions, so we discussed ways to customize how we deliver the volunteer and member experience.”

Among the topics covered were leadership development programs for volunteers and local humanitarian technology efforts, as well as introductions to the various resources available for members.

All of the presentations—the ignite talks, the learning labs, and the traditional sessions—can be downloaded from the IEEE Sections Congress website.

One attendee summed up the three-day event this way: “It was a great experience. An ideal place for delegates to learn a lot so they can then go home and spread the news among their sections and make sure the benefits of the Congress are not limited only to its participants.”


One of the highlights of the congress is that the 294 primary section delegates vote on recommendations for improvements they’d like to see IEEE make. These are the top five, worded exactly as they were voted on:

  1. Include free access to the IEEE [Xplore] Digital Library as a member benefit. Promote other IEEE services and products based on their usage and preferences (adopt Google Business Model).
  2. Develop an incentive and recognition program for companies that invest in full or partial support of their employees’ IEEE membership dues.
  3. Introduce loyalty rewards such as publication access, conference fees, standards for continued membership.
  4. Provide a tool to build, promote, record, host, and broadcast technical events at the local level and make them available to IEEE members.
  5. Enhance vTools for better usability by volunteers and provide a training program to the sections. [vTools are developed and made possible by IEEE volunteers. The toolbox simplifies administration by offering Web-based software, reduces time spent managing activities, and assists in member development.]
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