An event bringing together international celebrities, high-level politicians, charities and the public in one cohesive meeting of minds may seem like an impossible task. But that was the challenge of the inaugural Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, held at the ICC London Excel on 10-13 June.
The brainchild of the seemingly unlikely pairing of A-list movie star Angelina Jolie and the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, the event aimed not only to raise awareness of the issue of rape and sexual violence during war, but to take real action to solve a problem that is often ignored.
“This is truly a summit like no other,” said Hague, who described the ‘unprecedented event’ as a “unique opportunity to extend our efforts to deal with this issue” during the opening plenary session of a dedicated Minister’s day on 12 June.
Not only was the summit a platform for introducing an international protocol with standards for investigating sexual crimes during conflict, and ensuring strengthened legislation in the area, but a chance to change attitudes.
With 37 foreign secretaries from around the world attending the event, along with heads of state from three countries, and representatives from 123 countries including government officials, military leaders, faith leaders and international organisations, security needed to be high.
A total of around 1,500 official delegates met over the course of the three-and-a half day summit, while a public fringe event welcomed up to 9,000 visitors each day.
Creating an environment where the two sides of the summit could share ideas and experiences, while maintaining the security needed was a critical element of the planning process, explained Katy Harding, Excel’s account manager for the event.
“Communication between the organisers was imperative,” said Harding. Although different entrances were used for the public fringe event and the ministerial and delegate meetings, it was important that there was a ‘flow’ between areas, she added.
A green, flower wall was created to separate the main summit from the fringe event, while delegates were encouraged to explore the public area – with Angelina Jolie and William Hague among them.
With a total of around 22,000sqm of space at ICC London Excel used for the event, the summit made use of the venue’s spaces including its Auditorium, Capital Suites, Capital Hall, and London Suite.
Adjacent event halls were used for the expansive media centre, which housed around 300 media, and the summit fringe.
“This summit is a model for a new way of working together,” pointed out Angelina Jolie, who is Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Look at all the countries represented, and think of what we could accomplish together. Think of what difference we will make if we apply all the lessons learned at this summit.”
In bringing together politicians and international representatives with members of the public, the goal was to bring the messages of the summit very much into the world’s consciousness.
“It was very important that this was not just about ministers discussing issues in a closed room, but that the public fringe was a vital part of the overall event,” added Excel’s Harding.
As well as a marketplace showcasing products created by women around the world who had suffered sexual violence, the fringe included live theatre performances, a silent cinema, art exhibitions, sculpture, a mock court room and discussion rooms featuring talks from bodies including universities, the US Embassy and charities such as Unicef.
Meanwhile social media included a live blog, tweet wall and even a selfie booth, where attendees could add their support to the campaign using the event’s hashtag #TimetoAct.
Because 2014 was the first year of the summit, its scale at initial discussions with the Excel London team in October 2013 did not become immediately apparent.
In fact, from the booking in December 2013, to its realisation some six months later, the footprint of the event grew by about 75 per cent, according to Excel’s Executive Director for Conferences and Events James Rees.
“Angelina Jolie and William Hague had already spent some time around the world campaigning for the summit, so they already had a huge following in terms of the political delegation,” explained Rees.
“But it was the public fringe event that was more of an unknown, and which grew as the idea behind the fringe gathered momentum.”
With 342 staff and contractors on site, plus catering staff provided by Leith’s, the behind the scenes operation was something of a behemoth.
Outside broadcast trucks lined the venue’s exterior, while interpretation booths were set up for translating the summit’s sessions from English to Arabic, Spanish and French.
The event’s owners, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had tasked creative and production agency M-is with assisting during the event, and the team worked with AV provider Blitz Communications to help deliver logistics, while Senior Event Manager Lauren Gallagher joined from Excel’s side.
“It has been an intense relationship between us all, and a real learning experience,” added Harding.
“Although Excel has hosted high profile events such as the G20 and World Islamic Economic Forum before, this has been quite unique and really enlightening,” she said.
With backing from not only governmental and public attendees, but also the likes of Cherie Blair, Stella McCartney, Brad Pitt, and Hillary Clinton, the opportunity to bring light to the issues over the course of the summit was paramount.
And, as the head of the FCO’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and lead on the event, Emma Hopkins, speaking during the conference, acknowledged: “The summit is just a beginning and has created a shared platform for us all to take forward.”
This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston