As 2013 came to a close, so did our president’s tenure. In an interview with Violette Ruppanner, we discover what motivated her to take up the role, the challenges she faced, how she achieved her goals and what her new role in OWIT will entail as we start the year.
A little background
A Swiss national with a degree in Economics, Executive Master in Management of Technology (MoT) and MBA in Marketing, Leadership & Change Management, Violette joined OWIT in 2008 following a recommendation that it was a good place to network and meet interesting people. Having recently returned from the US, it provided the perfect chance, both personally and professionally, to stay connected to the international community and keep up her English.
Stepping up from member to president
The path from member to president was gradual and in some ways, a natural process. Violette became more and more involved in the volunteering side – helping at OWIT events with registration or taking photos. Answering a call for volunteers to fill rolls on the OWIT Executive team, she took on those of VP Partnership in 2009, and Executive VP temporarily until the position was filled. When the then President announced she was leaving Switzerland, a lack of successor led Violette to step up and become OWIT President.
“It was a great opportunity to develop my leadership skills and perhaps open doors professionally, and I also got a lot of encouragement from fellow team members.”
What did you set out to achieve? Did you succeed?
“My goal was to make myself redundant as fast as possible... It took me much longer than I thought it would! Joking aside, I wanted to develop the association in a way to make it less dependent on a single leader, a single person in the driving seat. I think that I can honestly say that this has been achieved.”
OWIT now has a co-presidency, which reduces the burden on one person to be present and represent the association on many occasions – two monthly networking meetings, at least one monthly event over the past years except in July and August, board meetings and other events and meetings to which the Association’s leadership is invited and expected to participate.
“We have also empowered the executive team members to be fully responsible for their area of action and encouraged them to build and coach their own volunteer teams. We invited our members, through the World Café and Action Café in 2013, to express their wishes and ideas for the association’s future and how they envisage their participation, in the spirit of being (becoming) an organisation that lives for and through its members. Several great projects have come out of this process, and are now being put into action independently by members (the executive team only plays an advisory role). Thus, the responsibility of carrying OWIT forward has been distributed over more shoulders – more heads, hearts and hands are working together to make it flourish.”
However, on a more practical level, there were a few things to tackle. First and foremost, OWIT’s finances were running seriously low. “Turning around the financial situation was therefore a priority for me. I am happy to say that I am handing over the association to the new team in good financial health, with some reserves for investments if needed.”
Violette expands on another successful project related to the website, which had been growing organically over the years and become quite cumbersome to maintain and develop. A small group of dedicated volunteers created and launched a new site. It is much easier for all to use and has simplified membership and event management tremendously. Violette also ensured the association’s institutional memory was documented (most OWIT’s practices and processes) and a system for document sharing was established.
What was the greatest challenge?
Since OWIT is one of the key English-speaking networking organisations based in the Lake Geneva area, it attracts many people in transition, whose stays range from a few months to a couple of years. Many head hunters and job agencies also recommend OWIT Lake Geneva to job hunters who engage with the association while they are searching for a job, but get back into their non-networking habits as soon as they are back at work. “The regular turnover of membership, and since we are volunteer-based, therefore also the executive team, means a lot of time and energy is invested in explaining and coaching new executive team members and volunteers, and rebuilding the team, rather than focusing on organisational and strategy development work.”
What have you enjoyed about the experience?
“There are a number of things I have thoroughly enjoyed throughout the experience:
- First, I could literally see myself grow in the role as I became slowly aware of what leading a volunteer organisation meant and entailed. Today, speaking in public has become so much easier and more natural for me than when I took over the role.
- Second, I was able to meet a lot of inspiring people throughout the years, among our members and constituency, the executive team and our guest speakers – I have learned many great things from all of them and some have become friends.
- Last but not least, I truly enjoyed the membership engagement process that we decided and launched in spring 2013 (and that will continue in 2014).
It has been very energising and rewarding to see a new generation of volunteers and board members taking up and co-sharing the responsibility to carry OWIT Lake Geneva into the future, always keeping in mind the key question we asked at the outset: How might we as an association fulfil our highest potential for our members and have a positive impact on the world around us?”
What will your new role entail?
As Co-VP of Partnerships at OWIT International – a role I will share with Susan Baka from Toronto, Canada – my task will be to develop new partnerships with like-minded organisations, mostly, but not only, in Europe. These partnerships should provide new benefits to OWIT members as well as create goodwill and synergies.
As OWIT Adviser, I also remain available as a resource person for any policy or operational issue that the new OWIT Lake Geneva executive team may wish to address.
It only remains to say that OWIT volunteers and members would like to thank Violette for her great leadership, dedication, energy and enthusiasm, and fantastic achievements throughout her membership and presidency. We wish Violette all the very best and remain thankful that she continues to contribute to OWIT in her new Advisor role.