This is the fourth contribution in our series 'On the Road to Future Green City' in which we explore the ingredients we need for a green city with a future. This is in the Future Green City world congress run-up, held in Utrecht, The Netherlands from 23-26 September 2024. This time...
In 2024, IFME member Stadswerk, from the Netherlands, and the local branch association VHG will organise the Future Green City world congress of the international platforms IFME and World Urban Parks (WUP).
Stadswerk-board member and vice-president Sanne Hieltjes is currently, not entirely coincidentally, president of the IFME. How does she view the international professional community and the World Congress?
When Sanne Hieltjes became a board member of Stadswerk in 2016, she already had a distinct international profile. 'I worked in Brazil for 3 years, additionally, I worked and studied in Spain for some time. Also, my husband is Spanish-Brazilian. I was just re-joining the municipality of Rotterdam from Brazil when the call came for a new board member for Stadswerk on behalf of the municipality. A board member who would have international affairs in her portfolio. That suited me perfectly. From that portfolio, I also got involved in the "world club" IFME (International Federation of Municipal Engineering), first as a general member, then elected as vice-president and now as president. Organising a major IFME congress in the Netherlands is related to that.'
What type of organisation is IFME and what does the chairmanship entail? 'Initially, I thought it would be mostly a formal and posh club. And indeed, sometimes things go differently from what you are used to here - for instance, the president is supposed to open the buffet, otherwise, no one starts eating - but the cordiality still prevails. I have really been welcomed with open arms. I was also able to ask Pieter Wiekeraad (province of Groningen) a lot. He has worked internationally on behalf of Stadswerk for many years. Traditionally, Anglo-Saxon countries have strongly put their stamp on the IFME's agenda, but now, for example, China and Zimbabwe are also members, and Ethiopia has become a candidate member. By the way, Pieter is putting tremendous effort into recruiting new members.'
Subtle differences in emphasis
The main 'task' of the president consists of chairing the board meeting twice a year, joining the committees and being linked to that congress in the host country. 'The board meetings are quite long and somewhat formal, but interesting substantive discussions take place in the margins,' says Hieltjes. 'The themes raised there largely correspond to what is going on here - think climate adaptation, circular economy, and asset management. But because of specific contributions from countries, there are also subtle differences in emphasis. Asset management has now also become a serious discipline here, partly because of Australia's input. And from China, there is a lot of interest in large infrastructure projects, because of the Belt and Road Initiative that the country has launched.' Hieltjes continues: 'IFME provides connection and knowledge sharing between urban professionals worldwide. I sometimes get very specific questions like "How did you organise the advertising columns in the outdoor space?" to a visit from a group of Finns eager to learn more about greening the outdoor space in a busy city like Rotterdam.'
Unlike at Stadswerk, there is no organising agency to stage activities; it is mostly voluntary work, the IFME president stresses. 'Only the Secretary-General and the Treasurer get paid, I only get reimbursed for travel expenses. If you really want to take things further, it often depends on a few active people within the network. I do want to broaden the base a bit. Among other things, by placing the action agendas of the various committees more with the members instead of with the board.'
Happy faces and inspiration
For Sanne, the World Congress in 2024 will certainly bring a lot of work. 'I'm really looking forward to that. I hope for a lot of happy faces and inspiration. I also hope it will be a good mix of well-intertwined national and international topics. And all in a "modern" way. Not staring at Powerpoint presentations in dusty rooms, but more interaction, personal meetings, and excursions at different locations. I am also happy that we are organising this great event with partners. Besides branch association VHG, we also have the international organisation WUP (World Urban Parks), which is looking to become extra active in Europe in particular and, in terms of content, fits in well with what we as Stadswerk are doing. Nice that I can be part of this!'
The Future Green City world congress will be held from 23 to 26 September 2024, with Utrecht as the host city.
Photo: Cutting the IFME 60th Anniversary Cake in Rome, November 2022 (delayed due to COVID-19)
Love this article Sanne! What a wonderful perspective on being a Chairperson and sitting on an international committee, really resonates with me and I'm sure all of the friends of IFME.
Nga mihi Priyani
How can I help??? > I speak your language!