Global Leadership Initiative: Reporting back from the G20

Part One: The G20 Experience

In the first of two articles reporting back from the Global Leadership Initiative visit to the 2015 G20 summit in Turkey, the student participants discuss their experience.

Photo of the GLI participants.

By Amna Kaleem, Greg Stiles, Joanna Moody, Laura Copete, Megan Wilson, Olivia Wills, Polly Sculpher.

Global Leadership Initiative logo

Read the blog from the G20 Summit 2015.

When the seven of us – going by the moniker The G20 Squad – were selected to represent the Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) at the G20 Leaders’ Summit with our academic lead Dr Garrett Wallace Brown, we knew this would be an excellent learning opportunity. What we did not know was this summit would be a series of surreal experiences, each outdoing the last one! As we boarded the plane to Antalya, we shared with each other our policy interests, leaders’ sighting wish lists, and life histories. By the time we touched down, we had all become great friends and a team, ready to take on the most exciting challenge of our lives.

The G20 Squad arrives in Antalya

After enjoying a VIP arrival at a G20 designated terminal, we made an orderly queue to receive the much-coveted welcome gifts. While we all loved the laptop bag, Turkish jam, notebooks, and bright yellow raincoats, the thing that excited us most was our press passes. With our press passes in place, we made our way to the summit. After one too many security checks – which involved the guards sampling our sunscreen – we entered the Main Zone, an area cordoned off for the summit, to find the International Media Centre (IMC).

The arrival at the IMC elevated our spirits to stratospheric heights. The media centre comprised four separate rooms with the capacity to accommodate 3000 journalists from around the world. First order of business here was to pick the best desk space in the room and mark our territory, which we readily did.

Day One – The Summit starts

Thanks to the thorough selection process, we all arrived at the summit with a good idea of what areas we wanted to focus on. We had a range of experience between us, covering the disciplines of politics, economics, and geography. Together we covered a broad spectrum of relevant issues ranging from terrorism, regional security, the refugee crisis, climate change, economic growth, SME and terrorism financing, and women’s issues. On day one we hit the ground running with everyone tracking their policy area and rushing to the relevant briefings. While some team members attended briefings by Ban Ki-moon (the Secretary General of the UN), Jean-Claude Juncker (the President of the European Commission), and Donald Tusk (the President of the European Council); others got the chance to attend the joint session meeting by Labour 20 and Business 20 partner groups. At this event, the team had the chance to listen to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde, Secretary General of the OECD Angel Guria, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Roberto Azevêdo, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and the CEOs of Nestle, Bharti Enterprises, and Coca Cola, amongst other dignitaries.

We rounded up the day’s proceedings with blog posts on the interesting security arrangements at the summit, the theatrics of international summitry, and the action - or rather inaction - on the refugee crisis.

A taste of Turkish culture

As if getting a chance to listen to world leaders and then writing about it wasn’t enough of a treat, we concluded our first day at the summit with a trip to the Home Culture Zone. Designed to showcase the best of Turkish culture, at the culture zone we got the chance to see a selection of traditional coffee-making utensils, Turkish stringed instruments and rather fascinating display of silk-weaving using silk worms. We also enjoyed freshly brewed Turkish coffee and the most delectable array of Turkish delight we’d ever seen. The evening ended on a high note with an enchanting performance by the whirling dervishes.

Day Two – Reporting, writing, and leaders’ sightings

As per our brief, we had to submit our policy analysis as soon as the summit concluded. Therefore, the final day of the summit ushered in a sense of urgency. Along with writing the blog posts on Turkish government’s media clampdown, tax evasion, and the myopic approach of the White House press corps, the team members finalised work on their respective policy analysis. Displaying excellent multi-tasking skills, the team still found time to attend press briefings and conduct interviews with policy makers and representatives from international organisations.

The press briefing by EU 'Sherpa' Richard Szostak and Deputy Chief Spokeswoman of the EU Commission Mina Andreeva provided insight into the backroom negotiations that were taking place between the leaders and their representatives at the summit. The press briefing also gave us the chance to ask questions relevant to our policy areas.

In between writing and interviewing, we took advantage of the rather relaxed security protocols and saw a host of world leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, make their way to the closed press briefings, organised exclusively for the selected media pool. However, the highlight of the day, and indeed the summit, came when the team attended President Barack Obama’s press briefing. Sitting just behind the White House staffers, our G20 Squad was left mesmerised by Obama’s charm offensive, particularly during the Q&A session.

As the summit concluded with the most exciting press briefing by perhaps one of the most charismatic leaders in the world, it was time to get back to work. The team stayed up all night and, using the insights we had gained, each team member submitted a policy analysis on their area of research. The camaraderie of the group kept us going with every member helping the other by either editing their work, passing on relevant press releases, or keeping the team hydrated. We were also very thankful to the hospitality extended to us by a Turkish waiter who brought us all rounds of coffee just as the energy levels were dipping. He was also nice enough to document our hard work by taking a selfie with the team.

An experience of a lifetime

The G20 Leaders’ Summit was more than just exhilarating moments, it was a crash course in policy analysis, media briefing, interviewing, reporting, live-tweeting and blogging, and observing the realities of politicking. While seeing President Barack Obama or having a picture taken with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and were quite thrilling moments, the chance to interview policy makers and representatives from different international organisations were excellent learning opportunities. We got a chance to network with journalists, government spokespersons, spin-doctors, and policy gurus. Some team members also got great media exposure when they got a chance to be interviewed by international media outlets.

The Global Leadership Initiative scheme, being run by Global Learning Opportunities in the Social Sciences (GLOSS), is an excellent initiative. The scheme enables students to experience decision-making at the highest levels of governance, something, which cannot be taught in a classroom. The experience we gained at the summit is invaluable and will benefit us in our future ventures. The scheme not only aids learning, it helps students get a taste of practical working conditions and gives them an idea about the career path they would like to pursue. Moreover, it is not just field experience; the programme also requires students to write blogs and policy analysis in collaboration with leading academics. This not only equips the students with the skills to analyse policy but also makes a worthy addition to their CVs. By offering students the best fieldwork opportunities available, the GLI scheme is setting the University of Sheffield apart from other institutions of higher learning.

Visit the Global Leadership Initiative website for more information and to sign up.

Check back soon for Part Two of our Reporting Back series.

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