The 70th IAC in the eyes of the SGAC Office

by Clémentine Decoopman – SGAC Executive Director

Unlike most attendees, for us at Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), the International Astronautical Federation (IAC) activities do not start on the first day with the Opening Ceremony, our “marathon” actually begins on the Thursday prior to the IAC, on the first day of the Space Generation Congress (SGC).

As the only event of its kind, the Space Generation Congress offers the next generation of space leaders the opportunity to network and to examine critical questions that are facing the space and international community at large. The SGC2019 hosted 150 delegates from 51 different nationalities, 68 of those attendees were given full scholarships to be able to come to Washington DC.

On the Sunday between SGC and the beginning of the IAC, SGAC organises its annual “Sunday Workshops”. In 2019, SGAC partnered with NASA to offer a workshop on “To the Moon and Beyond: Enabling NASA’s Human Exploration of the Solar System” including a practical group exercise in which delegates were presented with scenarios related to the challenges of deep space communications and navigation, and tasked to solve them using the information and tools provided. For the first time this year, two of our new project groups – Space Technologies for Earth Applications (STEA) and Space Medicine and Life Sciences (SMLS) have come together to host one of SGAC’s unique workshops, the “Space for Earth Hackathon”, which provided a platform for SGAC members to innovate and solve UN-SDGs based challenges in interprofessional and multidisciplinary groups.

When comes the first day of the IAC, the SGAC Leadership Team including the SGAC Co-Chairs, the SGAC Executive Director and Operations Manager and Executive Team members have already been up and running for 5 days, 5 days of “Work Hard, Play Hard” as we like to call it. Galvanised by the enthusiasm and unlimited passion for space from the SGC participants, we come to truly realise and embrace how fun and exciting volunteering or working for SGAC. We also feel rewarded for so much efforts dedicated towards the organisation and the endless hours of work spent on the preparations of the SGC. Yet, the most important part for SGAC’s overall year plan comes with at the IAC…

As soon as the IAC Opening Ceremony is closing, in the eyes of the SGAC Leadership Team, the IAC conference center transforms into a gigantic meeting room! For the 70th IAC alone, SGAC planned around 50 bilateral meetings with potential or existing partners from space agencies, to leading industry players, non-profits organisations, or startups. Following the so-called “Battle Plan”, we all split in teams of two or three, pre-defined, and start hopping from meetings to meetings with one common mission in mind: maintaining our current partnerships while seeking for new ones for the upcoming year activities and events.

While SGAC is nothing without its members and active volunteers who are dedicating time and effort to grow the organisation and run its activities, the organisation’s success wouldn’t be possible without our partners and sponsors who continuously support SGAC and its activities, allowing for the organisation to grow and to offer, year after year, more opportunities to our members. The IAC is one of the unique opportunities for SGAC to meet our existing partners in-person, update them about our upcoming activities, appraise them of our achievements over the past year and secure their support for the year ahead. It is also a perfect “playground” for us to find new potential partners, get acquainted with newcomers in the industry and spread the word about SGAC. About three quarters of the SGAC sponsors for the year’s projects and events are negotiated and secured at the IAC, needless to say these 5 days of the conference are truly decisive and of utmost importance for an organisation like SGAC. To me, this is definitely the most exciting part of the job of Executive Director, when you get to passionately advocate for something you really believe in, inspiring the leaders in the industry to get involved, support us and form meaningful partnerships.

One of the key objectives for the week: gain a maximum of visibility during the IAC, from organising bilateral meetings to attending a maximum of social receptions (and finding yourself attending 4 different receptions in one night). When I joined SGAC, as Deputy Executive Director, the previous Chair challenged me to collect a maximum of business cards and for each to remember a “fun-fact” about its owner. At the time, I found this exercise to be so hard although it turns out it was a “good school” to learn how to network effectively.

There is always a little bit of apprehension before the very first business meeting but after 2 or 3 of them, you feel totally up-to-speed with the message you need to deliver and are actually having so much fun doing those and tag-teaming with your SGAC meeting partners. By the end of the week, exhausted by an average of 4 hours of sleep per night and a continuous frozen smile on your face comes the SGAC debrief meeting. Each team member reports on their respective meetings, the new leads and seeds planted. It’s an occasion for us to look back at such a productive week and celebrate the end of the IAC all together.

I don’t know how the other participants feel at the end of the IAC week, but for us at SGAC, it is an unforgettable experience, a week you look after the whole year, and as you just spent this incredible 10 days with your favourite space friends, we even have an expression to describe the feelings you have when coming back home, as the SGAC Chair Arnau Pons would say “post-IAC depression, real symptoms, true story”.

Clémentine Decoopman is currently the Executive Director of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). She began her career working in onboarding and marketing at Airbus Helicopters after completing her Masters in International Business at Kedge Business School in Marseille (France) and her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing at San Diego State University in San Diego (USA). From Airbus Helicopters, she went on to work as a marketing and events planner at Arianespace Inc. in Washington DC (USA), becomign SGAC Executive Director in June 2017.