Global Meetings

How to Build Meeting Partnerships in Kenya

Hargrove’s collaboration with Kenyan meeting and event professionals on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit has led to a lasting relationship.

GES 2015 Obama
President Obama and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (center) shared the stage at GES 2015. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Nairobi.

Meeting professionals from both sides of the Atlantic found themselves on unfamiliar ground during the recent 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Kenya.  In the United States, Lanham, Maryland–headquartered Hargrove, Inc. was contracted by the U.S. Department of State to serve as general contractor for GES 2015, which brought about 1,500 entrepreneurs, investors, government officials, and others to the conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) on July 25-26 — and featured an appearance by President Obama. Hargrove had worked on a variety of State Department events and international programs, but had never staged anything in Africa. In Kenya, an up-and-coming community of meeting planners had never worked on anything as big as GES 2015, but was eager for the experience.

“The meetings and events industry in Kenya, as well as East Africa, is growing fast,” said Kevin Mulei, managing director of Nairobi-based Mosound Events, which was the audiovisual, lighting, and staging supplier for GES 2015. “There are now more players in the industry, and some can now afford to specialize.”

While Hargrove’s official job was to design and produce GES 2015, “our mandate was really to work with Kenyan vendors to provide the product, which was an interesting and exciting challenge,” said Ron Bracco, the company’s vice president of events. “It really got us to learn how things were made there, learn from one another, really challenge how they constructed some of their elements. There was education back and forth.”

Here’s how Hargrove and local meeting professionals like Mulei built a lasting professional relationship — steps that offer a valuable model for international collaboration and mentoring.

Bracco “It’s really taking all the disciplines that we have in house and breaking them apart. There wasn’t a fabrication scenic shop that did special events, so we went to a graphics shop that has created exhibits and fabricated elements; they were a great support in some of the scenic elements that we provided. We went to an AV company to provide sound, light, and video. We went to a woman-owned event-planning company that was able to provide us a lot of the little event details, pull all those elements together, to give us the design finishes. We worked with a couple rental companies and tenting companies. Without increasing the number of contracts, we really did try to spread the wealth as much as possible.”

Mulei “The brief was to deliver a world-class experience in more than 15 spaces of engagement. The summit required not only state-of-the art equipment but also skilled crew to man the different rooms.”

GES 2015 AV
Behind the scenes at GES 2015. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Nairobi.

Bracco “[Kenya is] seven hours ahead [of the eastern United States], so it’s the timeline of conversing. And consistency and quality of what our expectations were, which meant that we were needing to see prototypes and we were constantly sending back and forth print samples and photos, and sending a team on the ground six weeks out to assist the State Department in the procurement of Kenyan vendors.”

Mulei “Most definitely the pressure that comes with knowing that the entire world is watching us and that nothing can go wrong. In addition, it was the fact that we had to acquire a lot of equipment and enlist a team that would deliver excellence. We were committed to doing a good job, and had to turn away a couple of events to ensure we delivered.”

Bracco “It went really well. There were long hours, but really shining moments. It was great to build these relationships with the Kenyan vendors, who really wanted to work and hit the mark. They were very proud to be involved in this event. Being in Washington, every vendor has an opportunity to work with a press conference or White House event, and it just becomes old hat. To work with vendors who were so proud to work on such a high-profile event and have the opportunity to learn and to be challenged, and have them meet that challenge, was really pretty exciting.”

Mulei “Firstly, it allowed us to interact with impressive teams from Hargrove, Inc., who are simply excellent in their field. Our team certainly had a lot to learn from working with them. Secondly, being in those rooms of engagement allowed us to hear of the brilliant exchanges taking place. That wisdom was priceless.”

GES 2015 Jose Andres
GES 2015 speaker José Andrés with African chefs. Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Nairobi.

Bracco “After the first day, [chef and restaurateur José Andrés, a GES 2015 speaker] initiated this spur-of-the-moment, on-the-fly session in which he invited all the catering staff — there were three or four different restaurants in the [UNON] compound — to do a workshop with him to talk about what his experiences have been, and inspiring chefs to get out there and feel their passion and open up restaurants and challenge themselves. I didn’t get to attend, but I was really inspired by what he did, because we also had the Kenyan vendors who were asking us questions like, ‘How do I market myself after this? What do you recommend? What challenges do you have?’ So we did a roundtable the day after the event, where we just sat and really talked about, ‘what are the challenges that you have in the industry? What’s it like to go after a client? What frustrates you? How is your industry perceived here?’ It was really sharing ideas.”

Mulei “Networks are invaluable to us, and so is the knowledge exchange. Working with the team from Hargrove allowed our entire team to learn from a group that has worked on some of the world’s most notable events. They in turn were able to see our team spirit and our willingness to share our experiences with them.”

GES 2015 Hargrove
Ron Bracco (second from right) and his team at GES 2015.

Bracco “We are committed to doing this on a regular basis through Skype meetings, as well as setting up a time for actually having some of those vendors come over [to the United States], and setting up an agenda where they meet with us, they meet with other technical vendors in the area, and they meet with rental companies, just to share knowledge and understand possibilities.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.