IChemE Matters: A conversation with Congress

Article by Chelly Walsma

Volunteers on IChemE’s Congress are the conduit between members and the Board of Trustees. Ahead of the official call for nominations in March, representatives from Congress sat down to discuss why all eligible members regardless of experience should consider putting themselves forward.

Elizabeth Salter, vice-chair of Congress and regional representative for UK South East, hosted the discussion. She started by asking, “What inspired you to join Congress?”.

“I like to give back to organisations that have been really good to me,” said Lisa Julian, Congress’s regional representative for New Zealand who previously served on IChemE’s New Zealand board. She said she saw Congress as “a really good opportunity to interact with a heap of new people”.

Dhruv Singh, who is the functional student member representative for Congress, first volunteered for IChemE’s centenary project. That helped him understand how IChemE works, the influence it can have and the contribution it can make to chemical engineering as a whole. “I think Congress is a really good platform to voice ideas…and seeing how we can be even more relevant in the future as well.”

For James Shorthouse it was discovering that members from Australia weren’t being represented. “To my horror, I found out that although Australia had two places on Congress, they weren’t being utilised. So, I put my hand up and here I am.”

Benefits to members

Asked what value Congress provides, Julian said it helps steer the institution to meet members’ needs. “I think the biggest value of Congress is that we actually bring the voice of the membership up towards the governance level of IChemE.”

Voice is a common theme. Padraig Collins, who works in Nigeria and is regional representative for Rest of the World, said: “I’m trying to bring a perspective of those of us who live and work outside of the main centres in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.”

He said even though the number of members outside the centres may be smaller, he’s working to ensure the wider community of chemical engineers see the value of IChemE and “we’re still valued and, more importantly, we still have a voice”.

Collins added that it’s important to underline the positive things IChemE does and is respected for around the world.

“Many people outside [the main centres of membership], really see our chartership process or fellowship process is top quartile and good practice. A lot of silent work has gone into that over many years. It’s sometimes just re-emphasising the good stuff…because it helps us globally.”

Ahead of Congress meetings, Collins makes sure to gather views from the wider membership on the topics set for discussion. “I think it’s very important to make sure that your opinion is calibrated amongst your cohort because that really adds to the value proposition of Congress. We must represent as much as we can the group of people that we are elected to represent. That gives us a responsibility to make sure that we’re obviously not pursuing our personal agenda and we’re making sure we are representing the views of the members.”

He noted that Congress was set up following complaints that members were not being listened to.

“We’re being listened to by the Board of Trustees. You can see that from the response to our minutes. It’s very transparent. We’ve been at their meeting [in 2023] and hopefully we’ll be there again in 2024. I think we can really help shape the future of the IChemE. It’s not an immediate turnaround, but I can certainly see in the period I’ve been on Congress that we are influencing. We are making a difference.”

Singh said his passion has been steering IChemE towards providing greater support and resources for students and engineers at the early stages of their careers, including helping them progress towards chartership. “That’s become a major component of how the Member Engagement Committee works and some of the areas that they focus on. I think that’s a good example of how something in Congress can cascade to other areas of IChemE.”

Article by Chelly Walsma

Volunteer engagement manager, IChemE

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