Wilmé Verwoerd, WIP Class 2012, discusses the highs and lows of networking in the US
Coming from Ireland and the relatively modest culture of networking, DC has provided a stark contrast. When I was 15 and in the process of firmly planning a way to turn my babysitting pursuits into a profitable business, I had professional business cards printed. I was confident that this would be the first step in creating an impressive babysitting empire. I still have the business cards and definitely not on my way to being a multimillionaire babysitter anytime soon. Arriving in Washington I was handed a box of 500 business cards. I thought “great here we go again”. My anxiety was accompanied by a swift movement of putting all 500 business cards right at the bottom of my bag with the hope to never see them again.
Before arriving in DC, the WIP class of 2012 was briefed on how important it is to network and the opportunities it could foster. Tainted by my failed attempts I was less than optimistic. The idea alone made me uncomfortable. Physically handing over your card to someone else before, during or after a conversation seemed about as attractive as a prawn cocktail (I really, really hate prawns). I found it difficult to believe that anyone we would meet would have an interest in an intern business card. Furthermore I had never encountered formal networking events in a business or political environment as an adult. Despite my confident and outgoing nature, I was more than daunted by the prospects of such an occurrence .I read somewhere that “networking is like exercising. There’s an opportunity for it virtually everywhere you go, but the strongest networkers dedicate specific hours and seek out the ideal environments.” If my fitness was anything to go by I most definitely wouldn’t succeed at the task ahead.
Six weeks later I find myself infected by the network spirit. In the last two weeks my awkward attempts of the past month have shaped nicely into more eloquent exchanges. The drinks reception that awaited our arrival in New York would really see the changes of this transition. Along with my fellow WIPpers we all worked our way round the room, welcoming guests, meeting important supporters of the program and happily exchanging cards. From an elevator at Mary Poppins in Broadway NYC to a metro in DC, my new found enthusiasm for networking may have taken on a life of its own. To network or not to network? That is the question.
This morning I traveled to work over an hour early to guarantee a seat at a hearing I wanted to attend in the Senate. It would explore the issue of Human Trafficking and how best to tackle it in the next ten years. Jada Pinkett Smith would testify telling the stories of child- trafficked survivors she was working with, accompanied by Will Smith and their daughter Willow Smith. I couldn’t miss it. Finding myself in a queue of over 200 smartly dressed individuals and a sea of interns I settled in for a long wait. I started to speak to the man beside me, Corban Addison as he would later introduce himself. The conversation took some interesting twists and turns. It flowed from the work he did as a litigator in the US to his work as an advocate for human rights and his time spent in India as a writer. We debated about politics in Africa and the challenges of HIV-AIDS infection rates in Southern Africa. I proceeded by confidently asking him for his business card which he instantly gave to me. After more than 2 hours in the Senate hearing we greeted each other ready to part ways. Much to my surprise he asked me for my business card, thanking me for an interesting discussion. Even more surprisingly he handed me his newly published book signed with a personal message.
Now, I happily find myself thinking “great, here we go again”.