And no, not the night clubs…
As we approach the eight-month mark since COVID-19 shut down everyday life, it is important to acknowledge the innovation and creativity that has emerged. The entire world became dependent on the use of the internet and technology to stay connected, productive, and sane while we were confined to the safety of our homes.
With all this change and movement from one way of life to the other, society has continued to get things done. Some of the most iconic annual events, such as the Video Music Awards, have been reborn into a virtual world; and with software technology advancing at an exponential rate to keep up with our internet dependency, many student-run clubs have found innovative ways to go virtual.
Campus Vibez uOttawa (CVUO) is a service with the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) that facilitates all official clubs on campus and provides support in the form of club fairs, events, calendars, marketing and funding.
In a world before COVID-19, CVUO was able to participate in 101-week and host club fairs, as well as host the ‘student life awards.’ Since March, however, student life within the U of O has been impacted significantly.
CVUO president Hassan Ahmed outlined the innovative virtual clubs week this past September. Ahmed claimed it was a valuable experience for anyone who participated, despite it not being an in-person event.
The five-day event was a new situation for many club executives, who were able to sign up for one of several time slots offered each day.
“Some clubs saw a lot of success with viewership and interaction and some not so much,” said Ahmed.
“It was difficult to try and replicate the in-person clubs fair where clubs can lure people to their table with promotions and where students can quickly hop from club table to table to see which ones they are interested in.”
Along with going virtual, CVUO has also found new ways to support and promote all U of O clubs through additional funding and a redesigned social media plan. Ahmed claims that in 2020, they granted $94,324 to help support student clubs and keep them operating.
“Many clubs are using funding for giveaways, online conferencing websites, and applications, getting speakers, etc,” Ahmed said. He goes on to explain that the club funding process occurred before the cancellation of all-person events, and some clubs may return their funds.
Overall, Ahmed has praised the direction and determination of student clubs, as well as how they’ve continued to operate online.
“It’s a lot about inventing the wheel and a lot of things clubs are trying are not working as well as they would like, which can be discouraging.”
“We do our part to keep clubs motivated and I think a large portion of them are still thinking of creative ways to get more involvement and do their virtual club events.”
Despite smooth transitions to virtual discussions and activities, many executive members are still adjusting to operating their clubs within different formats.
Wiam Ben Karroum has been a part of Women in Management Network (WMN) for three years and mentioned that the club’s activities before COVID-19 used to be centered around in person events such as monthly meetings, networking events, and workshops.
Despite having to cancel all in person events, Karroum also shared some of the innovative ways in which the club changed and reformed to the virtual needs of their members and supporters.
WMN’s biggest challenge is engagement for their online events. It can be difficult for a student to attend a three-hour lecture, work on homework and then feel inclined to hop on another Zoom event after spending all day looking at a screen.
In order to combat this problem, WMN has created, ‘Words with WMN,’ a podcast that students can listen to during their own time.
The episodes feature different female leaders in business and connects listeners with tools and skills they would have acquired through in-person workshops in an innovative way.
Another club navigating the virtual social sphere is the CASCO Charity Organization. Amira Galib, president of the club, described the CASCO Charity Organization as a club full of “passionate like-minded individuals” who are dedicated to giving back to the community, through fundraising events such as pub nights and an annual gala.
The club regularly raises money for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) each year and has previously raised over $700,000 in 2019.
However, COVID-19 has been a barrier for the club’s fundraising efforts in part due to closures, cancellations, and stay-at-home guidelines. Although they continue to run online programs, alongside other U of O clubs, the most difficult feat for CASCO in 2020 was the reality of cancelling the Annual Gala for the first time in 21 years.
“The team, despite all of the hardships and boundaries with COVID-19, was dedicated and passionate to try and make this year one that counts and raises money for CHEO as best as they can,” said Galib.
The Gala takes an entirely new form in 2020 and is going completely virtual by releasing videos weekly from Nov. 1 until Dec. 21. Each video will feature an act that would have originally been performed live on stage, including dancing and singing. All performances will be filmed and produced by the members of CASCO themselves.
“We hope the virtual gala encourages people to feel passionate about our mission,” said Galib.
Student leaders within the U of O are pioneering the way for clubs and student engagement by reinventing standards. Clubs are coming up with more fun, engaging and unique event ideas and you do not want to miss what they have to offer.
Due to COVID-19, there may be a loss for in-person connections and free snacks, but there is also much to gain by not being confined by physical barriers. With a majority of the student body spread across the world, it is a new opportunity to make meaningful connections.
As clubs — CVUO included — adapt and make the best of their unprecedented situations, Ahmed has pleaded with clubs to be creative with their ideas and launch everything they come up with, because at the end of the day, there really is nothing to lose.