After 29 years of service, L.K. Arora retired in December from the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as the bank's conference officer for the Latin America/Caribbean region. A native of India who came to the U.S. in 1972, Arora has organized more than 125 international conferences, including events in India, Thailand, New Zealand, Russia, and Europe, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean.
You're not involved in the World Bank's annual conference — that's a separate department, correct?
Yes. I'm involved in what you might call “best practices” conferences, in which the World Bank might bring together, for example, a private group in Spain to present its water management system to an interested group of policy makers in Latin America. These events typically draw 150 to 200 participants, and annual regional meeting might draw 500 people. It's work that involves building connections with many entities in the public and private sectors.
So you don't deal with the types of major security concerns of the annual meeting?
No, there isn't that level of international focus on these events. And I avoid areas where there might be some kind of protest. Generally, governments take a lot of pride in hosting these types of events.
Looking back over the events you've planned outside the U.S., what's been your biggest challenge?
Taking a macro view, I would say that there is often a big difference in working with the public sector versus the private. The latter readily understands the value of the conference and knows how to get things done. I've found that it's always important to explain the economic and social benefit of the event, what the area is going to get out of it. My habit is to establish good relationships — so critical to working outside of the U.S. I do as much work as possible with site visits, and that helps tremendously.
What have you found most satisfying about your work over the years?
If I save the organization $20,000 by eliminating meeting room rental fees on a program with big food and beverage expenditures, participants are never going to know. What they will notice is that they had a good time and a productive time. For instance, at a recent meeting in a small town in Brazil, we had lunch on the beautiful beach instead of in a meeting room. I like doing things with imagination. And there is another important satisfaction — helping the underprivileged. It's very rejuvenating to think that the work I do makes a real difference in people's lives.
What are some of the biggest differences in having a meeting outside the U.S.?
You could go to a lot of places outside the US where simple technology is not available. You may have to bring your own PowerPoint projector, for instance. And when it comes to negotiations, you really have to do your homework. It's always a supply and demand issue. But in my experience, negotiations are not necessarily tougher outside the U.S.
How would you complete this sentence about your experience as a meeting planner: If only I had known…
If only I had known what a pleasure it was going to be, I would have started my career in this field. I have friends around the world. I have become very rich socially because of this job.
L.K. Arora is an independent conference planner for the Washington, DC-based World Bank. He can be reached at email@example.com.