One of the greatest parts of my work as an international keynote speaker is that I have the opportunity to travel to the most beautiful locations! One of these was a recent trip to Amsterdam for the SAP Ariba Live Conference for their European procurement customers. It was a great honour to be the keynote speaker for the Diversity and Leadership Forum entitled, “Leading with Courage: Rising Above the Impossible.”
SAP has always been a company that I have admired for their programmes encouraging and promoting inclusivity in the workplace. Their “Autism at Work” programme recognizes that people on the autism spectrum have specific skills and strengths that are of great value to their workforce. This embraces my core keynote message, “Focus on what you CAN do!” For years, I had been using the company as a positive example in my disability and diversity training, and here I was, keynote speaker at the SAP Ariba Diversity and Inclusion headline event!
In two days, I met so many incredible people from around the world who share my passion about the value of diversity and inclusion. The panel discussion, hosted by Julie Gerdeman (SAP Ariba), included “Superwomen” Tania Seary (Procurious), Stefanie Nennstiel (SAP Ariba), Lesa Bradshaw (Bradshaw LeRoux Consulting) and Susan Scott-Parker (Business Disability International). The entire team who put this event together did such an exceptional job – the lunch was almost fully booked within hours of advertising. It is exciting to see how the Diversity and Leadership forum will continue to grow in size and impact in future SAP Ariba conferences.
One thing that I have learned from being an international keynote speaker is to make use of the opportunity to spend extra time in the city you are visiting. It was my first visit to Amsterdam and some of my highlights post-conference included:
USING ACCESSIBLE PUBLIC TRANSPORT (no surprise here for anyone that knows me!). For €17.50, you can use a card for three days of unlimited public transport on the trams, metro and canals. Even on ZAR, that is reasonable! All staff were so friendly and fellow passengers were quick to offer help if my wheelchair needed an extra lift from the pavement.
POFFERTJIES! We had the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, piping hot poffertjies at the Albert Cryp Market. I promised myself to have these twice a day and face the dietary consequences later, but alas, the poffertjies are not on every corner as I had imagined. I’ve had two trials of poffertjies at Cape Town markets since and nothing compares to Amsterdam!
THE BICYCLES! While it was a massive adjustment to watch out for the bicycles whizzing past, I love the concept (theory not practice for me!) to use a bicycle as a means to get everywhere. No wonder the Dutch look so fit and healthy! What a great approach to wellness by de-stressing on a bike after a long day in the office.
THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT… while I cannot say it was a highlight, rather a compulsory tourist activity, it did spark my dark sense of humour to wonder why the terrain is so wheelchair-unfriendly (uneven stone paving). Clearly the Red Light District is still in the early stages of addressing accessibility discrimination! I was quite relieved that it meant I only had to pass a few windows…
KING’S DAY. Little did I know that my trip dates coincided with one of the biggest public holiday celebrations in the Netherlands, Koningsdag! One of the traditions for the day is that children sell their toys and clothes (and talents!). I loved the atmosphere in Vondelpark where everyone was dressed head to toe in orange. My absolute favourite stand was a little girl dressed as a fortune teller. She only spoke Dutch (so I still don’t know my fortune!) but she beamed at me and really radiated joy. I’m guessing it is a good sign?!
A side story to my Amsterdam adventure:
The biggest stressor when you are an international speaker is getting a visa in time for travel! I needed a Schengen visa to go to Amsterdam and what seemed like a seamless process, posed a few challenges! Firstly, South Africans seem to be travelling to Europe in their droves, so interviews are few and far between. Fortunately, I could book a “Premier Lounge” interview (basically I got a free coke for ZAR500!). Secondly, after being meticulous with reams of paperwork for the interview (and a few frantic calls with the talent agency in London who booked me), I thought I was sorted.
A few days later, I received a call from the visa agency to say that they cannot process my application because… wait for it… they do not have my fingerprints! I was most relieved to tell them that I do not have any fingerprints as I have no arms so they can go ahead and process my visa. Phew!
The next day, I get another phone call (side note: this was in the middle of travelling to another conference); I need a doctor’s letter confirming that I have no arms! In retrospect, I think this experience was to give me a chance to truly understand the impact that anxiety has on my therapy patients! At this stage, I was ready to send the embassy a topless selfie! Fortunately, (there’s always so much to be grateful for), my doctor emailed me a letter soon after, confirming I did indeed have no arms. My visa was issued thereafter. What a relief!
Thank you Amsterdam for the hospitality and to SAP Ariba – thank you for believing in me!