On November 9th, in the Auditoire Louis-Jeantet in Geneva, gender equality and LGBTIQ+ inclusion was celebrated. 10 projects had finalized their 6 month incubation with BØWIE, a Be You Network initiative, with a prize-giving ceremony designed to reward the most Bold, Øpen, Wild, Innovative and Empowering projects.
Pitching To The Jury
Before the arrival of jury members and participants, staff and volunteers gathered early morning to set up. Posters were hung around the space, tables and plants were moved, lights were fiddled with… events of this nature always require tremendous preparation. The fear of mistake spikes adrenaline in paying close attention to details.
The first projects to pitch start to arrive. Some drove for around three hours to be on time for their presentation. Indeed, at 1:30pm, jury members, including sponsors, were to be seated in a room, around a table, ready to watch 10 presentations pitches. They were provided with snacks and refreshments (of course). Project leaders had four minutes of presentation, using a PowerPoint file to introduce their work to the jury, who had already seen the project’s folder but hadn’t met the people behind the words yet. Then, an amount of time was set aside for each project to receive questions, comments and feedback from jury members directly after their pitch. For some projects, this meant clarifying some misunderstandings from language barriers. After all, this all took place in English, yet most spoke French or German as their first language. For others, these were advice and networking tips, encouraging words for the future of their projects.
Featured projects include:
- “(IN)VISIBLES DANS L’ESPACE PUBLIC”, by Chloé Chaudet and Zoë Smart, is a photographic exhibition on LGBT+ couples and families in public spaces.
- “YES2BODIES” by Melanie Dellenbach is both a workshop and toolkit to bring attention to fatphobia and body shaming in Switzerland.
- “LE FIL ROUGE” by Audrey is a series of LGBTIQ+ autobiographical books and short stories, retracing life journeys from childhood to adulthood.
- “THE DANGER OF LOVE” by Amanda E. Metzger is a stage performance of a moaning choir, to shine light on sexual violence in heterosexual* relationships.
- “PANSY BOY: THE PUPPET SHOW” by Diana Yol is a puppet show adaptation of Paul Harfleet’s book “Pansy Boy”, raising awareness to combat homophobia.
- “DIVERSITY²” by AXL is an Instagram blog, featuring personal testimonies from LGBTIQ+, disabled individuals.
- “HVNGRY” by Valerie Reding is a photographic exhibition, paired with interactive performances and workshops, on redefining gender and challenging sexist stereotypes.
- “I AM MILOS” by Anaïs Pollet is a children’s book following the adventures of a young transgender frog.
- “I-SCIENCE” by Leïla Cellérier are workshops designed to network women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) with young girls.
- “+PROJECT” by Mégane Philippson, Belén Rufibach and Sun Niederer, is an online platform for elementary school teachers offering resources to engage their students on LGBT+ topics, to combat bullying in school.
As always, the minutes leading up to your presentation is the most nerve-wrecking feeling. But once pitched, the project has been explained and detailed to the jury. Melanie Dellenbach of Yes2Bodies said, relieved, “It was good. It’s done: I presented Yes2Bodies to the jury and they liked it and yay! I am very excited.” Finally, they can breathe, grab a bite to eat, drink some water and prepare for the audience they will have to present their work to that night.
As for jury members, it was a long day of active listening and thoughtful engagement, with a few breaks. They scored projects based on BØWIE values and offered meaningful, practical advice on project growth and improvements. After all, those involved were members of non-profits themselves, consulting groups, activist organizations and academic backgrounds. They have expertise on presenting projects, fundraising, networking, and finding opportunities for growth.
Once all projects had presented in the jury session, jury members were to tally scores with the aid of staff and amongst that committee, sponsors were to pick the projects they preferred to collaborate with. This choice was made based on compatible interests, shared knowledge on subjects and overwhelming enthusiasm for the work presented. At this point, the participants have no clue who was going to win an award.
The Awards Ceremony
Time flew until the arrival of the first ceremony guests. Badges and lanyards were being distributed, lights and sound were just finished to be set up, participants were anxious to begin. “Feel So Close” by Calvin Harris plays to greet guests into the auditorium. The room comfortably seated the over 150 expected attendees.
After Be You Network and BØWIE founder Sandrine Cina finished her speech, Sami Kanaan and Patric Schatzmann of the Mercator Foundation took the microphone to express the importance and impactful changes such an award ceremony represents. After all, this is the first Swiss incubator dedicated to the topics of gender equality and LGBTIQ+ inclusion, striving to improve conditions in those two domains on a national scale, by supporting projects for 6 months.
The moment has come. Projects must pitch before the audience, while being listened to attentively and photographed. But first, a light-hearded activity that shows the impact of BØWIE.
By shutting down room lights completely, and attendees asked to use their phone flashlight, Annie Chemla, project coordinator of BØWIE, raises awareness of the impact of group effort. Even in the darkest moments, everyone’s light can help see clearly.
A second activity separated the first half and the second half of pitches, just to give the audience time to process and refocus. With the instructions on the powerpoint slide, the attendees were asked to write down what their perfect world, without discrimination, would resemble. They were then shown how to make a paper plane out of that sheet of colored paper and threw their inventions across the room to let those ideas fly on their own.
After the second half of pitches, the long-awaited awarding of prizes took place. Each sponsor was called onto stage to present themselves and announce the winner of the Bold, Øpen, Wild, Innovative and Empowering awards. Winners received a BØWIE trophy and giant check of coaching by their sponsored organization. This will push those projects further into development and reach their fullest potential after BØWIE.
But that’s not the end for the projects who didn’t bring home a trophy. Post-awards was an exposition, paired with catering and drinks, for all projects to allow audience members and jury members to network with each other, and even collect donations from enthusiast fans of projects.
Sun Niederer of +Project said that the networking was the most valuable part: “The best part was meeting people and being able to network. To be able to present your project to so many people is a great opportunity.”
“Full & unconditional acceptance and harmony among all societies”
“In a perfect world, love is just love”
“Respect to each other to self”
“Judgment-free, visible, safer, happier, open, peaceful”
As shown by a few quotes on paper planes, there is an incredible need for change in the sector of diversity and inclusion of all identities globally. Everyone in the room felt it. The inspiring work of these projects confirmed that those needs were heard and that people are trying to meet them. Project leader Chloe Chaudet of (In)visibles said that the most memorable part for her was the enthusiasm of everyone: “I was surprised by the enthusiasm and support of the audience in the room, I did not expected that much of it. It’s also amazing to see the support that project leaders showed each other and within our own team.”
I overheard an audience member who described the event as fun and dynamic, enjoying the activities and praising BØWIE for such inspiring work. Lucky for them, it doesn’t stop there. BØWIE will be back in 2020 welcoming new projects in Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Zurich. It will also close with a 2020 BØWIE Awards Ceremony! This is the first of many future events celebrating projects dedicated to gender equality and LGBTIQ+ inclusion in Switzerland.