SPAN : Ms Asel Soorbekova
Who has ever heard about SPAN, the personal assistants association? It was only when we had the chance to meet Ms Soorbekova that we heard about this discrete yet so powerful association. Curious as we were to know more about this association, we took the liberty of asking the newly elected president of the association to tell us more. So now we will leave the floor to Ms Asel Soorbekova.
Q: Ms. Soorbekova, could you tell us a little about your background?
I am originally from Kyrgyzstan where I grew up in a small village next to Bishkek, its capital, and lived until 2009. After receiving my bachelor of arts degree in law I came to Geneva for further study. I am a graduate of the University of Geneva’s two master programs at the Faculty of Law – Master of Laws in International and European Law and Master of Laws with a focus on International Labour Standards, having international investment law as the subject of my thesis.
Currently, I work as a secretary and personal assistant to the ambassador of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva who is also ambassador of Turkmenistan to Switzerland and non-resident ambassador of Turkmenistan to the Holy See, both as resident in Geneva. Prior to that, I started my journey at the Permanent Mission of Kyrgyzstan to the United Nations Office at Geneva as an intern working with human rights cases and later as a secretary-referent. In July 2016 I joined the Secretaries and Personal Assistants Network (SPAN) as a cultural activities coordinator, and since May 2019 I have been the president of this association.
“SPAN can help ease challenges facing its members by putting them in contact with others and sharing information on Geneva administrative authorities and local businesses, such as hotels and the like.”
Q: As president of SPAN, could you tell us about the organisation?
SPAN is a Geneva-based network connecting secretaries and personal assistants, as well as administrative assistants working in the international sector in Geneva. The network currently has 230 members, representing more than 175 countries and 30 international organizations. In other words, SPAN is a one-of-akind association of secretaries and personal assistants of international Geneva’s big shots – ambassadors to the United Nations Office in Geneva and the World Trade Organisation and heads of international organisations and United Nations institutional bodies. It is a platform that allows its members to interact with each other either in professional or social settings. SPAN can help ease challenges facing its members by putting them in contact with others and sharing information on Geneva administrative authorities and local businesses, such as hotels and the like.
SPAN would not exist without its Committee, or as I call it “SPANCOM”, which today consists of myself, the capacity of president, Ms. So Mei Hou, personal assistant to the ambassador of Norway to the World Trade Organisaion in the capacity of coordinator of liaison with sponsors, and Ms. Lourdes Pereira, personal assistant to the ambassador of Uruguay to the United Nations Office in Geneva in the capacity of treasurer and interim secretary.
Q: You mentioned that the network runs with the help of its managing body – the SPAN Committee. What are the main functions of the Committee and what does it do?
The SPAN Committee functions on a voluntary basis and it is the steering engine of the network. It organizes, as mentioned above, events of a professional and social nature. To give an example of a professional event, in October 2019 we organised an event in collaboration with the Geneva office of the Federal Customs Administration, Section on Tariff and Customs Regimes of Switzerland, entitled “Information Session on Swiss Diplomatic Franchises” to allow SPAN members to get professional or educational training in the field of Swiss customs which they have to deal with in their work at diplomatic representations. As for events of a cultural and recreational character, we organise cultural and festive events, for example to celebrate New Year’s as well as our annual International Secretaries and Personal Assistants Day parties, celebrated in April each year. We also organise various events around Swiss cultural and historical festivities, cinema, picnics, hotel visits, after-work events, to name only a few.
Q: How did the whole idea to gather secretaries, to cite your own words, “of international Geneva’s big shots”, start?
We celebrated our 10th anniversary in 2018, so it all goes back to 2008 when a group of like-minded colleagues came up with an idea to create a network of colleagues to be able to meet with each other and get together. And in this regard, I want to say “hat’s off ” to all our predecessor Committees for building the network from scratch and keeping it going and evolving.
Q: What are the main goals of the association?
First of all, it is about interaction and socializing with colleagues. You see, what happens often times is that you may know some colleagues for years over the phone and recognise their voices immediately (LAUGHING), but may not ever have a chance to meet them. The idea here is to get out there and meet each other. So, SPAN’s primary goal from the very beginning has been to allow colleagues to be acquainted with each other through interaction thanks to social and cultural events that its Committee helps to organise; to assist each other in matters of an administrative, professional or personal character. And I would say that, thanks to SPAN and its Committees, this goal has been achieved, and our members are not so alienated or isolated as they used to be before 2008.
Q: Secretaries and personal assistants tend to be women. Are there any male members?
Absolutely! Even though the number of female secretaries and personal assistants largely surpasses that of male colleagues, we have some colleagues of the opposite gender.
Q: If people would like to join, what can they do?
We welcome new members and are happy to accept them on a regular basis. The membership is free of charge and they can send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What are future plans of the SPAN Committee in terms of development of the network? Can you share with your insights as to where the SPAN is heading?
I cannot talk big, and that would not be realistic, but I think that, if we look into any functioning institution, they all started from an idea to bring together like-minded people to share common interests. So far, this has been fulfilled.
To move further, as a first step, our SPAN Committee is working on a project to create a web-site, allowing members to more easily share experiences and find information relevant to their daily work. I cannot give more details as of now, but we are very optimistic about the feasibility of our project for the first half of the next year.
That being said, our current objective is to not only keep the SPAN functioning, but to make sure it evolves into a network that is recognised in various circles of international and local Geneva
article published on the April 2020 Edition No. 1, and will be found at P. 40, 41 : http://internationaldiplomat.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/DIVAMagazine20202.pdf