A busy lunchtime on the first formal day of the LIFT08 Conference, the place is buzzing, people are taking the spare chairs from my table to sit with friends and I can finally get on the wireless internet connection. I guess no network can take 750 conference delegates suddenly wanting to sign on!
Geneva is a fabulous city, with a population about two thirds that of Leicester but with a very different feel. The geography is different with the huge lake and the surrounding mountains, but more than that, you are conscious of being in a European city, an International European city. My lunch companion yesterday was telling me that over half the population are non-nationals, and many of them carry not just two, but three passports. There is a large British enclave, who, in a city where most people rent, are buying their homes - in the English way. The city has a British University and two British drama clubs.
There is a wonderful open feel to the city with large public squares and gardens, and an excellent (and free to visitors) public transport system. I've arrived to unusual sunshine. Normally, Geneva is sheathed in cloud cover, with the city emptying at weekends as everyone races to the mountains above the clouds to enjoy some winter sun.
There are many grand buildings with balconies and shutters, but not too far behind the main streets are small courtyards, rather more run-down and housing the flotsam and jetsam of everyday living - the bins, a small playground, a seat or two and the odd small tree reaching up to the scarce sun. Some are given over to parking with tiny access streets requiring skillful negotiating, and inevitably colourful graffiti adorns any building looking vaguely empty.
Geneva is a small city and easy to get around. My hotel is within two minutes walk of Gare Cornavin and the tram stop. Yesterday, Sandra Wendland, another LIFTer staying at the same hotel, showed me how to use the trams, and with some pride I made my own way home. It was easy getting from the Airport to the Hotel, too. Taking a taxi, I was intrigued to see the woman driver had her handbag sitting openly (and open) on the front passenger seat. What kind of city is this, I thought, where a woman is not obsessed with personal safety and security?
The feel to the Conference is similar. Yesterday was a day of workshops held at the University. I felt transported back to being a student myself. The carefree-ness and instant friendships that one makes, the easy come and go as you chat with some people and then move off to meet others or go to a workshop or a walk or a coffee. People are open to talking, and have responded kindly to bossy entreaties to "Come and sit here with me".
This morning I chatted to Hamish Campbell,an independent web tv journalist, who had been in one of the workshops with me yesterday. When he decided to interview our companion, Khaled Bazzi, in the coffee room, I went across to introduce myself to Yann Mauchamp, another workshop participant who made some interesting and, to me, infinitely alluring, comments about laziness. Just now, as I am writing, Yoshiko Kurisaki has come across to say hello and pass the time of day.
Both Hamish and Khaled are here looking for partners. Both are involved in small businesses - and at least one of them is a social enterprise, I would say. Khaled represented one of the businesses showcased at the Venture Night yesterday evening. "LIFT is a rare opportunity for entrepreneurs to make the right connections and take their project to the next level."
Yesterday, my first day here, I attended two workshops, each spread over half a day. They were excellent - very different from each other and very challenging, but exhilarating and stimulating and fascinating. I'll blog about each of them separately, but let me finish by saying that if you're a business that's concerned about building creativity and innovation into your business in a structured way, you could do worse than come to LIFT. I recommend it!