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 Home > Event-related > European SF > ESF 2008 Malmö

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Post-ESF report: Travelling, Registration and Reimbursement

Report on travelling, registration and reimbursement, ESF2008, Malmö, Sweden
(Date: 3 November 2008)


This reports explains how the travel confirmation, registration and reimbursement process were initially planned, and the several problems encountered. It suggests some improvements for future forums.

TO DISCUSS THIS ISSUE, use the forum: click here!

Report drafted by Lina, with input from other Malmö coordinators.

As agreed in May at Babels meeting in Malmö, Lina would coordinate the travel arrangements. After having to wait about three months for her prepaid ticket to go to Malmö... she finally got there in the middle of August, 6 weeks prior to the Forum.

1. What was planned


Already in the middle of August, and almost one month before the 5th ESF nothing had been done for travelling. Lina was supposed to start contacting people for their travel arrangements as soon as possible. We set up a gmail account, from which Lina (the travel "group") would contact the selected interpreters sending them the travel message we had composed (see wiki: Esf08TravelMessage), with information about the procedure:

  1. Find the cheapest solution;
  2. Ask for approval;
  3. Receive a confirmation email and proceed with booking the ticket *immediately*.

Information about visa issues and prepaid tickets were also included in this message.


The idea was to keep separate files for each interpreters, to make it as easier and as fair as possible for everyone. A reimbursement form would be alreay filled in with the details each interpreter would have given to us before arriving in Malmö. During the registration we would add the invoices, tickets, etc. in the personal file. Then we would double-check with each interpreter his/her file. We would create separate folders for people reimbursed on Saturday and for people reimbursed on Sunday (depending on their date of departure), in alphabetical order.

Each interpreter would receive an ’info pack’ during registration. The pack, envelope or ESF bag, would include maps for Malmö and ESF venues, local transportation tickets, the ESF program, the cultural program, the personal schedule, vouchers for food or anything equivalent, a notebook and a pen/ pencil, snacks, one bottle of water (to be refilled during the forum).


A "reimbursement group" would be created (and headed by Pelle S.). After having contacted interpreters and arranged their travel, each interpreter would receive a message from the reimbursement group asking them to send all their invoices, e-tickets, etc. in advance. We would print all the information to have everything ready before registration. One person from the NOC or the finance committee would need to attend to check by himself/herself and take full responsibility for the reimbursement itself. Since we were not entrusted with the budget, the NOC would have to deal with the money.

During a meeting between Francisco Contreras, Lina, Yan and Sophie, Francisco explictly asked that volunteers be reimbursed in cash, during the last days of the ESF. This arrangement was meant to avoid paying costly bank transfer fees. The reimbursement process was agreed there and then: Swedish volunteers would be reimbursed via transfer, others would be reimbursed via PayPal or by cash (in EUR or SEK). Yan and Lina, who had witnessed the very unpleasant reimbursement process in the Athens ESF, where volunteers heard (false) rumours that the ESF didn’t have the money to reimburse them, insisted several times that the ESF should be ready to take into account several issues: 1. a lot of cash is needed, and the ESF would probably not receive enough cash from registration during the ESF (many people pay by credit card); 2. it takes a lot of time to count money to put it in the envelopes; 3. a person from the ESF/NOC should be present during the reimbursement, as Babels is not responsible for the reimbursement itself. Francisco Contreras said he was well aware of all this and that there would be no problem. He also noted that a Swedish security company would be hired (at great expense) to protect the money.

2. What was done


Instead of starting directly to contact people for their travel arrangements, we started selecting people for several booths. In mid-August, we started contacting people asking them to find the cheapest way to come to Malmö. Although it was already very late, we managed to find and agree upon the cheapest solution. Some agreements were also made for those who delayed the purchase of a confirmed ticket.

In many cases, volunteers proposed a ticket, they received a confirmation within 24h, but then they did not react until several days, perhaps even weeks after that. In the interim, their ticket was no longer valid, prices had increased, and the confirmation process had to be done again. Money and energy was wasted in this way. It is important for everyone to react quickly! For Malmö, things were complicated by the fact that the messages were sent when many people were on holidays.

Francisco Contreras, from the ESF Finance Group, and the ESF treasurer, Anders Palmqvist, wanted to follow-up on the money spent on tickets, so we immediately created a googledoc which we shared with him and with the accommodation group (a spreadsheet file with name, surname, e-mail, total travel costs, and need of accommodation). In that way, the NOC had access at all times to an up-to-date list of who had been confirmed, and what the travel arrangements cost for each volunteer, in all transparency.
After confirming each interpreter, Lina added information in the Babels database: total travel costs, agreement made on travel costs, date of arrival and departure, time of arrival if it was very late, need for accommodation, any allergies or diseases. Then each interpreter would be put on the next stage, "stage-3 travel paid or confirmed by lina/ sophie". We agreed with the accommodation group that they had to check from the database which people were already in stage-3, in order to fill in the details of accommodation and then put them in "stage-4 accommodation and planning".

Regarding prepaid tickets (about 25-30 volunteers), we created a separate googledoc which we shared again with Francisco Contreras and the treasurer, Anders Palmqvist. We added all the information of the person in need of a prepaid ticket and then the treasurer was supposed to buy it with his credit card. The travel group would then send the e-ticket to each interpreter. After we realised that the tickets the treasurer had already "bought" were actually only booked, because of technical problems with the treasurer’s Swedish bank, and after we were informed that the credit card (one of the two that were used for the whole ESF) not only had a weekly limit of 50.000 SEK, but that it also had some problems when trying to buy tickets online, the travel group proposed to the treasurer to go to a travel agency to do the job properly. This was done in Athens for prepaid tickets. Of course all this delay cost us time and money, as it was already two weeks before the Forum and the prices went up every day.
An important decision was taken by Francisco Contreras and Lina according to which Lina *should* confirm interpreters to come up to 2 days before the normal date of arrival, if we could find a cheaper flight. Lina asked Francisco whether this would create problems with accommodation, but Francisco replied that if the ESF could save about 100 Euros from one ticket, then it would be worth it and that it wouldn’t be such a big problem with accommodation. (This turned out to be false, and many people wasted their time in Malmö before the ESF. See report on Accommodation.)

*Visas* are often particularly problematic. One of the most frustrating and stress causing processes was that of obtaining Visas. It is tempting to say that the Swedish Consulate treated interpreters from the Turkish/Kurdish booths pretty much like the organising committee has treated ESF volunteers, like slaves, with the difference that Babels volunteers were at one point asked by the Consulate to produce working permits under the pretext that their travel costs were being paid. It was a process of psychological torture, with Consulate employees playing cat and mouse with interpreters, telling them to bring a long list of documents in the morning, and another but just as long list of documents in the afternoon (the previous list having turned out to be obsolete). Most interpreters did not know whether they would obtain their visa until the last minute, some almost having to cancel and renew their tickets, because they couldn’t confirm their reservation within deadlines.


The registration worked more or less as planned without particular problems. Compared with previous forums, it was far better organised!
But there were also serious problems: no interpreter’s pack was given, no programs were delivered to us from the NOC, no notebooks, no pens/pencils/snacks/water. Local transportation tickets were obtained only very late, on the last day of registration; we didn’t have the food tickets ready from the first day of the registration; many volunteers had no accommodation, etc.

Although Babels suggested to the NOC that the interpreters should use their Forum passes to eat, instead of tickets - which three Babels volunteers had first to stamp and then cut out, a procedure that lasted several hours, until late at night since the tickets were brought to us shortly before midnight. Ironically, these tickets weren’t enough for all interpreters for all meals, so in the end, we were asked to use our Forum pass!

The snacks were bought one day before the forum started, with Gregoire having to accompany Francisco and the treasurer around the city for six hours, having to wait for them to do the last-minute shopping for the whole forum (among other things to buy the cheapest radios they could find). Francisco and the Treasurer did not trust Babels with any cash, not even to buy the snacks for the interpreters!


Babels sent an automatic message through the databse to each interpreter in "stage-3 travel paid or confirmed by lina/ sophie", with the information added on the total travel costs. Volunteers were requested to send their invoices to the reimbursement group. One problem is that we had to print these invoices, e-tickets, etc, but we had no printer!

Unfortunately, most of the work we did the last weeks turned out to be totally useless.

The promises made by Francisco Contreras turned out to be false. Elin Brusewitz, from the ESF Board (NOC), replaced Francisco during the ESF, because Babels did not wish to have anything to do with a compulsive liar such as Francisco.

During a meeting at Amiralen Hall, Ms Brusewitz explained that the ESF would not have enough cash because the bank had not been warned in advance that an important amount of cash was needed for reimbursement. Also, in the end, the security company was not hired to protect the money. Reimbursement would be made by bank transfer, or via PayPal, and only a few interpreters would be reimbursed in cash, giving priority to people coming from Eastern Europe and Turkey.

Because of the many broken promises, Babels coordinators demanded a written statement confirming that all volunteers would be reimbursed, including bank transfer fees. This statement was signed by Ms Brusewitz, on behalf of the ESF Board, and it said that all interpreters would be reimbursed by October 1st.

Since many interpreters were not reimbursed by that date, Babels sent several emails to Ms Brusewitz and to the ESF Treasurer, Anders Palmqvist, requesting updates on the situation. A Googledoc had been prepared in Malmö and given to the ESF by Sophie, where Ms Brusewitz or Mr Palmqvist could add the names of those who had been reimbursed (the process takes approximately 10 seconds per interpreter). This way, the Babels coordinators could check the progress of the reimbursement without needing to contact Ms Brusewitz or Mr Palmqvist, well aware that any time they would need to take to reply to our message was time taken off the reimbursement process. Despite several letters requesting that the ESF act as transparently as Babels had done during the ESF, Babels has received no precise update. (See copy of our correspondence.) Already a month after the Forum, a great number of interpreters have yet to be reimbursed. To this day, we have no clear idea of who has been reimbursed, and who hasn’t.

Update: Nov. 21! We have received updates. See annex.

3. Advice/Questions for future forums


  1. contact people earlier in order to lower costs. For Malmö, we had far less interpreters than planned, partly due to many cancellations, but also because the linguistic needs allowed us to reduce the initial estimate. Consequently, Babels did not spend a lot of money, even if the confirmation procedure started very late. Some volunteers were unhappy about the way they were given little choice on which flights to take. Many found themselves having to take early return flights on Sunday, so that there were few interpreters left for interpretation that day. Others had to take very late/early flights because they were much cheaper. This can be partly avoided by confirming tickets much earlier, when all tickets are relatively cheap.
  2. everyone, especially coordinators, must read all the messages and protocols carefully. We would have avoided misunderstandings and, in one case, double-booking tickets. In order to avoid misunderstandings, committed coordinators should be the first ones to read very carefully the protocols and messages they receive in order to inform interpreters very clearly about what they should do, to make it easier for everyone. We must not forget that we are *all* working as volunteers and that we are *not* a travel agency.
  3. there should be *at least* two persons dealing with travel confirmation, because this involves replying to 120 to 150 e-mails per day (writing more than 900 emails each week!). If the travel group waits, the prices increase every hour. Be prepared for sleepless nights! This explains why Lina, who was alone, wishes to apologise to all those who thought she was a bit brusque or harsh.


In general, it was a very well organised registration, thanks to the help of many people!

Regarding the "interpreters kit", we should have been more demanding with the NOC.


Babels insisted countless times that at least one person from the NOC or the finance committee should be there to hand out the money to the interpreters. Since the Finance committee never trusted us with the budget or money, why should Babels be the one doing the dirty work? In the end, the reimbursement process has been the worst nightmare ever (see above).

There are two opinions, and Babels coordinators for the Malmö ESF are divided about them:

  1. Babels should create a legal structure which could control the budget given to it by the ESF. Someone could be hired to take care of the accounting, treasury, etc.
  2. Babels should not be involved with issues like this. Babels is not a company, it is part of the ESF process. If it starts to deal with money, there might be power struggles between the people heading the legal structure. Instead of dealing with this, Babels should concentrate on other, more important things during the forum.
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