President-worthy Spaces – Hosting the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia Pacific Programme

The 200-strong attendees of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia Pacific Programme with President Obama.
Photo credit: [Senia Ng]

Not every conference centre can claim to have hosted celebrities and presidents, but Bangsar South is very proud to say that our very own Connexion Conference & Event Centre (CCEC) has done just that.

From 10-14 December last year, CCEC hosted the inaugural Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia Pacific Programme. A leadership development and community engagement programme connecting emerging leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region, the event saw 200 prominent leaders from 33 nations and territories coming together to share ideas and be inspired by the likes of President and Mrs Obama, celebrities like Julia Roberts, and local heroes too; Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh, Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandez, former Miss Malaysia and activist Deborah Henry, The Star Media Group’s R.AGE executive editor and producer Ian Yee, and SPOT Community Program founder Siti Aishah Hassan Hariri, to name a few.

(From left) Julia Roberts, Michelle Obama, and Deborah Henry speaking at the event.
Photo credit: [The Star Online]


The panel or the “Entrepreneurship: Working With Purpose” plenary session. (From right) AirAsia founder Tony Fernandez, JAVARA founder Helianti Hilman, Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown, and The Purpose Business founder and director Pat Dwyer.
Photo credit: [The Star Online]

Over 100 people made up the CCEC team that handled the event, all playing pivotal roles in making it a reality. We recently talked to the task force at CCEC, and this is what they shared about how they managed to run this massive undertaking like clockwork.


The Choice of Venue

The first person to share their experience was Harriz Kamal, the Director of Sales & Marketing for CCEC. “To comfortably host over 200 people from across the world, The Obama Foundation required a spacious venue,” Harriz said. “CCEC, with over 200,000 sq.ft. of conference and event space to accommodate up to 2,100 people in a single venue. Actually, it was more than adequate for the attendees, guests, the organising committee, and let’s not forget the security personnel.”

One of CCEC’s grand ballrooms decked out for the programme.
Photo credit: [CCEC]

While CCEC is spread across Nexus and The Vertical, each part capable of hosting large-scale events, the latter, which is located next to the business class hotel VE Hotel & Residence, was selected.

Harris added, “I think what made CCEC such a great location is that all the function spaces are on the same floor, which allowed participants to move freely and with much ease between activities, from plenary sessions to skill-building workshops and leadership development training, as well as electrifying talks given by the celebrated speakers.”


Securing the VVIPs

“When you have high-profile events, security matters are a big consideration,” said Ramli Manaff, Security Manager for CCEC. “Since the lifts and escalators at The Vertical are easier to control, it was the safer venue.”

“For me, the high level of security seen was definitely one that of the most memorable parts of the event,” he added. “I have worked with many external security companies for past events but this was on a grander scale – on top of having meetings with the organisers to determine the seating of VVIPs and their routes through the venue, we had to work with another company to fit the main entrance floor with metal detectors and conduct bag checks on event days, almost like an airport security check”.

Even with such stringent security measures, participants still enjoyed free movement throughout the one-floor venue.


Monitored Clockwork

Zubaidah Bidin, Assistant Manager of Housekeeping and an integral part of the task force, also noted that their movements were tightly controlled at all times and they were ushered in and out of the function space frequently. “The minute we were given the signal, my team sprang into action and we quickly cleaned the function space within minutes before being ushered out again by the security team,” she clarified.

“The same went for the banquet team,” added Zainuddin, CCEC’s Banquet Manager. “We had to quickly turn over the room under the watchful eyes of security.” Despite the added complexity, the whole CCEC team appreciated the experience. “From this event, we could see the coordinating efforts of our CCEC team with locals and foreigners; outsourced and in-house security personnel, to ensure the comfort and well-being of everyone.”


Feeding a Global Palate

Playing a major role in the entire event, CCEC’s Executive Chef, Chef Loh also commented that food is undeniably an important part of the Malaysian culture and identity. “We made it a huge priority to showcase the best of our culinary offerings and turned mealtimes into enjoyable experiences for the Obama [Foundation] leaders,” he said. “To do that, we had countless discussions about what delicacies to serve, holding lots of preparation meetings to carefully plan out the meals” he continued.

The CCEC team hard at work preparing the buffet spread.
Photo credit: [CCEC]

The morning tea break and lunch menus were Western and local spreads, while themed dinner buffets stole the show at night. In addition, the CCEC chefs took the Obama Foundation organising team’s time constraints into account, preparing “grab-and-go plates” for those in a hurry.

As the 200-strong delegation from across the world came with different dietary requirements, possible allergies, and religious beliefs, CCEC incorporated vegan and vegetarian options throughout its buffet menus to accommodate them. “[We] even [went] the extra mile to make sure participants knew what went into their meals by preparing ingredient lists for each mealtime,” said Chef Loh.

“But I really think that the themed dinner buffet menu was where we really shone,” he added. Each night featured a different theme such as Asian Fusion, Taste of Malaysia, and Tastes of the Pacific Islands. The spread naturally had various Malaysian dishes added into the mix, with action stalls preparing the likes of Satay, Ais Batu Kacang, and Assam Laksa on the spot and to order. It also served as a cultural showcase, as Chef Loh explained, “We wanted the participants to see how these dishes are prepared and the chefs were there as well to answer any questions they may have.”

Talented cooks and attentive service staff on the frontline of the event’s culinary excellence.
Photo credit: [CCEC]

“Many participants came up to our chefs to compliment them on the food. In the end, I am proud to say ‘job well done’,” he declared.


An Event Worthy of Renown

We at Bangsar South (especially those of us at CCEC) were honoured to host the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific programme, and are proud to say that this event has elevated CCEC to a higher level. “This has been a huge learning experience for us, and with this under our belt, we are ready to take on other high-profile international events in the future,” quipped Harriz.