by Andrea Doyle | June 06, 2018
Diversity and inclusion, hotel contracts, human trafficking, and safety and security were among the most popular sessions at this year's Meeting Professionals International (MPI) World Education Congress (WEC), held in Indianapolis from June 2-5. 

The hot-button topics were discussed in a completely different format than in years past: instead of being held in traditional meeting rooms, sessions took place in themed villages.

Spoken-word artist Steve Connell declared the first day, "Let the experiences of each day inspire you to find new ways to design experience, new ways to experience design."

And that's what this year's WEC did: It took risks. The Opening Pep Rally started with a video in which Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy (pictured), drove up to the convention center in a Formula 1 racecar. As it ended, both he and comedienne Dena Blizzard, took the stage dressed in racing suits. The duo was ready for the closing party, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where attendees zoomed around the track at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour in cars driven by professional racecar drivers.

There were moments of seriousness as well, like when Farah Mohamed, CEO of the Malala Fund, took the stage and said, "Education is the one thing that can never be taken away. It is also the greatest equalizer." The focus of the Malala Fund is ensuring every girl has access to education. Meeting planners can help, Mohamed said, by keeping diversity in mind when choosing speakers and panelists.

A session on ending child slavery was both sobering and informative, with many attendees promising to join "The Code," which is short for "The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism." Another way to help, the group learned during the session, is by getting involved with ECPAT-USA, the leading anti-trafficking policy organization in the United States.

MPI also had to deal with one of a meeting planner's biggest headaches: a few days before the conference, one of its featured speakers, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, was denied entry into the country and couldn't present "Valuing Diversity and Beating Bias." Hayley Barnard, managing partner and lead strategist of MIX Diversity Developers, took her place, speaking about how tough it can be to embrace diversity and inclusion in meetings and events.

Approximately 2,200 registered attendees were at the event, of which 49.6 were planners and 50.4 percent suppliers. They came from 35 countries, with the majority being from the United States and Canada.

The MPI Foundation raised more than $450,000 at the event, including contributions raised from MPI's Rendezvous event, which had nearly 1,200 participants, and through a text-to-give Program. MPI raised more than $250,000 from the President's Dinner, which had 500 attendees and honored chapter leaders, board members, and the 2018 MPI Industry Leader Award recipient, Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. The funds are being invested towards scholarships and grants.