Local Sparks – Day in the Life of Vicki Chou and Renée Beelen

There is quite a unique dynamic between you two – you work in different Arcadis functions and are located in different markets (Vicki in New York and Renee in Amsterdam). Can you provide some insight into how you manage to work together as a team to drive Local Sparks and its projects?

Renée Beelen (RB): Every week, we have catch-up call to discuss all things regarding Local Sparks and stay in touch throughout the day via chat. During the pandemic we’ve all become used to working on Microsoft Teams and I think that has only benefited us regarding the ease with which we work together!

Vicki Chou (VC): Working across time zones can be challenging at times, but we’ve worked out a great system to take advantage of the time difference. Our working hours are essentially extended – Renee is able to start the day off first, then we use our overlapping work hours to connect on tasks and progress, and then I’ll wrap up the day. Our compatible working styles make it easy to hand off tasks seamlessly!

How do you each apply your unique experiences from your full-time position at Arcadis towards your role as Co-Program Manager for Local Sparks (or vice versa)?

RB: I am part of the Strategic Environmental Consultancy advisory group in the Netherlands and am therefore heavily involved in sustainability and ESG related work for our clients. Through my program work for Local Sparks, I’ve learned quite a bit that can be applied towards the work we do for our clients when it comes to their own community engagement programs and initiatives.

VC: As a Water Resources Project Engineer, I mostly work on green infrastructure projects in the NYC and Philadelphia areas. Being involved with several different projects at once, ranging from detailed design to guidance manual development to program management, has provided me valuable experience that have translated to Local Sparks work, such as handling competing deadlines, collaborating with different colleagues, communicating effectively through technical and non-technical writing, and engaging with stakeholders.

What does a typical working day look like for each of you?

RB: The program management takes up about 50% of my time. However, each day is different. Usually, my mornings are dedicated to client projects and in the afternoon, I work on the program – which is also when Vicki starts her workday – so we can collaborate and coordinate.

VC: I typically start my day working on Local Sparks, since that is when Renée is also online. I’ll then shift my attention to my project work. The way I split up my time on Local Sparks and project work really varies day-to-day depending on deadlines and workload – but that’s what is so exciting about juggling two different roles!

How do you ensure all community projects remain connected?

RB: Since it was launched in 2019, Local Sparks is a new program. I hope that by creating a network of engaged colleagues around the world with some amazing projects, we manage to set up something that is sustained by its own community and known across Arcadis. Currently we have organized a project competition for every Arcadian that has done a community engagement project in 2021. With this we hope to get more people involved with the program and make them aware of our Local Sparks Platform.

VC: The Local Sparks Platform (www.local-sparks.com) is the central hub that showcases community projects for Arcadians to share and learn about the great work being done across the globe. The Platform also serves as the site to read about program announcements, learn about the program elements, and apply for the Challenge and Accelarator. We are working to organize additional ways for projects and community impact-driven Arcadians to actively connect and learn from each other, such as hosting workshops or training sessions.

Which Local Sparks project has made the most impact on you?

RB: It is cliché to say all of them, right? It is not so much the projects but the people who really have an impact on me. From the moment I started working with the people who want to initiate a project in their community, I immediately felt the positivity and drive to do something good. It really inspired me.

VC: It is so difficult to pick one project since every project is so different, and all are doing great things for their community. I think the most memorable Local Sparks activity for me has been hosting the COVID-19 Recovery Program ideation workshops since I really enjoyed connecting with Arcadians from different countries who were all so passionate about making a difference in their own community. Being able to empower people to pursue their community impact goals is what I love about the Local Sparks program, so it was exciting to be able to work directly with people on developing their ideas.

What can you tell us about the Accelerator and Challenge programs? Who is eligible to participate and when is the deadline?

RB: All Arcadians are eligible to submit a project application for the Accelerator or Challenge. The Accelerator supports long-term projects with budgets of up to €40.000 per year. The Challenge engages Arcadians who are planning on doing a community engagement project and encourages them to follow through with their initiative with a €1.000 reward. I especially think that the Accelerator is an amazing opportunity for Arcadians to get experience in managing a larger project.

VC: We are excited to open the Accelerator and Challenge application period on January 1st , offering projects the opportunity to receive support from Local Sparks. The application deadline will be the end of February for the Challenge and mid-March for the Accelerator. Both programs accept community projects with at least two Arcadians involved, impact a community with an Arcadis presence, and align with Arcadis’ mission to improve quality of life. Full program details and timeline can be viewed on the Local Sparks Platform.

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