Sofiago helps scholars and graduate students attend to academic events by removing financial barriers.
Sofiago is something quite innovative and quite new for the academic community. For this reason we didn’t know what to expect in our first experience as exhibitors in the General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research in Prague. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous about what would be the reaction of the academic community when I presented to them what we do to help scholars and graduate students to attend academic conferences and events.
When we prepared all our promotional materials and flyers, we never imagined that we would experience such an exciting week with political scientists from Europe and other parts of the world. The visit was not without challenges. Our initial booth was somewhat hidden but after talking to the wonderful staff of ECPR, we got to move to a better spot.
Now we were talking! I engaged into fruitful conversations with many scholars that not only loved the idea but also were very keen to help us to spread the word.
The work of Sofiago
Before getting into the reactions of the scholars at ECPR it'w worth noting what we do. Sofiago gives financial support to scholars and graduate students to attend academic conferences and events (i.e., summer schools) by solving cash flow problems due to reimbursement delays. This issues are product of the "reimbursement culture” of academia. This refers to the prevailing norms and practices surrounding the reimbursement of expenses incurred by scholars. It encompasses the policies and procedures related to reimbursing individuals for costs associated with academic activities such as conference attendance, research travel, and other professional development endeavors. This culture often involves requiring individuals to pay upfront for these expenses and then seek reimbursement afterward, which can create financial challenges and barriers, particularly for early-career researchers and those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. The term "reimbursement culture" highlights the systemic nature of these practices and the impact they have on the accessibility and inclusivity of academic opportunities.
To overcome this problem we do a simple thing with high impact: Sofiago covers conference registration fees, books for travel and hotel, and scholars and graduate students repay back when University reimbursements are received. We can wait up to 5 months to be paid back after the purchase date. We charge no interest.
How can we make this happen? Scholars don't pay any interest because our bookings already include the commission (that's how we get paid). Thanks to our travel partnerships we work with market rates, removing unnecessary charges, which means that our bookings are fairly priced and adjust to any budget. Plus, we give the appropriate receipts to make sure that scholars and students are fully reimbursed.
When we transmitted this message to the ECPR community the reactions were fantastic!
Scholarly support and engagement
Reactions were, I would say, 98% positive. Almost all the attendees that we talked to agreed to sign up to our waiting list and were gladly surprised that a group of crazy persons decided to jump into an idea that was much needed for academia. While supportive of the idea, emotions were mixed. First and foremost we had the “excited ones”, with phrases like “This is really great” or “Much needed”. We also had the “converted”, who were skeptical at the beginning but liked what we did after explaining. It went from something like “I don’t know, how do you make money?” to “ Ok, I get it, this is very clever!”. And finally, we had the “deceived ones” saying some things like “I wish I could have used you to come here”, or “My co-author didn’t come because he couldn’t afford to pay for the travel.”
Besides the very positive reactions, two other great news came out from our visit. First, we discussed the mission and work of Sofiago with the ECPR director, Tanja Munro, who was very excited about the work we do. Finally, we also engaged with scholars that wanted to work with Sofiago for the events they are in the course of organizing.
This was absolutely a fantastic experience and being there validated Sofiago’s mission. We’re on the right path and let’s make this possible.