Conférence Olivaint

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Conférence Olivaint
Logo Olivaint.jpg
Named afterFather Pierre Olivaint
Formation1874 (1874)
Limited to 150
AffiliationsOlivaint Conference of Belgium

The Conférence Olivaint is the oldest, and one of the most private French student societies,[1] established in 1874.[2] Its aim is to educate its members for public life. As its name suggests, its main activity is organizing weekly conferences with notable characters of French public life.[3] It is made up of young people under 30 (branche Jeunes) and an alumni branch (branche Anciens).


Named after Father Pierre Olivaint, a French priest martyred during the Paris Commune, the Conference was founded by the Jesuits. At first, the goal was for members to infiltrate the political world of the nascent French Third Republic.

After the First World War, the Conference opened up and became a forum for men of all stripes such as Georges Bidault or Robert Schuman. During the Second World War, all members joined the fight, half on the side of the Resistance, and half as collaborators.

After the war, the majority of members leaned toward Christian democracy and were strongly pro-European. In 1968, the Conference was secularized under the presidency of Laurent Fabius (youth branch) and Hervé de Charette (alumni branch). During the 1980s, many young people were recruited into François Mitterrand's staff by alumni such as Jacques Attali and Hubert Védrine. In the past years, the Conference has begun to emerge from its traditional secrecy and has allowed more light to be shed on its activities.


The Conference's rules limit its membership to 150. Members are co-opted. They must submit a written application and undergo an interview by the Conference's board. Membership of the youth branch is limited to three years, after which members must apply again to be admitted to the alumni network.

Membership of professionals must not exceed a third of the total youth membership. Among the students, many are drawn from the Paris Institute of Political Studies, and the others from the grandes écoles and law faculties.


The Conference's main activity is organizing weekly conferences with important personalities from the French political world and, since 2003, civil society. The Conference's rules require confidentiality on everything said during the conferences. This allows guests to speak off the record, and therefore more freely than they would in most other contexts.

A big part of the Conference's traditions is its identity as a debating society, with the age-old practice of "jousting" (joute oratoire), informal public debates between two members, which takes place before each conference. The Conference provides extensive training for public speaking with monthly practice sessions, often with renowned public speakers as teachers, and a yearly public speaking contest. Each member must joust at least once; therefore, all members have that experience in common and it is part of the Conference's spirit.

Each year, the Conference also holds a symposium, which is open to the public. In 2007 it was held at the French National Assembly, on higher education reform. The year before it was on integrating immigrants, at the Paris Arab World Institute.

Other activities include study trips abroad, where members meet politicians and officials of the country they visit. The Conference was the first French organization to visit newly independent Algeria. The Conference is also a member of the Politeïa Community.

The Conference also organizes cultural events, regional trips, debates, think tanks, etc.


Even though it has an elected board, the alumni association of the Conference Olivaint has few activities, and mostly consists of an informal network.


Members of civil society

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diane Karcher-Mourgues (16 December 2011). "Dans les coulisses de l'éloquence à Sciences Po". La Péniche (in French). Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  2. ^ "La Conférence Olivaint - 1875-1940" (in French). Retrieved 20 December 2018..
  3. ^ David Colon (September 2006). "La Conférence Olivaint et le Parlement, de 1875 à nos jours" (in French). Sciences Po..