Thursday, April 16, 2009

Conferences that matter

This is a tough year for conferences. Businesses are taking a 4th and 5th look at every expense on the books, and many potential participants are just staying home. It's so bad out there that travel planners, the hotel and hospitality industries, and even the private jet industry are hard at work lobbying policymakers and the public that they are not the bad guys in this economic mess. Despite all that, some conferences are very much worth attending. Here are three (+ an extra credit event).

Next week in DC the Global Philanthropy Forum* will hold its 8th annual conference. Featured speakers include, as always, an impressive group of notables from Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan to His Highness the Aga Khan and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus also will address the crowd. But in the case of GPF, as with the TED conference, it is the crowd that matters as much as the keynoters. Among the assembled donors and social investors will be dozens of social entrepreneurs from around the world. The winners of the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Challenge will be announced at GPF on Thursday evening. This is one of those gatherings in which the afterlife of the ideas - spread through twitter, blogs, press, and videos - will gain momentum and it is still important to be there in person.

Two other gatherings coming up are sadly in direct conflict with each other. NetSquared is now in its fourth year, and has become a must-attend showcase for technology innovation in the nonprofit/philanthropic space. This year, the hip-monikered N2Y4 is also hosting a mobile challenge - you can check out the mission-advancing, mobile-tech-enabled entrants here. N2Y4 is also hosting the ChangeTheWeb Challenge - check out the 24 finalists in this effort to find ways that the Internet in its entirety could become as much a platform for change as it is a platform for commerce and communication. The N2Y4 conference is taking place in San Jose, May 26-27 and is a project of TechSoupGlobal.*

Also scheduled for May 27-29 (but on the other coast - NYC) is the 6th annual Games4Change Festival.* Professionals in fields as diverse as journalism, design, healthcare, education, environment, energy, human rights advocacy, food security, and national security now recognize the inherent value of games and gaming as pedagogical platforms, engagement mechanisms, and community building supports. Last year, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor launched her civics curriculum, Our Courts, at the Festival. This year will feature the winners of The Knight Foundation's News Game Challenge.

All three of these conferences are rooted in defining principles of work, change, and society in 2009. The topics, presenters, methods, and tools that are at the core of these conferences are, in my opinion, "must-understands" for funders and policy makers trying to develop, implement, and evaluate their work. Why? Because both N2Y4 and G4C are rooted in digital environments and expectations. These are the communities, methods, organizing and learning principles that now shape every element of society. Both N2Y4 and G4C focus on community innovation and technology innovators focused on social change. GPF, on the other hand, is rooted in the pervasive global realities of our social economy. Donors, social investors, nonprofits, public agencies, multilateral organizations, social entrepreneurs, elected and appointed officials - these are the core participants at GPF. Their conversations about how to work together, partner across sectors, balance competing strengths, and reckon with cultural similarities and differences are fundamental characteristics of our times.

It is tough to get to conferences these days. These three offer in-depth learning and networking experiences about the global, digital, technology-enhanced, cross-sector realities in which philanthropy and social investing now happen. It will be tougher to do your work if you don't understand these developments.

And, just for fun, one of philanthropy's great award events is coming up on Monday, April 20th. I can't encourage you to go because I know its completely sold out. But I'm honored and delighted to have tickets for the 20th annual Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony in San Francisco and will be twittering away (assuming I can get a cell signal at the Opera House). You can check out their website for previous winners and keep an eye on PBS which has been known to use the (Robert Redford-produced) videos from the ceremony as part of its environmental programming.

*Full disclosure: I have attended 3 GPF conferences, and will be attending this year as well. My firm has worked with GPF and I've covered these conferences as an unpaid blogger. I used to be on the board of TechSoupGlobal which hosts N2Y4. I am on the Board of Games4Change. I have no professional relationship to the Goldman Environmental Prize but have been a fortunate recipient of tickets to the ceremony for the last few years.


Bruce Trachtenberg said...

In full disclosure, I'm the executive director, and I'd like to put in a plug for the the Communications Network's Fall 2009 conference in October. To quote Eric Brown, our vice chair:

"Without a doubt, the conference is worth attending. The not-so-secret-secret is that without a good communications strategy (not PR, mind you, but communications), your grantmaking strategy is incomplete. Here’s how program folks and communications folks can learn to make the most of their grantmaking dollar."

To add to Eric's comment...because the Ford Foundation has generously agreed to let us hold our event in its building in midtown New York City, we’re able to offer a lower registration fee this year than we did last year. So, for communications professionals in philanthropy who are looking for conferences that offer great value along with stellar content, we should be on your must-attend list.

Paulette Pierre said...

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the Communications Consultant for Chicago Global Donors Network and would like to put in a plug for our 6th Annual Chicago Global Donors Network Conference. This year's theme is one that resonates with everyone: "Global Giving: Opportunity in Tough Times."
This year's keynote speaker is Stephen Lewis, the former Special Envoy to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The list also includes Susan Davis, the founding Board member of the Grameen Foundation. Our individual conference sessions include stimulating discussions on climate change, microfinance, global health and supporting women's programs in conflict areas.
Please join us on October 29-30, 2009 in Chicago.