From 28th to 30th of May, IsBambi and I attended the Women Deliver 2013 forum on issues as diverse maternal mortality, sexuality education, human rights and HIV/AIDS. From this event, our third international conference attended as a pair, I learnt the following things in regards to what I would do if I were to host/organise such an event;
1. Deliver Information. Demand speakers ensure at least 60% of their content is new information to at least 60% of attendees. eg: at a conference focussing maternal mortality, a plenary speech that consists entirely of statements such as “we need to do better in preventing maternal mortality” or “motherhood should not kill” would not be acceptable.
2. Deliver Solutions. Even if the statements you are making are news to the majority of listeners, just making broad statements about the state of affairs would be unacceptable. Speakers would be required to talk about what they have seen that has been changing the status quo on the issues at hand. eg: “in country A where condom usage is at nearly 80% among 15-25 year olds, mobile technology in the form of weekly sexuality education text messages have been used to remind young people that contraception is essential , life saving and part of a respectful relationship”
3. Deliver an integrated program. Link plenary sessions with breakout sessions and ensure the links are clear and user friendly to allow participants to feel that the whole conference is one seething mass moving together. eg: for the example above “attend session X to hear more about the success of this program and others like it”
4. Deliver Genuinely for Youth. Don’t pay lip service to young people at your conference. This is insulting and easily recognisable. Lip service includes; patronising celebratory events, a youth space that is unsafe, unfriendly or uninspiring, the singling out of one or two special “young people” who represent your ideals and ignoring all others, failing to include young people on plenaries or breakout sessions unless they are specifically youth focused sessions (believe it or not, young people have more to say and more expertise on things other than just being young).
5. Deliver on Accountability. Develop real time monitoring and evaluation methods that allow you to track the mood of the audiences as the conference happens and encourage you to make necessary changes to fit the needs of your audience. Have an easily recognisable and approachable figure head that greets the attendees daily and keeps them up to date with changes and happenings, engage with participants to ensure they feel heard.
6. Deliver on Action. Have an agenda and a goal for the conference that the participants can engage with and get excited about. Make sure that your plenaries and sessions address this goal and agenda and collectively move towards it throughout the program.
7. Deliver on Equality. Don’t talk about equality unless you intend on acting on it. VIP areas, special assistance to dignitaries, inviting speakers not for the quality of what they have to say but the position they hold are all sure fire ways of losing connection with your audience. I have never in my life been so bored by a panel of speakers as I have at the Women Deliver opening plenary and I’ve sat through a lot of boring panels. Stop treating participants unequally (youth, disabled, language other than English, VIPs) or stop talking about equality.
8. Deliver on Progress. Don’t be conservative. Don’t be boring. Don’t fail to use the real words for things eg: penis, vagina, contraception, ABORTION. Terms like Family Planning are conservative, exclusive and false.
I’ve been super disappointed by the lack of solidarity, togetherness or cohesiveness of this conference so far. I feel like there is no shared vision, plenaries are generally boring and lacking focus and energy, no one is sharing information and the young people in attendance are being generally ignored or patronised. Women Deliver has a looooooooong way to go before it can be considered anything but a collection of interested parties sharing knowledge in a disorganised and unfocused way. All conferences of this size have their failings but this one really has failed the most, I will be writing more about my opinions and learnings in the coming weeks. I hope the right people are listening.