The Editors’ Post: Is great networking the impact we need from international conferences?

International collaboration, shared learning, and – maybe most importantly – doing deals. How to assess if time away and the travel is worth it? This week's view is not from our usual Pioneers Post newsroom, but Kuala Lumpur.

Last time I wrote the editors’ letter, I was lucky enough to be corresponding from Venice. This time, I’m in the departures lounge at Kuala Lumpur airport after spending time at the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network’s Global Conference 2023.

International conference travel is a privilege that only a few in the impact community are fortunate enough to enjoy, but it does come at a cost – time away from our families as others take on the caring roles, time away from our day jobs as the emails pile up, and, of course, a significant carbon footprint.

I was weighing up the pros and cons of the international impact conference scene when I came across this LinkedIn post from Australian Tom Dawkins, who was jetting off to New York for a summit. He justifies his travel as allowing him to make valuable personal connections and adds: “I think international collaboration and shared learning is crucial for advancing the goal of growing the social enterprise movement globally.”

(Incidentally, he also adds, “social enterprise isn't about going and living off grid way deep in the woods”, which is exactly what I’m going home to do. I think both approaches can work alongside each other.)

Is it time to introduce conference impact measurement to ensure that our travels are thoughtfully and rigorously justified?

At the AVPN conference this week, everyone told me that the networking was the most valuable part of the event – so much so that some had hardly attended any of the presentations. And the delegates were networking with aplomb, swapping business cards at the first opportunity and taking genuine interest in each other’s roles (as well as keeping a keen eye out for funding opportunities). Many were following up contacts they had made in previous years, and some were taking advantage of the trip to arrange other meetings in the region before or after the conference.

As AVPN CEO Naina Subberwal Batra said: “All of us share a common goal to create a future where prosperity and wellbeing are accessible to all.” 

That’s a powerful uniting force, and undoubtedly the AVPN delegates are travelling home now with emails and WhatsApp messages to follow up on, new ideas and fresh inspiration.

At the event, one of the leaders of the global impact investment movement, Cliff Prior, CEO of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment, said: “The single most overwhelming issue is climate…it is essential and urgent. What is the impact movement going to do about it?”

We must be ever more mindful of our footprint on the planet, and therefore we should be even more conscious of the impact of our travel. Is it time to introduce conference impact measurement to ensure that our travels are thoughtfully and rigorously justified?


Social enterprise champions – plus, we’re hiring

Finally, we’re excited to reveal this year’s finalists in the NatWest Pioneers Post SE100 – check out the list, which is published today. The winners will be announced at our awards ceremony on 10 July (book your place here).

And, we’re recruiting for a new reporter, starting this autumn. Could it be you, or someone in your network? Do spread the word. 


This week’s top stories:

'Frankenstein's monster' impact ecosystem needs rethink, AVPN conference hears

‘We don’t demand moral purity’ – Kate Williams, 1% for the Planet

Music app and menstrual health campaigner among 33 finalists in NatWest SE100 Awards


Top image: Kuala Lumpur. Credit Julie Pybus.

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