2019 Annual Conference, Society for International Development, Washington, DC, 5/30/19

“We get paid to do Mother Teresa’s work”

Amb. Rick Barton

The 2019 Society for International Development – Washington Chapter (SID-W) Annual Conference was held May 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. I had attended the January SID-W career fair, and posted about event. This was my first annual conference. The theme of the conference was “Solving Wicked Problems of Development.”

Vendor area

In attendance were about 900 international development professionals. The attendees included senior individuals with years of experience, as well as younger newer professionals.

The conference was welcomed by Melissa Logan, chair of SID-W. The keynote speaker was Tara Nathan, executive vice president for the Humanitarian and Development Sector of Mastercard. She talked about the changing nature of development work and Mastercard’s role as a “financial tech” group, contributing some 23 million dollars to the field. She remarked that there was has been much success in reducing poverty, the most critical objective of the field (down to 10% of the population of 2015). The private sector has an important role to play in the field and that is increasing. B-corps are one example. She feels that the development community faces three challenges that can be benefited from corporate involvement. First, there is a marketing problem. Gloom and doom doesn’t sell, rather there needs to be focus on opportunity. Second, there is a roles and responsibilities issue. Governments, civil society, business and philanthropy are often in the wrong roles. Third, there is a “go to market” problem. It takes too long to get an effort underway. A more collaborative approach would be more effective.

Her talk was followed by a “fireside” chat between Wade Warren and Bonnie Glick, with Warren interviewing Glick, the deputy administrator of USAID. Points made include the need to focus more on consumers and emerging markets (rather than beneficiaries and developing countries). There is much need with 70 million people on the move. As such, resilience is an important notion. Glick warned that China’s model is not development: under the guise of development China creates debtors and reliance on Chinese support. It’s really a form of colonialism.

In the first set of working sessions, I attended one on “Communicating to Drive Action.” Offered by Eli Murphy of Oratium, he focused on better communicating a message. He argued that the brain likes “ideas” over detail. Everything should be boiled down to big ideas when possible. That will be remembered by an audience. He recommended the need to (1) anchor the problem, (2) focus on big ideas, (3) build into a story, and (4) focus on a “call to action.” Oratium’s approach is found in the below handouts.

During lunch there was a panel of authors: Lee Gutkind (moderator), Rick Barton (Peace Works: America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World), Alex Dehgan (The Snow Leopard and other Adventures in Warzone Conservation), and Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran), each talking about their book.

I attended the “Refugees, Financial Inclusion and Fight Against Marginalization” and “Global Education Policy” panels in the afternoon.

The closing session was moderated by Michael Gerson of The Washington Post, and included George Ingram, Kristin Lord and Raj Kumar. Lord mentioned the fragmentation of the field which has created serious problems. Ingram urged diversity in the sector, which can be strength. Kumar mentioned the new players in the field including the role of billionaires.

Michael Gerson moderates the final session

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