Setting a forward looking agenda - ACFID Conference 2016

Marc Purcell

16 Sep, 2016

For those of us who have been working in the Australian development sector over the past few years, it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity. Australian aid has reached its lowest ever level as a proportion of gross national income. Australian NGOs – many of whom rely on the government to fund their lifesaving work – have had to make hard adjustments after the boom period of the past decade, cutting programs, restructuring their organisations and laying off staff.

So you might be surprised to learn that I believe 2016 is an exciting time to be working in international development in Australia.

Taking a step back from the day-to-day, it’s possible to be optimistic. The world has begun a 15 year journey to implement the most ambitious development agenda ever agreed. And while the challenges we face are unlike those we have dealt with in the past, they present us with an opportunity to fundamentally challenge the current global order – one which has perpetuated poverty and inequality for the past half-century.

It’s no exaggeration to say that bringing about the world envisaged in Agenda 2030 will require us to fundamentally change the way we do development. And while the budget cuts and turbulence of the past few years have shaken the development sector to its core, it has also provided us with a unique opportunity to radically change the way we think about our contribution.

Amidst all this disruption, finding the time to step back, reassess our role and relevance and plan for the future is a challenge in itself. But this is what ACFID National Conference offers – two days away from the business of day to day life to step back, look at the big trends we are facing as a sector, and think about what we can do now to increase our impact as development actors in the future.

This is why we’ve chosen the theme of Impact: A future development agenda for Australia for ACFID National Conference 2016 – and the discussion to get us to this point has been two years in the making.

In 2014, we explored the disruptive changes facing the international development sector and what these changes will mean for the future of INGOs. We heard about the rise of global challenges like inequality, climate change and people movement. We explored the implications of the rise of Southern donors, local NGOs and the private sector, and concerning trends around the shrinking space for civil society. The overwhelming message from Conference 2014 was that INGOs need to think and work differently – to embrace change – if they are to remain relevant and effective.

Building on this theme, ACFID National Conference 2015 explored innovation as a way for NGOs to collectively and individually adapt to future challenges. We looked at the ways in which other sectors innovate to see what we can learn from them, and we investigated the current state of innovation in the Australian international development sector to explore how it can be focused and enhanced. The message from Conference 2015 was the need for innovation to go beyond technology – to tackle complex and emerging development challenges innovation must be driven by collaboration, unusual partnerships and a focus on culture, leadership and value-add.

But innovation is a means to an end: impact. In 2016, we want to build on these two previous conferences to explore a bold, future agenda for the Australian development sector, taking into account the changing context for development, the need to innovate and do development differently, in order to have impact. We want to build on our strengths and expertise and explore new ways of positioning ourselves as development NGOs – and Australia as a nation – in the world.

To prepare for the conversation at Conference, ACFID has been collecting think-pieces on the future of development for our flagship project: Australia Ahead of the Curve: An Agenda for International Development to 2025. ACFID National Conference 2016 will be an important moment in this conversation around the future of development – a chance to explore the ideas surfaced through Australia Ahead of the Curve, nuance our thinking around the ideas that have been proposed already and surface new and additional ideas to inform our thinking as we continue these discussions over the coming months.

After years of cuts, uncertainty, concern and change in the Australian aid sector, ACFID National Conference 2016 is about taking stock and looking forward. It is about being bold and setting out a strong future development agenda for Australia, one that is based on the need to do things differently, as well as exploring what we need to do now to make it happen.

Please join ACFID on October 26-27th in Melbourne for our Annual National Conference and don’t forget to bring your bold ideas for the future of Australia’s aid and development sector with you!

More information on speakers, registrations and program is available here.

  • Marc Purcell
    Marc Purcell

    Marc Purcell is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) and joined in 2009. ACFID unites over 130 Australian international aid and development organisations that work to alleviate poverty and injustice in over 100 countries.  ACFID members raise around $1.5 billion from a variety of sources and are supported by 1.5 million Australian’s annually. ACFID acts as a NGO regulator and runs a Code of Conduct including an independent public complaints system for signatories to its Code.

    Marc has worked for 25 years in the community, international development and human rights sectors in Australia. He started out working with intellectually disabled people in transition programs to independent living.


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