Transformational Change: what’s it all about?

Former Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer speaking at ACFOA event in 1998

Alice Ridge

18 Sep, 2017

Looking back at ACFID’s conference themes, you might think we are a bit obsessed with buzzwords. You know the ones: innovation; disruptive change; impact; and futures planning. Rummaging through our archives, we found photos from ACFID Council in 1998, looking at…NGOs in a Global Future.

We’re not hiding behind these words or discussing them for the sake of it. We want to get to grips with them and develop a shared understanding so they can help us achieve our collective vision of a world where all people are free from extreme poverty, injustice and inequality.

That’s where this year’s ACFID National Conference theme comes in – Transformational Change and Development.

Transformational change is not merely a goal – it is a way of working for a better world. It recognises that complex problems like poverty and inequality are inextricably linked in complex webs connecting people, economies and the environment.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognise this complexity, but instead of suggesting we look for easy solutions, they make a powerful call for us to collaborate and to first reach those furthest behind.

To be truly transformational, we need to create change that is adaptive, sustainable and lasting, so that it lives on long after the project cycle is complete. And this calls us to work together to achieve more than we ever could alone.

There are many ways to think about transformational change, but at our conference this year, we are going to explore its relevance across three sub-themes:

  • Engage – Action and Advocacy for Change
  • Create – Transformational Organisations for Change
  • Lead – Transformational Leadership for Change

Each sub-theme will include: a keynote speaker to introduce the key concepts and provide food-for-thought; a panel to delve deeper into the issues; and concurrent sessions (workshops, masterclasses and panel discussions) led by ACFID’s members to explore practical solutions and showcase early adopters of change.

Engage – Action and Advocacy for Change, provides a chance to explore the way in which social movements create transformational change. Ahead of last year’s Conference, CIVICUS Secretary General Danny Sriskandarajah called on Australian NGOs to return to their roots as social movements. This year we’ll hear from Lily Thapa, founder of Women for Human Rights, about the Nepalese widows’ social movement and how Australian NGOs can stand in solidarity with grassroots movements in developing countries.

Create – Transformational Organisations for Change is not about providing answers, or a road map, or re-hashing what we already know needs to change within our organisations. Through a series of ‘lightening talks’, this theme will showcase the new ways in which development organisations are starting to think about their place in the world, and the tools and ways of working that can help us become the kinds of organisations that are truly creating transformational change.

Transformational Leadership for Change recognises that leadership is critical to creating and supporting these kinds of organisations. But more than that, transformational change requires a new kind of leadership: one that puts aside hierarchy; is adaptive and collaborative; ready to embrace change; and enables people to come on that journey.

At last year’s AGM, ACFID members passed a resolution on increasing the representation of women in leadership across the sector. This year, keynote speaker Noelene Nabulivou from Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, followed by a panel of women leaders, will reflect on opportunity that new kinds of leadership provide for us to re-think who we consider to be a leader, and address the barriers that have kept women, people with disabilities, Indigenous people and others on the outside.

ACFID National Conference 2017 is a time for development actors to consider what we need to do now to achieve transformational change in the future.

Read the conference programme in full and join us on November 1-2 in Melbourne. And share your attendance and join the conversation online using #ACFID2017

  • Alice Ridge
    Alice Ridge

    Alice is the Policy and Advocacy Advisor at ACFID, and leads on ACFID’s work in the areas of gender equality and SDGs. Alice studied International Politics and Philosophy at Melbourne University, where she was involved with the environmental activist movement. Alice writes in her spare time and has been published in a number of online feminist journals.


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