The ‘con’ in conference

31 October 2012 | Posted In: #117 Spring 2012, Community Sector, Human Service Delivery, Sector Support, | Author: Charmaine Jones

By Charmaine Jones

Let me preface this piece with how I witness, on a daily basis, non-government organisations (NGOs) large and small, providing innovative services at great value to the tax payer.

These organisations know how to get bang for your buck, in a world where they are faced with ever-increasing demand.

I have worked in the community sector for a number of years now and whilst I may not know everything, I wouldn’t have called myself naïve. I thought I understood the system, the bureaucracy and the funding streams attached to them.

I used to think the links were thus: people worked hard and paid taxes to the government; the government collected the taxes and divvied up some of the monies to fund NGOs who would then provide a service back to the people.

Recently though, I have become aware of another link in the chain, wherein the monies are given to service providers, who, in turn, pass it on to conference convenors charging astronomical rates for attendance.

Let me make it clear: most conference organisers are legitimate companies doing a good job at a reasonable rate.

I do not want to name the offenders (as a community sector worker, my lowly paid job does not allow for the hiring of lawyers), but I can let you how to tell the difference between the real companies and the cowboys: the degree by which your jaw drops when sighting the conference fees.

You may think it would be easy enough to just ignore the promotional material for these types of conferences. Once you have seen the cost, you simply bin the flyer, but these convenors are far more devious than one would think. They use techniques not far removed from those utilised by electricity and telecommunication providers.

That said, electricity and telecommunications companies are at least honest about the fact they are selling you something. Their marketing techniques might be less than reputable, bamboozling us with special rates and deals, and hiding the nasty bits in the small print, but at least they are upfront that they have something they want you to buy; these cowboy conference convenors, however, are not.

They spend half an hour on the phone commending your expertise in your field, and this prompts an aside about an upcoming conference they will be holding, a promise of an email and a barrage of follow-up phone calls. Methinks I smell the work of a commission-based pay system.

I believe in the value of a good conference. It gives workers the chance to hear about the latest research and innovative programs, the opportunity to network and in a sector where a meeting with Tim Tams is seen as an extreme extravagance, it is often a chance to spoil ourselves with a night away.

But, surely most of us would prefer seedier venues and plainer biscuits if it gives the whole sector, not just the large organisations with surplus funds, the chance to attend, learn, network and share.


Listening to older clients and respecting their wishes was an important message impressed upon me at the National Community Care Conference in Adelaide.

During the panel discussion with older people, it became clear that older people wanted to stay independent as long as possible, that they wanted to choose who comes into their homes and to be able to tailor their packages according to their needs at the time, with enough flexibility to make changes as needs vary.

When asked to identify what is most important to them as they grow older, most older people said that it is staying socially connected. Some people differed and expressed the view that being able to drive is most important, as this allowed them to meet with family and friends, and continue with their regular social activities.

The people on the panel emphasised the point that they wanted to experience and learn new things, and not just be passive recipients of services.

In order to allow older people the chance to be active consumers and tailor appropriate packages, older people need to be better educated to better understand their options. This needs to be a priority.

Enis Jusufspahic

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice, Issue 116, Spring 2012