Most conference-goers would likely agree that the main perk is networking. Of course we are inspired by the speakers, but there is nothing quite like connecting with old friends or finding new people who share the same interests.
Making personal and professional connections greatly enhances the enjoyment and value of these gatherings, but unfortunately, this networking is usually limited to meals, breaks, and receptions.
At a recent conference, AMD’s Corporate Responsibility Team tested a concept to enhance the networking experience at conferences, while also doing some good for the local community. The idea is to stage a volunteer event as another dimension to the conference networking experience.
The paper is based on a case study from the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference where AMD and partnering organizations recruited a “Green Army” of volunteers from the conference, local citizens, and local employers. Collectively the group cleaned up more than 20 blocks of an urban waterway, but more relevant to this topic of networking, there were countless valuable interactions and relationships made in the process.
From the white paper:
By adding a volunteer event, attendees can engage with peers in a context that, by its very nature, facilitates interaction. Working side-by-side with others builds a sense of camaraderie, accomplishment, and trust that can shape deeper and long-lasting relationships.
During the volunteer event, we saw strangers transform into partners as they helped one another pull debris from the creek, plant trees, identify invasive species, and make “seedballs” to restore burned areas with native plants. The networking experience was immensely effective and contributed in a meaningful way to the local environment. We believe this nexus of volunteering to support the community and enhance professional networking is a vast opportunity.
As one of the volunteers said the experience provided “a chance to chat with fellow SXSW Eco attendees and get a break from the conference center. I suggest holding more events like this throughout the conference. It was a highlight and has greatly inspired me.”
Our hope is that documenting and sharing our experiences in the white paper [click to download
] will help more organizations and conference hosts integrate volunteerism into conference agendas. Imagine the good we could do if this concept became a trend with the majority of conferences around the world.
Author's Note: I am the Global Sustainability Manager for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). My postings are of my own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions.