A tale of two conferences

September 10th, 2014

First, thanks to The Fred Hollows Foundation poster on eye health and trachoma, an extract of which provides the image that heads this story.

Conference 1, Held in Australia and with a health focus – is laden with ‘gunna’ papers.

These make up 75% of the program and are generally delivered by departmental staff from around Australia explaining, with complex diagrams and charts, a new and better world … they are ‘gunna’ make change … after a departmental restructure and a reallocation of resources this new and better world will emerge. By the next conference the ‘gunnas’ will have new bosses, new words, new charts and diagrams and a new grand vision – the previous vision will have melted away into history.

The next 15% of papers are simply impossible to understand – in language, content and direction. The fit the ‘maddie’ category. These are best left alone. They receive no questions or comments and proceedings move on.

The remaining 10% have content and describe work done, results and then, works proposed as a result of the completed work. These we shall call the ‘doers’. Many are humble in scale and presenters apologise for lacking the grand vision of the ‘gunna’ category. The irony here is that the 100 families whose lives have been changed by the ‘doers’ will be 100 more than the ‘gunnas’ will ever achieve.

Conference 2, Held in Australia and with a health focus – is laden with students.

Students have every excuse for not having completed any projects, they are starting out, learning they are breaking ground. They are also running the conference … like a swiss watch!

Speakers here have been selected on the basis of the work they have done, programs completed and their connection with the real and often messy world. There are few diagrams or charts, few cliches are used and the visions are demonstrated, often by a multitude of small scale actions, rather than talked about.

Questions by the assembled students are blunt and the answers similarly direct.


HH is often asked the question how is it possible that the poor living conditions of Indigenous people continue? Why is change hard to achieve?

In Australia, these questions are asked with the tone that implies that the reason must be complex or mysterious. These tales of two conferences are indicative of the choices we have to make. We can progress along the talking route or decide to make change. The first choice costs relative little, threatens none of the current governing bodies or structures and gives the appearance that something is being done. The second, immediate action, is more dangerous and will be opposed by those wishing to keep things running as they always have been.

Conferences, and gaining from human exchange, are not the problem, we always learn something and make some new contacts. But for every word – let’s make a small action that will improve the lives of those not part of the conference circuit, today. Lets stop the child crying.