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What’s the point of conferences?

I have a love-hate relationship with conferences. I love to be inspired by great speakers, to debate and discuss important ideas, to meet new people and catch up with others, and to have time out of the everyday to reflect. But I am often left at the end of the day with a sense of unfinished business. The important idea that everyone agreed should be a priority, but no-one agreed to take forward. The initiative that could only happen through collective action, left to fade into memory as we go back to our day jobs. Maybe it’s just me, but conferences feel like starting a conversation and then leaving half way through, just when it starts to get interesting.

That may not seem like a great starting point for a blog about NPC’s annual conference this October. But we think what we’re offering with #NPCIgnites is something different. Rather than leaving you scratching your head,  it’s  set to inspire you and leave you ready to take action afterwards.

NPC Ignites is about thinking beyond the everyday. It aims to give you insight into the big trends and forces that are going to change what you do over the coming years. Digital technology, big and open data, new models of funding and investment, the blurring of lines between different sectors—these aren’t just things that might happen to the charity and social enterprise sector. They are already happening. In a decade you’ll look back and marvel at how different things were. The question is: will you keep  your head down and hope you get by, only to risk drowning in the flood of change? Or will you embrace the new and surf a wave that can help you work in radically different ways, and ultimately ensure your survival?

As we start to get to grips with these transformative forces in NPC’s Digital Transformation programme, I have to say the choice looks stark. Ask the organisations that were leaders in the retail, music or publishing industries a decade ago whether they embraced the opportunity that digital technology was offering them aggressively enough. Those that didn’t haven’t fared well.

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation has recently started to speak pretty forcefully on this issue. He’s been telling colleagues in the philanthropy sector that the question isn’t whether they should start getting to grips with how digital technology impacts what and how they fund—it’s to rethink the role of philanthropy in a digital world. Anything else means philanthropy could find itself obsolete and irrelevant within a generation.

So what’s the point of a conference where you’ll hear about all the different ways in which the work of charities and philanthropy is changing, and is going to change? Is it just to terrify you with everything you need to confront? We hope that it’s quite the opposite. You’ll hear from visionaries and leaders who have seen change as an opportunity, and have jumped in with both feet. Those who have transformed organisations and industries, and who have the war stories and the practical insights to show for it. And who want to help you work out how to translate their experiences into your thinking about what to do next.

So I hope you’ll come to NPC Ignites, and you’ll be inspired. Then I hope you do something to build on that inspiration, and become the changemaker who transforms your organisation or sector.

Early bird discount tickets for NPC Ignites will be available until 17 July.