Can A Conference Find Real Solutions To Complex Problems?

29 November 2014

The Trust Women Conference hosted by Thomson Reuters Foundation has become an annual anchor for anti-human trafficking activists globally. Its strength is that it draws Nobel prize winners, government officials, NGOs, lawyers, activists, donors and many more individuals that cut across sectors, borders and even philosophies. However, can a conference like this really find solutions to complex problems like human trafficking over a two day period?

I attended this year’s conference to find out more. I was greeted by a slick operation (glossy programmes, VIP badges and a “media” area), unusual in the NGO world that I often live in. Monique Villa, the CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, opened the day. A clearly passionate, intelligent and strong woman – my interest was piqued. The quality of speakers only went up from there with nuanced and hopeful talks from Nobel peace prize winners, Kailash Satyarthi and Muhammad Yunus and deeply moving and honest stories from survivors of trafficking from across the world. Nick Grono from The Freedom Fund spoke about their model for making big impact and Chris White from DARPA shared incredible details about how technology is helping to uncover online trafficking networks. The level of knowledge, passion and intelligence in the room was unrivalled. But, “how was this going to translate to action and change?” I thought.

Bringing people into a room is all well and good but that’s not how collective impact happens, that’s not how systems change and that’s most definitely not how trafficking ends. I wondered what value, beyond some interesting speeches and excellent networking opportunities, the Trust Women Conference actually added.

The answer, of course, was found in the afternoon breakout sessions. These were designed around key themes, specifically to encourage individuals and organisations to commit to an action there and then. Attendees stood up and shared their actions and others challenged it, pledged to support it or helped to improve it. It was in these final few hours that I saw potential for real change to happen. People were not networking, they were not speaking in theories. No. They were committing their own resources, time and networks to do something about human trafficking now. In this Thomson Reuters Foundation have done something many seek to do but few manage – to gain actual commitments to act. More importantly, through it’s open sharing format, it purposefully pushes people to collaborate rather than work in silos. I look forward to hearing how this year’s actions turn out.

Find out more here.


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