Rob Davidson gets on his bike this week for a worthy cause
Last year I found myself, for the first time in my life, shopping in Toys R Us. It was a novel experience for a confirmed bachelor like me. But my reason for shopping there was strictly business-related. I was due to speak at a conference in Poland, and the organisers had asked all the attendees and speakers to bring along a toy. No, the aim wasn’t to add some fun to the coffee breaks. It was so that the toys could be donated to a local orphanage as part of the conference’s corporate social responsibility drive to have a positive impact on the less fortunate members of society in the conference destination.
I’ve noticed this trend more and more in recent years – harnessing the power of conferences, large and small, to make a positive contribution to society by doing something to help those in need. It might be donating books to a school library; or giving a makeover to the garden of an old-people’s home; or having a whip-round at the gala dinner for a local women’s refuge.
It’s an excellent trend – not least for the image of our industry, which from the outside can often appear wasteful and extravagant. And it seems to be driven by the Millennials, those below the age of 34, who are quickly becoming the dominant generation in the meetings industry as elsewhere. In their wish to ‘make a difference’ or ‘give something back’, this generation couldn’t be more different from the Baby Boomers, who were for the main part quite content to enjoy the lavish cuisine and fine wines served to them at conferences in opulent surroundings, without too much thought for those who would never in their wildest dreams be able to enjoy such experiences.
Millennials see things differently, and increasingly they’re asking for the events they attend to offer some element of CSR.
Convention bureaux see this trend at first hand, as they are getting more enquiries from meeting planners looking for a local cause or charity they can support in some way while in the destination. And a valiant band of entrepreneurs is evolving to supply activities that are designed to enable delegates to do something worthwhile during the event.
At International Confex this year, I came across an excellent example of this in the form of the O3e Charity Bike Build (www.charitybikebuild.co.uk). O3e offers an activity that involves teams working together, under the supervision of their bike mechanics, to build bikes completely from scratch.
Working in teams to assemble the six key bike components involves effective communication and an element of healthy competition between teams. Best of all, at the end of the exercise, there are several new bikes that can be donated to a worthy cause. In terms of social usefulness, it certainly beats building rafts out of detergent bottles.
We’re going to see a lot more of this phenomenon, whereby conferences are expected to leave a social legacy in the destinations in which they are held. It’s a perfect way of showing that our industry has a heart as well as a head.