Dóchas Annual Conference 2019

Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty

Speakers at the Dóchas Conference 2019

We need to challenge the status quo, work collectively, leave brand and ego at the door and speak in an authentic voice... These are just a handful of the key messages that came up time and again at the Dóchas Conference 2019.

The Dóchas Conference – Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty – took place on 2 May in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin. 

It explored the key challenges facing international cooperation between now and 2030, and aimed to provide a space for discussion and new ideas about how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way.

Among the over 250 delegates gathered in Dublin were representatives of Irish NGOs and civil society organisations, members of Government, activists and campaigners, academics, private sector representatives and more.

Speakers and panelists provided different perspectives on three fundamental questions around the conference theme:

  • What are the key challenges that will shape the future of international cooperation?

  • How do international development actors, particularly international development NGOs, need to change to meet them?

  • How do we bring the Irish public along with us to believe in and champion the importance of international cooperation?

We heard from Winnie Byanyima (Executive Director, Oxfam International); Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen (CEO, Plan International); Justin Kilcullen (Executive and Business Coach, and former Executive Director, Trócaire); Kate Norgrove (Senior Director, Purpose); John Concannon (Director General, Global Ireland); Grace Milton (Associate Director, Public Affairs Strategy Division, Edelman); and Ciarán ÓGaora, (Communications Strategist and Designer and Founder, Zero-G).

Speakers and audience at the Dóchas Conference 2019

Conference MC, Dil Wickremasinghe, joined us again this year to kick off the day's proceedings by welcoming delegates.

Dóchas CEO, Suzanne Keatinge, delivered the opening address, setting the tone for the day. She asked if we are ready to put the furthest behind first and to truly listen to what they need, and if we are doing enough to bring the public along with us in our work. She challenged us to develop a counter narrative to hate and other obstacles to positive change, equality and justice - a narrative based on hope, the collective, and the possible.

Suzanne then announced the surprise challenge for the day - delegates were invited to share the songs that inspire them to act for equality, justice and change. Songs could be submitted during the break and a Dóchas 'Songs for Change' Playlist was created at the end of the day. To get the ball rolling, Simon Coveney, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, had submitted his song ahead of time - Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song'.

Opening Session: How should civil society counter growing uncertainty to bring about social change? Challenges and opportunities for international NGOs

The opening session considered the challenges and opportunities facing NGOs as they seek to counter global uncertainty and promote positive social change.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, took to the stage to tell us that we must focus on people, power and partnerships at this time of great global challenges. Anne-Birgitte called on us to reflect on the power that we each hold and whether we are willing to use it to challenge issues such as climate change and power abuse in countries and our own organisations. 

We must use and cultivate strong people power to tackle these challenges, she said, highlighting particularly the power of global youth movements currently pushing for change around the world.

Do we really understand the extent to which the Sustainable Development Goals represent "a social, economic and political revolution", she asked.  To achieve them, we must be willing to become truly political, to challenge the status quo.

Finally, Anne-Birgitte asked that we work in collaboration and partnership with each other. Organisations must leave egos at the door and work together for change. “Partnership is about giving up power, leaving ego and brand behind,” she said.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen and Winnie Byanyima speaking at the Dóchas Conference 2019

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, used her speech to address three key causes of global uncertainty and instability. Growing and extreme inequality threatens human progress by trapping people in poverty, entrenching gender inequality and eroding democracies. Many of the solutions to this inequality are known - healthcare and education for all, progressive taxation, rights and a fair wage for workers - and yet they are not enacted. To end extreme inequality, Winnie said, we will need to see real political and collective action in every country to challenge economic elites and take back our democracies.

Strongly linked to inequality was the next challenge Winnie discussed - climate change. Those who did not create it are the ones facing the consequences because they cannot protect themselves. She illustrated this with a startling example - her uncle in Uganda would take 198 years to create the same amount of emissions as the average New Yorker creates in one year. Yet, he is facing droughts and other challenges from climate change in a far more intense way.

The final challenge that Winnie addressed was global conflict and wars with no frontlines, targetting civilians. We must tackle the root causes of these conflicts.

Winnie finished with a call for bold and urgent leadership and willingness to change how we do our work. “Remember that everything we stand for has very, very strong opponents," she said.

Speakers at the Dóchas Conference 2019

Justin Kilcullen, Executive and Business Coach, and former Executive Director, Trócaire, then sat down to conduct a Q&A with Winnie and Anne-Birgitte.

Three 'Changemakers' spoke from the floor to provide an Irish perspective on the global challenges and opportunities that Winnie and Anne-Birgitte had explored: Ruairí de Búrca, Director General of Irish Aid; Jamie Moore, UN Youth Delegate; and Caoimhe de Barra, CEO of Trócaire.

Asked about the one thing that they would do to make radical progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, Winnie spoke about the importance of joining social movements for change and encouraging people to do so, while Anne-Birgitte said that she would continue to advance gender equality through all areas of Plan International's work.

Speakers from audience at the Dóchas Conference 2019

During the break, delegates networked and visited stalls, including the Dóchas 'Song for Change' stall, where they could submit their song ideas for inclusion in the conference playlist.

Whenever you're seeking some inspiration and energy for your work, have a listen to the playlist below!

Dóchas 'Songs for Change' Playlist - Spotify

Dóchas 'Songs for Change' Playlist - Youtube

Dóchas Song for Change song ideas on wall at Conference

Closing Session: Finding our voice - How can we bring the Irish public with us in this time of uncertainty?

Dóchas Board member and Associate Director, Public Affairs Strategy Division, at Edelman, Grace Milton, chaired the closing session on how we can build a shared narrative for change and inspire the Irish public to join us as we challenge inequality and injustice.

John Concannon, Director General of Global Ireland, spoke about the importance of collective action, working together effectively and telling real stories. Ireland's bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-2022 is a real sign of where we want to stand in the world, he said, and we have our own unique story to tell as a nation and our own impacts to make. How can we authentically tell that story? John emphasised the empathy of Irish people and the nation's shared experiences with other countries who have experienced or are experiencing famine, mass migration, conflict or colonialism. We watched the video launching Ireland's campaign for a seat on the Security Council to see some of the messages and narratives used.

Next up, Kate Norgrove, Senior Director, Purpose, explored how we can bring the public along with us in pursuing change, using her experiences from the UK in building public support and engagement. She identified key factors for building a strong social movement that inspires public action - it should be led by the most impacted community; driven by a strong core; work in alliance; use a wide spectrum of actions; tell a story. Kate used the example of Purpose's work with March of Dimes to demonstrate some of the techniques used in effective storytelling and campaign building. She also highlighted the importance of giving people a sense of efficacy - a call to action allows people to feel hopeful and to believe that change is possible. 

Grace, John and Kate were then joined for a Q&A by Ciarán ÓGaora, Communications Strategist and Designer and Founder of Zero-G. Ciarán emphasised the importance of building trust in communications. Strategic communications is about giving people reason to trust your organisation or movement and communicating the real purpose and connections at the heart of it. 

The panel wrapped up with a final questions from Grace - What is that magic dust that makes people take action, engage with content, share, and advocate? The three panellists all agreed on collaboration, authentic stories, shared narratives, and less of a focus on protecting individual brands. 

Speakers at the Dóchas Conference 2019

Sharan Kelly, CEO of Tearfund Ireland and outgoing Dóchas Chair, delivered the closing address. "Business as usual isn't going to cut it. We must be bold and courageous in our leadership to bring about change", she concluded.

Dóchas would like to thank the conference speakers, panelists, delegates, partners and volunteers for your input, collaboration and energy. We are excited to see how this conversation about global challenges and solutions develops during the year, and where it leads us. 


Conference Blog Series

In the lead up to the conference, we asked leaders, innovators and thinkers working in the areas of equality, justice and development to respond to a set of questions around the theme of the conference.


Other Resources from Dóchas AGM and Conference 2019



After speaking at the Dóchas Conference 2019, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam, was interviewed by the Irish Times Women's Podcast about her early life growing up in Uganda, her time in politics and her work fighting for equality and justice with Oxfam. Have a listen.



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