After a bag search and a flappy wristband is attached to my wrist, I join the crowds entering the auditorium of New York’s 92nd street Y conference centre. People are holding their phones overhead to capture the opening ceremony in the auditorium. I’m here for the UN’s Social Good Summit.
The Social Good Summit is an annual conference of activists and leaders––corporate and grassroots––that explores how technology and new media can be used to create social good; this is its 6th annual iteration. At the back of the auditorium, the stage is set with an enormous screen, a podium and couches. These couches would later host panels and keynote speakers discussing how society can use technology to achieve the UN’s newly ratified Sustainable Development Goals; goals like “Gender Equality” and “Sustainable Cities and Communities” that the UN hopes to achieve by 2030. This new media strategy started with us––across the two days we were reminded of this by the slogan, “tell everyone”. We were encouraged to tag photos, tweet and download apps––and reminded often of the right handles (@telleveryone and @2030NOW).
I learned from Laverne Cox herself the importance of data in addressing the issues facing the LGBTQI community. Data, her panel posited, could better grapple with statistical experiences and the reality of population sixes, but could also be redirected: why not add questions to forms like “What gender were you designated at birth?” followed by “What is your current gender identification?”. Julia Gillard was a keynote speaker and women were at the forefront, as speaker Asha Curran put it, “for the 1.8 billion girls about to enter their reproductive years, if they do not have access to sex education, it will have consequences for all of us”. The conference tackled refugees, sustainability, AIDS and entrepreneurship in developing economies.
After completing my BA in Government, International Relations and Spanish last year at USyd, my focus has been on researching career paths in international relations, global companies and NGOs. This led me to attend the Social Good Summit––it was open to the public and as simple to register for as going to a concert. Not cheap, but not unmanageable. New York has been an ideal place for someone like me who wants to make a difference in how our future is shaped. I was here to network, learn and see what sort of options were available to me.
The conference offered these things in spades. Though a nuisance; one unintentional function of the wristbands became immediately apparent. Wandering around New York outside of conference hours, I could pick other attendees out of the city’s vast crowds. I met a woman from the conference in an uptown cafe who created a start-up company, selling products that economically empower their producers through fair wages and sharing their stories so that buyers can connect with the makers directly. When a man asked me for directions on the metro I noticed his wristband and found out he was a lawyer-turned-education-ambassador who worked to bring learning opportunities to struggling communities. Exchanging business cards and “street networking” was one of the perks not advertised on the Summit’s website.
Loitering in the lobby of the 92Y, it was a quick progression from talking to a woman about my earrings, to an invitation to the “Pie and Cocktails” party held by Warby Parker and the UN Foundation. Of course the opportunity to be at a party full of well-connected people was the highlight, but even just the variety of fancy pies would have gotten me in the door.
Although I didn’t get the chance to try all the pies, the connections I made are proving useful and multiplying. Its easy to cast networking in a negative light, but if we are honest with ourselves it is something we have always done- now it just has a name. Since the Summit, through the people I met, I’ve not only increased my business network on LinkedIn and been recommended for job positions, I’ve also been invited to: three conferences for free, a meet-up for skiers, a meditation week, out to dinner and by far the most exciting, a silent disco! Say what you will, but networking isn’t all bad. And conferences aren’t as exclusive as you think they are, or as tedious, boring and alienating. I would recommend events like these to anyone, who like me, doesn’t know what is out there for them but wants to make a difference.