As an Atlas Corps Fellow, it is important to maintain a balance between your own professional development training opportunities and completing the deliverables laid out by your host organization. This means that there is the need to prioritize the conferences that you request to attend and strategically select the ones that will give you the best bang for your buck- or in this case time.
I highly recommend InsideNGO, which is a competitive process where 15 volunteers are chosen each year and given access to the sessions without paying the almost $1000 fee over the three days. I think that the InsideNGO conference is one of the best conferences to apply to be a volunteer at. Firstly it is one of the most organized conferences. You won’t be packing bags, standing outside the session doing crowd control or running around at the last minute trying to find the person in charge who can help a participant with a query. Although you are not guaranteed your favorite sessions, you will be learning as you attend different sessions as a room monitor. Secondly, the swag bag is awesome! Here’s a pic of some of the things I still have – a cup, a copy of Adam Grant’s Originals, pens and the chance to win awesome stuff.
Thirdly, you are assured to gain a wealth of knowledge to be gained from this conference. The conference is divided into tracks and this helps you to deepen your technical expertise and have an idea of what are the best practices and latest regulation in that specialty. The drawback of it not being a “generalist” conference is that many things go over your head as a newbie and they talk about very detailed specific matters, quoting pages, paragraphs, and lines of different regulations and policies. You almost literally hear your brain explode with information in each session before you rush off to the other session hoping you still have a working brain
This is what I learned from this year session.
- I attended a Business Development session where we discussed BAA (Broad Agency Announcements) and heard about the struggles of peer organizations concerned with USAID “borrowing” their ideas and unilaterally creating partnerships with other INGOs. The process of numerous field visits (and the subsequent cost) was discussed and several NGOs were concerned that they were not told how much USAID would spend on the project and they were also concerned that many BAA were under $1 million.
- The session on procurement delved into the difficulties faced by the procurement seeking to ensure compliance when the technical teams did not take the time take on consultants and translators with the end in mind.
- The session on Work/Life balance stressed the importance of language in keeping yourself calm. An example is instead of saying “I am anxious”, saying “something in me feels anxious” (which allow you to recognize that “something in you” also feels other emotions such as “excited”.)
- The session on designing trainings for adult learners noted that in a 90-minute workshop, audience members concentrated for around 20 minutes and retained around 8 minutes. The session led by InsideNGO staff stressed the importance of finding the intersection between content, participatory approaches, and review.
- The session on Digital Payment was a deep dive into issues and products around digital payment and the potential for greater use to ensure increased transparency and financial inclusion.
- The keynote speaker did an exercise where one person tapped a song and the other guessed to highlight some of the issues when communicating. More insights can be found in his book “Originals”. He also reminded the audience that a person has to hear something on average 7 times for them to become socialized to the idea.
- The course on how to work with USAID was promoted as a helpful tool and resource. https://www.usaid.gov/work-usaid/get-grant-or-contract/trainings-how-work-usaid
- The session on Google Technologies highlighted that there is a “Google for NonProfits” where google gives $10000 worth of free ad space (which can be upgraded to $40000) The terms and conditions are more complicated and can be read at https://www.google.com/nonprofits/
- In the lunch and learn session, a Capacity Development Dashboard known as Capacity Solutions Platform developed by PACT and increasingly used by USAID was introduced.
In other words, I learned at least one new thing from each session, which is always a good sign.
They have recently released the recordings which can be accessed if your organization is a member of InsideNGO and you have a login account. Visit for more details, visit member community. If you are interested in volunteering for next year’s session, applications will open early next year and you can visit https://insidengo.org/AC16/volunteer.htm.