There are so many great conferences and they all seem so exciting. Still it’s never easy to ask your supervisor for the time off to attend a conference when everyone in the office is hard at work and deadlines are looming. On the one hand, you aren’t a full-time staff and you are here to learn. On the other hand, if you aren’t in the office working hard, straining your eyes looking at the computer and chugging coffee then how will you be seen as part of the team? Your supervisor is trying to navigate these two perspectives and you can help.

I would suggest approaching him/her early in the year with a calendar – electronic or print out in hand, highlighting the conferences that are most important to you and a rationale.

You two can negotiate the conferences that you are most interested in ahead of time. To help you to choose, I have compiled a list of the conferences that have been most beneficial to me.

  • InsideNGO – specialized – deepen technical expertise
  • InterAction – Thematic / Generalist – broaden technical expertise
  • Nexus Global Summit – Great opportunity to network
  • World Bank FCV – Great opportunity to network
  • Disaster Summit-  Deep dive on humanitarian issue
  • FHI GBV – Deep dive on gender and GBV

How do you decide which conferences to Attend?

Well, my rule of thumb when selecting conferences to volunteer at is to consider what conferences the directors and technical specialists in your organization are interested in. This will give you an idea of who you can expect to meet and network with.

  • Is the conference open to a select audience?
  • Who are the panelist, speakers etc? Are they the crème of the crop and the thought leaders in their field?
  • what is the cost? And the opportunity cost (will you have to use your personal days to attend the conference?)
  • what are the theme/technical sectors to be covered and in what detail? Will there be deep dive session? Hands-on sessions?
  • what will be in the swag bag? J
  • How do they treat their volunteers? What will you have access to? Will you have access to their receptions?
  • What is the time commitment? I have heard fo horror stories where Atlas Corps fellows were expected to work the whole time and clean up trash but did not gain anything from the experiences and did not have an opportunity to learn or network.

Conferences/Summits/Workshops are great ways to learn, network and expand your technical horizon. Be strategic in your choices, ask early for the time off, take and share notes with your team in your organization (or on the knowledge management platform within your organization) and make sure to follow up with contacts made.

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