Conferences

Conferences

This section highlights the professional development activities undertaken by staff at WESTIR Limited. It includes summaries of conferences, seminars and workshops attended throughout the year.

BY JAWED GEBRAEL, SOCIAL RESEARCH AND INFORMATION OFFICER, WESTIR LTD

 

The Local Community Services Association (LCSA) held its annual conference on at the Waterview Conference Centre in Bicentennial Park, Sydney. The conference took place over two days on 3-4 September 2018 with a series of workshops on 5 September in locations around the city.

The event brought together speakers from across the community sector, from local community organisations, academia and government addressing themes around sound governance and community leadership, building resilience in hard times, self-determination, and early intervention strategies to build strong communities.

The proceedings were MC’ed by renowned Australian journalist Steve Cannane and Uncle Lexodius Dadd, a Senior Darug man from the Cannemegal clan of the Sydney area, provided the Welcome to Country. LCSA Chairperson Margaret Tipper also provided a warm welcome to the conference and emphasised LCSA’s objective to be a voice for local community organisations who do a wonderful job servicing their local community members. The LCSA conference was held in collaboration with FACS, HESTA and Cumberland City Council.

 

DAY ONE OF THE CONFERENCE

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER ONE: INEQUALITY IN AUSTRALIA, CASSANDRA GOLDIE, ACOSS CEO

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), provided an impassioned speech addressing inequality in modern-day Australia. Goldie discussed a range of confronting findings on inequality revealed in ACOSS’ most recent report Inequality in Australia 2018. Among other sobering figures, the report reveals that the top 1% of the population earn as much in a fortnight as the lowest 5% earn in a year and that 3 million Australians are living below the poverty, placing the country at 2nd highest among OECD countries, behind the United States. She does see hope in advocating for greater income inequality based on global economic trends that show that increasing inequality adversely impacts on economic growth. ACOSS continues to advocate for increases to the wages of the bottom 20% of Australians to help arrest income inequality. She encouraged local community groups and organisations to raise awareness of the issues their local communities are facing as they see firsthand the challenges that community members face.

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER TWO, VIOLET ROUMELIOTIS, SETTLEMENT SERVICES INTERNATIONAL CEO

Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI) highlighted the changing landscape of the community which is increasing in diversity and the importance of valuing this diversity. This extended beyond the community sector as she trumpeted the benefits of collaborating with the commercial sector. She emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind when collaborating with organisations outside the community sector but that such partnerships work best where there is a mutual benefit and a shared set of values and close connections within leadership and “champions” within collaborating organisations. Without these elements such partnerships are unlikely to succeed.

 

SHARING THE BENEFITS OF GROWTH FOR ALL, DAVID MOUTOU AND MEGAN WHITTAKER, PARRAMATTA CITY COUNCIL

David Moutou and Megan Whittaker from Parramatta City Council presented the council’s vision for a “Socially Sustainable” Parramatta where social sustainability is prioritised alongside environmental and economic sustainability. They touched on the demographic profile, namely its significant population growth (increasing by 32,000 between 2011 and 2016), high level of diversity (50% born overseas) and relatively young population (median age of 34). They discussed the development of Social Sustainable Parramatta Framework, a framework developed with the guidance of local experts, and extensive engagement with the local community. They provided some practical advice for community members and organisations on how to effectively engage with local government such as Parramatta Council – namely to be a “critical friend” (i.e. provide suggestions in a congenial manner), to approach with a sense of a shared purpose, and give voice to those you are representing.

 

CONCURRENT SESSIONS

The remainder of the day involved delving into a range of topics. WESTIR Limited attended a session called ‘Community development’s response to right wing nativist populism’ by Peter Westoby, Associate Professor of Social Science and Community Development in the School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology. An expert panel discussing the use of evidence-based approaches and programs in the Targeted Earlier Intervention (TEI) Program was also attended.

 

DAY TWO OF THE CONFERENCE

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER ONE:’SO LONG AND THANKS FOR THE FISH’ – A PARTICIPATORY DEVELOPMENT TRADITION – WHAT DOES IT OFFER LOCAL PLACE-BASED PRACTICE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PETER WESTOBY

Associate Professor Peter Westoby provided an informative keynote on the participatory tradition of development practice. Drawing on his recently published, co-authored book Participatory Development Practice, he outlined participatory development model as it operates at multiple levels – from the micro, mezzo, macro and meta levels of community development. While these models operate at different scales what remains important across all of them is the value placed on engagement with community members in genuine dialogue and participation in the development process that takes in their knowledge, expertise, and understanding of place. The common problem with community sector is the tendency to ask “how can we help?” While this is a valid question to ask it is limited in scope and not a true reflection of participatory development. He closed with an important message for all attendees to take way. He argued that the primary weakness of community development is research and implored attendees to engage in regular reflection on their practice and purpose if they are to be effective community services.

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER TWO: LEADERSHIP IN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, PAUL SCHMITZ

The conference concluded with a presentation from visiting US speaker Paul Schmitz on leadership in community development, CEO of the not-for-profit Leading Inside Out and former social innovation adviser to the Obama White House. His key message was that everyone has the potential to lead, they just need to build their “leadership muscle”. He also outlined various strategies for instigating system change whether that be altering prevailing narratives, shifting power dynamics between stakeholders, altering rules and practices or simply tapping into effective relationships and connections between unlikely powerbrokers to instigate change. As illustrated over the two days, effective change involved participation of local community members who acted as leaders in their own way.

 

CONCURRENT SESSIONS

WESTIR Limited also attended sessions about the Waterloo community’s response to the NSW Government’s plan for redevelopment of the Waterloo public housing estate, an expert panel on the value of community resilience in times of adversity, a personal speech from a FACS worker of the value of community to him, and a Q&A session with MC Steve Cannane regarding the state of democracy in Europe.

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