#SIDWConference 2021 - Mind the Gap: Recalibrate for Equity and Impact
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created many obstacles that organizations were forced to overcome in order to uphold their missions. The switch to almost exclusively virtual communication was especially difficult for organizations that rely on in-person programming, but also presented a unique opportunity to expand our networks and improve event accessibility. As freshly minted SID-W Program Associates for the summer, we were unsure of what to expect from the virtual nature of international development programs but excited for the new doors it would open for the community as a whole.
SID-Washington’s 2021 Annual Conference, “Mind the Gap: Recalibrate for Equity and Impact”, was one such event that optimized this virtual format; held on May 26-27, 2021, this year’s conference had over 1,300 attendees and highlighted the benefits of virtual programming by erasing geographic limitations and allowing a more diverse population to attend than ever before. While SID-W’s Annual Conference is usually hosted in Washington DC, the transition online allowed attendees from over 64 countries – including Mongolia, Brazil, and Uganda – to join us from their own homes.
The virtual platform provided speakers and attendees alike with a sense of renewed engagement and enthusiasm. Not only that, but the creative nature of the online Conference generated an eagerness among participants to interact with each other via the scheduled plenaries, Learning Labs, panels, and networking sessions. Attendees shared their thoughts on the most pressing issues in international development alongside their own professional experiences, creating a dynamic environment that was unhindered by the “Zoom fatigue” that has more recently accompanied virtual events. From the outset of the Opening Plenary, attendees took advantage of the chat feature to greet one another with a variety of “Good morning!” and “Good evening!” messages as they tuned in from around the world. Networking sessions provided a space for lively conversation that was less structured than the scheduled events – this led to the formation of groups like the “Amis Francophones” Table, created by one of the attendees who hoped to connect with other Francophiles. Consequently, we were able to connect with French speakers from Washington DC and around the globe, a feat that could not have been achieved if the Conference were in-person. The intention behind the choice of speakers and panelists at this year’s Conference also promoted a diversity of professionals: women, women of color, and minorities in senior positions were frequent sights at the SID-W Conference. Hearing from female CEOs, POC Foreign Service officers, and other trailblazers allowed us to feel represented within the world of international development and connect with professionals that reflected a background similar to our own.
Ultimately, it was inspiring to witness this diverse, global group of individuals and organizations come together and collaborate on solutions to bridge the gaps in development that were exacerbated by the pandemic. It was especially valuable for us, as interns, to connect with people that wouldn’t have been able to attend the Conference in an in-person setting. The Conference showed us the power that the virtual format has in ensuring a diverse set of perspectives has a voice on the most pertinent development issues, making meaningful progress towards well-founded solutions.