When legacy is built in from the get-go, tangible meeting outcomes can be immediate, as evidenced at Women Deliver 2019.
“Nurture and invest in future leaders,” warned Ethiopia’s first female president Sahlework Zewde, at the opening of the Women Deliver 2019 conference (WD19) in Vancouver, Canada, in June.
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.”
Billed as the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women, WD19 focused on power — and how to use it as a force for good.
The event brought more than 8,000 participants from 165 countries to the Vancouver Convention Centre from 3-6 June. Along with advocates, academics and activists, Zewde was one of several world leaders at this year’s event who pledged their commitment to moving the needle on gender equality.
On the eve of Women Deliver, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that his government will increase funding to CAD$1.4 billion annually (from 2023) to support the health of women and girls around the world.
Canada also announced plans to advance women’s economic empowerment through a ‘Women Entrepreneurship Strategy’ and launched the Equality Fund, which supports women’s rights organisations in developing countries.
Founders and leaders of some of today’s most influential movements, such as #MeToo and Times Up, took to the conference stage to share stories and carve out a future for women’s movements. Meanwhile, Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, committed to ending female genital mutilation by 2022, and pushed for more women in parliament.
Women Deliver featured numerous plenaries, panels, sessions and side events — including a Parliamentarians’ Forum co-organised by the World Health Organisation, UN Population Fund, and European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development — and ignited a global dialogue, with more than 200 satellite events on six continents and a live virtual conference component that attracted more than 125,000 views.
“This is so much more than a conference,” says Women Deliver president and CEO, Katja Iversen. “We are an unstoppable movement and this is a pivotal moment to refuel ourselves for our ongoing work.”
She adds: “A gender-equal world is healthier, wealthier, more productive and more peaceful. When we invest in gender equality everybody wins. Gender equality is everybody’s business, but it cannot be business as usual. We will inspire the world to use power for good.”
Inclusive event design
When it comes to redefining power dynamics, the conference walked the talk. Heads of state shared the stage with young leaders (20 per cent of plenary speakers were under 30), CEOs with grassroots advocates, and Women Deliver itself sponsored more than 1,000 youth delegates from underprivileged communities across the globe to attend the event. This included travel and accommodation costs, registration, visa fees and per diem expenses.
Each of the break-out sessions was set up as a fully-fledged plenary meeting, with a dedicated AV assistant, so everyone on stage was made to feel like a VIP.
The spirit of inclusivity was also reflected in the event’s innovative exhibition format.
Known as the ‘Fuelling Station’, the exhibition floor was designed as an all-inclusive space where delegates could engage with exhibitors, listen to five-minute talks and social enterprise pitches on the Power Stage, watch VR films or share ideas on interactive walls.
Several lounge areas and a dedicated Youth Zone ensured the Fuelling Station was also a hub for ongoing dialogue and reflection.
This approach proved highly successful as more than 90 per cent of conference survey respondents said after attending the event they gained knowledge on how to use their individual power to drive progress and change for girls and women.
Shortly after the bid win was announced in 2017, the Women Deliver Mobilization Canada consortium was launched to ensure WD19 delivered real and lasting change. In the lead-up to the conference, the consortium held events in every region across Canada to advance the conversation on gender equality and ensure that ‘advocacy agendas’ and ‘action agendas’ were aligned.
According to Vancouver Convention Centre vice president, sales & marketing, Claire Smith, a clearly defined Vancouver legacy was a key factor in securing the triennial event.
“It was a very emotional journey,” Smith says. “To win the bid, we had to connect with our local community in ways that we’d never experienced before. We connected with women and grassroots organisations in the community who are doing remarkable things.”
After losing an initial bid to Copenhagen in 2016, international sales manager, Stephanie Johnson, says the team had to reframe its bidding approach — focusing on the mission of Women Deliver rather than the USPs of the convention centre.
“The client wasn’t interested in previous events or creative ideas,” Johnson explains. “So we painted a picture of the community.
“We had to demonstrate the ground swell of excitement that might happen if Women Deliver were to come to the city, as well as opportunities for growth.”
So, the convention centre team met with local corporations that have programmes supporting female employees, engaged local indigenous leaders and women in business leadership, and spent time with community groups, including BC Women’s Hospital Foundation and several homeless shelters.
Together with operators in Vancouver’s hospitality industry, the convention centre also raised funds for 12 residents (who are involved in local community groups that support women) to attend the conference.
During the bidding process, Johnson says local suppliers and hotels really pitched in to offer “never seen before” rates so that as many sponsored youth delegates as possible could attend the event. “We were all involved in the fabric of the event,” she says.