Challenges and Benefits of Global Conferences and Summits

The sheer size, expense, and political and logistical complexity of conferences raise a host of issues and problems that come with bringing people from a wide range of perspectives together to address social inequities and development challenges. This is an ambitious goal and, not surprisingly, governments, the U.N., and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expressed frustration about the process and its outcomes. By their very nature, summits make debates about how to address social inequities available to global audiences and not everyone is going to agree on the best solutions. Reaching joint recommendations for solutions is an important and challenging task.

Despite their limitations, summits and world conferences can give grantees an important opportunity to contribute ideas to governments and international agencies, and to link with counterparts and kindred movements around the globe. By giving leaders and organizations experience with international forums, issues, and media, participating in these meetings can help grantees build crucial skills in advocacy, policy formulation, and communications — skills that are as useful at home as on a world stage.

Example 1

A permanent anti-racism unit was established at the U.N. as a result of the World Conference Against Racism in 2001. Within three years of the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, 130 countries had developed national action plans based on the Beijing Platform for Action, and 22 countries had enacted new laws on women’s political participation.

Example 2

Environmental principles established at the 1992 Earth Summit informed state government policies in Brazil’s Western Amazon to be more concerned with sustainable forestry practices. In addition, the “programs of action” produced by summits are frequently used by donors and U.N. agencies to guide their spending in developing countries.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from World Summits and Conferences.