Name: 2023 World Community Development Conference (WCDC23)
Destination: Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Venues: Darwin Convention Centre
Pax: 425 delegates and stakeholders

Event overview

The 2023 World Community Development Conference (WCDC) staged at the Darwin Convention Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory was a collaboration between the International Association for Community Development (IACD), the Jeder Institute, the Australian Community Workers Association, Community First Development, Catalyse (NZ) and Community Housing Ltd.

The conference attracted over 425 global practitioners, academics, policy-makers, funders plus business and organisation stakeholders, with the program embracing global communities and the “From the Edge” theme honouring the spirit and wisdom of First Nations peoples. The bid to win the conference was a collaborative effort by Darwin Convention Centre and Northern Territory Business Events. Darwin’s proximity to Asia, its climate, multiculturalism and Aboriginal culture influenced the city’s selection, along with its community-based initiatives and projects.

Meaningful cultural inclusions

The conference opening session at the Convention Centre was preceded by a formal Welcome to Country delivered by Aunty Bilawara Lee, on behalf of the Larrakia Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the Darwin region.  A traditional ‘Yarning Circle’ set up in the Hall area of the Convention Centre was a special feature - these Circles play an important role within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and provide an opportunity to learn from a collective group, build respectful relationships and pass on cultural knowledge. 

The Convention Centre Hall was set up with tiki-style tents displaying traditional arts and crafts for purchase, along with unique art installations. This area became a meeting space where deeper delegate connections could be made.  The International Reception and Conference Welcome was held at the Frangipani Plaza area of the Convention Centre and once formalities had concluded, delegates experienced a cultural performance by Garramilla gulwa, traditional dancers and musicians from the Larrakia Nation. 

Sustainable conference policies and legacy outcomes

In June 2023, the Darwin Convention Centre decided to permanently re-name their four Meeting Rooms and outdoor Porte-Cochere in traditional Larrakia language. This name change was timed to coincide with the staging of WCDC23 and was especially meaningful for the organisers and delegates. 

First Nations delegates attended the conference at a special registration rate, enabling many Australian Land Councils to bring multiple members.  The Connellan Airways Trust, which assists people of the outback to overcome geographic barriers also provided travel grants for delegates from isolated rural communities. 

The Conference Procurement Policy prioritised purchasing from local Indigenous-owned businesses and organisations such as Aboriginal Bush Traders which sells ethically-sourced, sustainable products, supporting local Indigenous communities. Other conference gifts were supplied by MK Eco by Starwin, a local artisan community collective, whilst delegate bags came from Paperbark Woman, which specialises in fabrics designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. 

The conference marketplace zone enabled local NT social enterprises and community initiatives to showcase their projects and Darwin Community Arts provided an interactive art space. 

Darwin Convention Centre facilities prove to be ideal for the conference program

The Darwin Convention Centre facilities enabled multiple event spaces to be available. The Auditorium was utilised for plenary sessions, film screenings and concurrent presentations were staged in the three Waterfront Rooms, whilst workshops were held in the Centre’s four Meeting Rooms. 

Most memorable aspect

A memorable event experience occurred when the conference audience were led to the nearby Waterfront Precinct lagoon.  Dr Richard Fejo, a highly-respected Larrakia Elder and Chairman of the Darwin Waterfront Corporation, conducted a moving Saltwater Ceremony, warmly inviting delegates to enter the lagoon at ankle-depth and make a meaningful connection with the Larrakia People and their 65,000-year-old culture. 

In their words

Organisers said Darwin provided a beautiful backdrop to the conference, particularly given the over-arching conference themes were Culture, Community and Connection. Delegates noted the convenient proximity of the Convention Centre to the Waterfront Precinct parklands, accommodation, restaurants and cafes. Michelle Dunscombe, Vice Chair of the International Association for Community Development said:

“On behalf of the lead host organisation, the International Association for Community Development, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the Larrakia people for such a warm welcome to the region. The 2023 World Community Development Conference in Darwin was an exceptional gathering of professionals, experts and community advocates from all corners of the world, united by their dedication to fostering positive change and sustainable development.” 

The Garramilla gulwa dancers performed at the conference welcome ceremony

The Garramilla gulwa dancers performed at the conference welcome ceremony

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