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CO3 Virtual Global Leadership Conference: Nora Smith

Ahead of the CO3 Virtual Global Leadership Conference this Thursday and Friday 24 and 25 September, Business First Online speaks to CO3 Chief Executive Nora Smith.

Has it been a challenge pivoting to a virtual conference this year?

It has been very different than other years. We had originally planned the conference to take place in March but Covid quickly put a stop to that. After lockdown and all the upheaval it brought with it, we still wanted to hold the conference in some shape or fashion to celebrate the third sector in Northern Ireland, all the work our charities and voluntary organisations have done over the past six months, and bring together leaders from across the sector and beyond.

Although it’s unfortunate that we can’t gather physically this year, we’re really excited we can hold it virtually. And having an online conference brings its own benefits too – we can be more accessible, flexible, and convenient for delegates and reach a wider range of attendees all around the world than usually possible.

How tough has 2020 been for the local charity and voluntary sector?

2020 has been the toughest year in a generation for lots of different sectors, but our third sector has been particularly badly hit. Traditional fundraising activities were forced to stop suddenly, revenue streams dried up overnight, and most significantly, many frontline services were halted.

This week’s conference is an opportunity to celebrate the local third sector and recognise the immense work done by organisations over the last six months.

How important is leadership right now?

I think we’ve really seen the importance of compassionate, effective and inspired leadership this year. In many ways, it has kept our sector afloat and kept organisations and staff running. Strategic thinking, bold decision-making, and compassionate and effective management have steered us through the first phase of the pandemic and one of the most challenging periods many will ever face.

Influential leaders instil confidence in their colleagues, inspire when situations look bleak and help tackle challenges which, at first, look seemingly insurmountable. Sector leaders here have fought hard for vital government support, made swift decisions to protect their service users and staff, and pivoted their organisations to safeguard and ensure continuity of frontline services.

Who’s taking part this year?

Nora SmithWe have a brilliant line up of speakers, panels and virtual networking opportunities this year. Former US Ambassador to the UN and key advisor to President Obama, Samantha Power, is our keynote speaker and we’re incredibly excited to hear her speak about her time at the heart of US policy-making, the UN, in the White House, and her thoughts on the upcoming election.

Emma Revie, the Chief Executive of the UK’s largest network of food banks the Trussell Trust, will be sharing her experience of leading through crisis and the grim reality of food poverty in the UK. Recent research by the Trust found that 100,000 new households in the UK accessed food banks during lockdown and we are sure that Emma’s discussion will bring to light some of the key challenges the organisation has faced since March.

Brendan Hall, an international keynote speaker and former winning skipper of the ultimate long-distance challenge, The Clipper Round the World Yacht race, is our final keynote speaker. Brendan’s experience of high-impact leadership as well as cultivating and inspiring elite performance teams make him a fascinating speaker for this year’s conference, and we look forward to his hearing his thoughts on how to inspire quality performance.

Our panel discussion, #BuildingBackBetter, will focus on how we recover post-pandemic and build a fairer and more equal society, and will hear from Department of Finance Permanent Secretary Sue Gray; Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International; Charity Commission Chief Executive Frances McCandless; and Heather McLachlan, the director of the National Trust in NI.

We also have a number of workshops over the two days on everything from boardroom diversity to building organisational resilience, and several ‘virtual’ networking opportunities for delegates.

We’re incredibly excited for Thursday and Friday, and we can’t wait to ‘virtually’ welcome up to 300 delegates from across the private, public and third sectors.

Our pivot to an online conference would also not be possible without the support of our main sponsor, Ecclesiastical Insurance, and our corporate partners, Bakertilly Mooney Moore, Community Finance Ireland, Smith and Williamson, and Engage Executive Talent.

For more information and to register, please visit http://www.co3.bz/event/virtual-global-leadership-conference-2020