Unconference for Social Good

Unconference for Social GoodI’ve just finished the third Unconference for Social Good. Holding events like this can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly scary at the same time. There is so much uncertainty about whether people will come, how the day will go and many other issues. It’s a lot like starting a business. While there are some general processes to follow, for the most part you just make it up as you go. Here are some of my insights after doing three of these events.

The Birth of the Unconference for Social Good

These events all started just by talking to as many people that would listen about putting on an event around social good. After discussions with about 20 people, two co-conspirators emerged to make the first event happen: Mike Simoens and Mike Bowerman.

We tried an open and collaborative approach for the first event, but that meant getting bogged down in meetings and trying to accommodate too many divergent ideas. In the end, three people did most of the work, so keeping a lean and small administrative team proved to be much more efficient for following events.

The Unconference format means that no expert speakers are required because the audience proposes topics and forms breakout sessons to discuss those ideas. This makes for a very grassroots and dynamic event. What happens on the day is largely up to the participants.

Of course, there were many uncertainties about the first and subsequent events, but overall they were not that complicated to put on. Basically, it’s just a matter of deciding on theme, choosing a venue, calling a catering company, getting a sponsor, and reaching out to as many people as possible. I even managed to hold an event in Thailand where I had very little connections with locals.

It’s still somewhat surreal to me that it’s possible for anyone to host events like these. All it takes is an idea and the persistence to see it through. It goes to show that virtually anything is possible if we put our minds to it.

Why Unconferences for Social Good?

The primary purpose of these events is to get people talking more about doing good in the world and facilitating connections that can potentially lead to action.

Fundamentally, connecting with other people is valuable in and of itself. We shouldn’t need a reason to connect with our neighbours. We are social animals. Rich personal relationships are what life is about. Unfortunately, our consumer focused culture seem to keep individuals divided. Suburban sprawl keeps us in our cars and houses, instead of walking our neighbourhoods. How many neighbours do you know on your own street? For the most part, we no longer have walkable grocers, bakeries, butchers or even cafes.

I don’t think people talk much about meaningful issues anymore. In Canada, I find that most conversations center around the latest TV show or about recent purchases and vacations. Very few people connect around making their communities or the planet a little better. In fact, very few people connect with others at all. When was the last time you had a serious discussion with someone new?

I believe that all of us want to do more good in the world, but it can be difficult. Most of us are also looking for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. That purpose and personal satisfaction can’t be found through consumption or watching TV, it has to come from contribution. Meetings like this can help connect people around what truly matters.

The problem is that most people don’t know how to get started on a path of contribution. We’re cynical about the effectiveness of charities. We feel we don’t have time to contribute in our communities. We’re afraid of talking to strangers. We have countless excuses and fears to avoid action. The Unconferences for Social Good help to break down some of those barriers.

Unconference for Social Good #3

I’d like to thank our sponsors ING DIRECT Calgary Café and Starbucks for helping us put on the event. ING DIRECT in particular reached out to us early on and completely funded the food and room rental costs. That made it possible to give 100% of the donations raised to the two charities we were supporting.

Starbucks also deserves credit for all the community work they do. Your local Starbucks will often donate coffee and tea for local non-profit events. It’s great that a large corporation gives so much autonomy to local store managers to do good in the community. There are not many companies like that yet.

Want to Hold an Unconference for Social Good in Your City?

My ultimate goal with these events is to have them spread to other cities around the world. I’m developing resources and a website to help others hold their own Unconferences for Social Good. It’ll be a while until the new site is live, but if you’re interested in holding an event, please get in touch! I’ll help you any way I can.

How to Achieve Anything

The real lesson here is that we can accomplish anything if we choose to take action. It’s a simple process of:

  1. Deciding what we want to accomplish and why.
  2. Outlining the steps regarding to achieve that goal. 
  3. Taking daily action towards the goal.

The only real barriers we face are our own fears. We can all make excuses about our lack of money, experience, connections or skills. We can all procrastinate for a better future time to get started. Or, we can start working towards our goal today.

We live in a time of more opportunity and abundance than ever. It’s a shame that so few people take any action towards their dreams and passions.


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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

2 Responses to Unconference for Social Good

  1. Mig says:

    This is an interesting gathering. Love the purpose and mission behind it!

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