Dóchas Annual Conference 2018

Changing the Narrative: Building Support for Global Development

Dóchas Conference 2018 logo

The annual Dóchas Conference took place on Thursday 3 May 2018 in the Croke Park Conference Centre, Dublin.

This year's conference - Changing the Narrative: Building Support for Global Development - was focused on the theme of public engagement.

Over 200 delegates gathered in Croke Park to explore how we can communicate on international development and global justice in ways that engage and resonate with the Irish public. Delegates included representatives of Irish NGOs and civil society organisations, members of Government, activists and campaigners, academics, private sector representatives and more.

Participants heard from a diverse line-up of leading figures in global development and humanitarian action, including Rafeef Ziadah (Palestinian spoken word artist, human rights activist and academic); Ruairí De Búrca (Director General, Irish Aid); Heba Aly (Director, IRIN); Judith Greenwood (Executive Director, CHS Alliance); and Danny Sriskandarajah (Secretary General and CEO, CIVICUS). Broadcaster and journalist, Dil Wickremasinghe, was our MC for the day.

Speaking about the theme of the conference, Dóchas CEO, Suzanne Keatinge, said: “We have gathered here today to ask ourselves how we can engage the public and mobilise their ideas, energy and activism. There is a need for critical debate about how NGOs engage the public in the work that we do. We need to communicate the complexity and urgency of development and humanitarian crises, while at the same time remaining relevant and real to communities in Ireland who may be struggling to cope with their own experiences of conflict, poverty and injustice.” Read Suzanne's full conference welcome letter to learn more about this year's theme.

Dil Wickremasinghe, MC, opening the Dóchas Conference 2018

Conference MC, Dil Wickremasinghe, set the day in motion by focusing the minds of delegates with some quick guided meditation before the first keynote speaker began.

Rafeef Ziadah, spoken word artist, activist and academic, then took the stage. Delegates were treated to a powerful performance of her poetry about her experiences as a Palestinian woman in the UK and Canada. She encouraged us to consider how we can use art and creativity in our public engagement.

Rafeef Ziadah performing at the Dochas Conference 2018

We next heard from Ruairí De Búrca, Director General of Irish Aid, who asked how we can build connections with the Irish public, and highlighted the importance of avoiding development sector jargon and communicating instead in a way that is authentic to lived experiences.

Heba Aly, Director of IRIN, closed the morning plenary session with her talk offering a media perspective on how NGOs portray their work and how they can be more open and transparent in their communications. She warned of the dangers of simplistic messaging, and the use of negative images that portray people as victims, and NGOs as white saviours. Heba also spoke of the need for more honest and complex narratives if we are to inform the public and achieve real social change.

Ruairí De Búrca speaking at the Dóchas Conference 2018

Heba Aly speaking at the Dóchas Conference 2018

We then breaked for lunch, where delegates had the opportunity to meet conference sponsors and other Dóchas supporters in the exhibition space. YMCA Ireland were also on hand to record vox pop interviews, asking attendees about public attitudes toward overseas aid.

After lunch, delegates took part in our three breakout sessions, which explored key aspects of the conference theme in greater detail.

Following the breakout sessions, Rafeef Ziadah awed delegates once again with another passionate performance. Judith Greenwood, Executive Director of CHS Alliance, followed, reflecting on the crucial role of transparency and accountability in building and maintaining public trust in NGOs. We heard how this transparency must be founded on evidence, rigour and respect.

Judith Greenwood speaking at the Dóchas Conference 2018

Our final keynote speaker of the day was Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General and CEO of Civicus. Danny reminded us of why civil society matters: We are gap fillers and service-providers at a time when more gaps are emerging, we are builders of democracy, and we must become change-makers for a better future. He called on us to reimagine civil society and reclaim our role as amplifiers of marginalised voices.

Danny Sriskandarajah speaking at the Dóchas Conference 2018

Dóchas would like to thank everyone who participated in and attended the conference for making it such an inspiring, dynamic and thought-provoking day. We look forward to working with all of you going forward - to challenge ourselves, to innovate and to continue the conversation on public engagement.


Further reading

In the run up to the Dóchas Conference 2018, we asked leaders and innovators across civil society to respond to a set of questions around the theme of the conference - public engagement. 

Thank you to...

  • YMCA Ireland

  • Development Perspectives

  • The Washington Ireland Programme and all our volunteers

The Dóchas Conference 2018 was proudly sponsored by...


Primary Sponsors

Western Union logo

IHI logo


Associate Sponsors

Crowe Horwath logo

ABF logo

Charity Careers logo

O'Kennedy Consulting logo