We here at Convene are close observers of the knowledge economy — subject of not one but two cover stories in the last several years — and in Sydney, Australia, we have an amazing case study of theory into practice. Where to start?
First of all, the Down Under destination is putting the finishing touches on International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney, a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility set within walking distance of a new financial-services hub, the University of Technology Sydney and Sydney University, and numerous arts and cultural institutions — and featured in this month’s cover story. Business Events Sydney (BESydney) has just published Conferences: Catalysts for Thriving Economies, its latest research report tracking the knowledge creation, social impact, and other long-term benefits of the meetings and conferences that Sydney hosts. And earlier this week, BESydney and ICC Sydney brought the Sydney Speaker Series to Washington, D.C., where they hosted a reception at the Australian Embassy, with an appearance by Australian ambassador Joe Hockey, then invited clients to attend the Washington IDEAS Forum, presented by The Atlantic magazine and The Aspen Institute.
I attended the reception on behalf of Convene, and was able to sit down with BESydney CEO Lyn Lewis-Smith for a conversation about all of that and more. (I also went to the Washington IDEAS Forum for a half-day, and found it just as stimulating and engrossing as I did last year.) Here are four key highlights from my interview with Lewis-Smith, edited for length and clarity:
1. SPEAKER SERIES “The Sydney Speaker Series is about engaging international decision makers in the UK and the USA that have potential to bring strategically important events to Australia and to Sydney in particular. We seek out particular individuals [involved with] events that are important and work through a process of procurement, if you like. But these [Speaker Series] events in are about building relationships, because our business is all about building relationships and seeing if the opportunity is real and what we can do in terms of strategy and business proposal to make that a reality, for that event to come to Sydney.”
2. CONFERENCES REPORT “The latest research project is off the back of the 2010 longitudinal study that we did with the University of Technology Sydney that came out with five key legacies and then measured quantitatively the trade deals that were done, the inward investment and the jobs, the global talent that was attracted to Sydney. This next study has taken it one step further to really look back 12, 18 months — and we’ve even gone back 10 years — to see what were some of the outcomes from hosting that [specific] event in Sydney. One of the case studies in the report is about the Charles Perkins Centre. As a direct result of highlighting obesity as a major issue in Australia [during the 10th International Congress on Obesity, held in Sydney in 2006], the federal government looked at Australia and what we were doing and said, “We need to do more of that. We’ve got an issue here in childhood obesity. How can we contribute more?” There was a philanthropic donation to the University of Sydney and the federal government married up some of that funding, and now we have the Charles Perkins Centre, which is a multidisciplinary research center that looks at cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. All these people have come together in boundary-crossing skills to find solutions for prevention.”
3. ICC SYDNEY “The decision that the government made was a really bold decision — to demolish what was a first-class, high-performing facility and center [the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre]. We were losing 150 million Australian dollars a year in business and it did need an upgrade, but I think the catalyst was actually the 2010 research that we did on the legacies, that convinced a government agency called Infrastructure South Wales that we shouldn’t look at the delegate expenditure alone. That we should look at how we maximize the opportunities of hosting world leaders, exhibiting our small-to-medium enterprise on the trade-show floor, and driving exports and attracting global talent into our R&D facilities. And now we have a relationship with our state government where we are looking at how we come together to maximize those opportunities. The government has looked at this piece of infrastructure as a driver of economic and social change, not just economic change or economic impact.”
4. BESYDNEY’S MODEL “The shift from convention bureau to a professional-services organization is very much where we’re at. We’ve restructured twice in the last four years because of not having a convention center, and now going into what we call business as usual with the convention center opening — it plays back to these strengths of having industry teams that are thought leaders and that are connected to global thought leaders in Australia that will then start working on events into the next five, 10 years. We have what we call a platinum strategy. We’ve identified up to 17 of the most prestigious international events that will solve some of the biggest problems in the world and for Australia, and we’re very focused on securing them with the whole community behind us.”