In today’s globalised, connected world, a country’s soft power – its ability to influence others through attraction and ideas – has never been more relevant or more important.
To quote international relations expert, John Arquilla, “In today’s global information age, victory often depends not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins.”
Australia has a very strong story to tell. With considerable soft power assets – including a vibrant economy, innovative industry base, highly-respected academic institutes and strong visitor appeal – our country is often found near the top of global soft power rankings.
Maintaining that position is the focus of the Australian Government’s new Soft Power Review, led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Like so many in the non-profit sector, it’s soft power that drives us at BESydney, which is why we were so pleased to be invited to take part in the Review – and I was particularly delighted to be invited to represent BESydney and our sector at DFAT’s recent Roundtable on Australia’s Soft Power in Sydney.
A unique platform
Australia’s unique combination of soft power assets resonates strongly with BESydney’s global clientele.
For this reason, in our submission to the Review, we proposed that global meetings be acknowledged as a soft power asset in their own right.
BESydney bids for around 100 global business events each year, and we specifically target meetings that align strategically with areas where Australia has real strengths and knowledge to share with the world. When we win hosting rights for Sydney, the meetings we bring here provide a unique platform for Australia to influence other countries through the sharing of ideas, the forging of partnerships, and the setting of global standards and best practice.
We have an incredibly impressive business events sector in Australia – our airlines, hotels, venues and huge array of suppliers - they deliver, and our clients keep coming back.
So the sector is doing its bit.
What I’ve long advocated is that what’s needed is recognition of the contribution of global meetings beyond tourism.
Innovation and investment
Our series of Beyond Tourism Benefits research reports with the University of Technology Sydney illustrate just how impactful global meetings can be.
Sibos 2018 was a great case in point, bringing 7,600 global leaders within the financial services sector to Sydney last month.
As well as raising Sydney’s global profile as a financial and fintech heavyweight, and creating opportunities for networking between businesses, academics and disruptors, at Sibos 2018:
- 32 Australian fintech businesses met potential customers, collaborators and investors from around the world;
- three universities showcased cutting edge innovations in 3D bio printing, space research and desalination; and,
- university students from across the county pitched on personal data protection solutions they had created.
While our 2014 estimates of the event’s impact were for a $38 million direct expenditure into the State economy, these intangibles - the business and knowledge economy benefits - take this impact beyond tourism dollars to well in excess of $100 million.
Shaping policy, changing lives
A key aspect of a country’s soft power is its capacity to drive policy outcomes that solve international problems and crises. Again, global meetings are high achievers.
A powerful example is the International AIDS Conference, which came to Sydney in 2007, bringing together the medical profession, industry and the wider community to find a solution to the global AIDS epidemic.
BESydney Global Ambassador Professor Bill Bowtell AO described this beautifully when he said that conferences became the venue for a titanic collision between everyone who was involved in the epidemic and the response. The worldwide policy changes that resulted have turned the tide in so many countries in the years that have followed.
Leading by example
Global meetings also play a key role in delivering on the Australian Government’s commitment to solve challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. This was very much on the agenda earlier this year when we hosted a delegation of 30 women from developing nations to join 1,000 delegates at the Global Summit of Women here in Sydney.
The Summit has moved on, but we are still hearing inspiring stories from delegates who have made brave changes in their lives and tackled serious social issues in their own countries, as a direct result of attending the event.
An asset like no other
I believe that global meetings are unlike any other soft power asset.
They are unique in the breadth of benefits they bring and in the way they use the power of connections to create change and tackle global challenges.
If our soft power is to continue to grow, and our story to ‘win’ on the world stage, Australia must start tapping into the massively underutilised asset of the global meetings we attract here.