Matching creative local talent with CSR objectives

Written by Mark Abernathy

Photography by Andres Smetan

International Convention Centre Sydney at Darling Harbour is an iconic venue in the midst of Sydney’s main visitor precinct. It has hosted major events such as Sibos, CEBIT and the Salesforce World Tour and is Australia’s largest convention, exhibition and entertainment venue, with 70 meeting rooms, three tiered theatres, 35,000sqm of exhibition space and a ballroom that can hold 2000 people.

Yet even given the size and postcard-like setting of this harbourside complex, it’s the collateral—or ‘legacy’—benefits of the conferences that create the lasting impact in terms of innovation, entrepreneurship and academic progress.

Director of Corporate Affairs and Communication, and head of ICC Sydney’s CSR program, Samantha Glass oversaw the launch of a formal, measurable Legacy Program in late 2017.
“The majority of conferences at ICC Sydney look beyond world class speeches and seminars to engage delegates. They are looking at ways to connect with the city’s knowledge sector and to contribute to the community hosting their event.”

The ICC’s conference-holders also often want cultural inputs that involve Indigenous understanding and tourism and cultural opportunities. When the Sibos conference was held in 2018, the organisers of the 7600-delegate event wanted ambitious environmental targets which included an attempt at ‘zero waste’ during the conference. This involved an innovative recycling program for every item used at Sibos, including repurposing the stands at the exhibition halls so nothing went to waste.

For many organisations that choose ICC Sydney, a critical component of their events are the community outreach initiatives—activities where delegates meet local entrepreneurs, where Masters students from local universities can make presentations and where Sydney-based innovators can mingle with global decision-makers and thought leaders.

ICC Sydney is expected to generate an estimated $5 billion in economic benefits for New South Wales over 25 years. To date delegates have spent $785 million in 2017 and $820 million in 2018 in the local economy. But the impact of these events is more than the tourism and hospitality activity that arises out of an ICC Sydney convention, ancillary benefits include investment, professional development, enhancing science and technology and innovation, and promoting cultural exchange.


Sibos—Swift International Banking Operations Seminar—is a case in point. It is run by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) which is devoted to the timely, reliable and secure communication networks that interconnect the world’s banks.

It is an organisation that must stay at the forefront of communications technology and it uses Sibos to ensure that the delegates have access to the best innovators and entrepreneurs wherever the conference is hosted.
Glass says an organisation such as SWIFT wants to interact with the innovators, entrepreneurs, students and researchers in its host city. “The value to Sibos is not just in delivering a two-way interaction of people and their ideas, but in creating a network or hub effect,” says Glass.

“We market the vibrancy, the ideas and the entrepreneurship of Sydney as strongly as we market the ICC itself. The community engagement initiative is very important to large, international organisations because ideas and innovation are their lifeblood.”

In response to an engaged client and event like Sibos, all tiers of government, the city’s experienced convention bureau and the venue are all focussed on providing opportunities for deeper connections. At the venue level, the ICC has a group of universities it works closely with, including UTS, Macquarie, UNSW and University of Western Sydney.
ICC Sydney has appointed university executives as its ‘advocates’ and representatives on the venue’s Innovators and Entrepreneurs Steering Committee, which seeks to connect creative or emerging Sydney talent with opportunities through conferences.

ICC Sydney works closely with partners, including global bidding specialist BESydney and industry associations, to ensure that delegates can interact with academics and entrepreneurs. ICC Sydney is also connected to the city’s start up ecosystem, particularly the Sydney Startup Hub which has offices and spaces for entrepreneurs, investors and innovators congregate.

Glass says the benefits of large conventions reaching into the academic and entrepreneurial communities of their host-city are so well known that Sibos has created its own division called Innotribe, which organises events, gigs, workshops and panels as a sidebar to the main convention.

“Innotribe has a lot of community engagement programs it stages during Sibos, and it has its own style and approach for those. While the NSW Government led this component for the Sibos event, a key driver of our Legacy Program is to ensure universities, businesses and entrepreneurs understand the opportunities and involve themselves in programs.”


“There’s a huge overlap between the events hosted at ICC Sydney and what we do as a university,” says Wightwick. “Conferences are about smart people with knowledge and ideas, and so are universities. You bring those two together and good things always come of it.” He says UTS has been energetic in bringing the International Association of Forensic Scientists to ICC Sydney for their 2020 conference. He says the concentration of more than 1000 forensic science delegates at ICC Sydney in 2020 is a big opportunity for UTS, but it’s also an opportunity for New South Wales and Australia, from science and technology to business and entrepreneurs.

“The opportunities are broader than just the world’s forensic experts at a conference for a few days in Sydney,” says Wightwick. “UTS has one of the top forensic science research groups in the world—we’re developing events around our research groups because the delegates and our students see the benefits of interacting and sharing their knowledge.”
He says UTS students have also participated in Sibos and CEBIT (2018), with very good results. “We had a stand at CEBIT and one of our quantum computing experts in finance gave a speech at Sibos. We gave away 10 passes to Sibos to our best researchers in the fintech and communication engineering areas.”
He says because UTS is such a strong engineering university, students are already part of startups and innovation ventures that need exposure to the wider world. “Students might be working on something very niche and specific, and the community of expertise could be limited in Sydney,” says Wightwick.

“If we obtain 10 Sibos access passes and award them to the relevant students, or we take a stand at CEBIT and include the right researchers in that venture, the students are now talking to global experts in their field. It’s very exciting for them and this is what the delegates have come to Sydney to find— the new ideas.”

Wightwick, who was an executive at IBM Australia before joining UTS, says the exposure can be career defining. “I was at Melbourne University and I was given the opportunity to present at the Australian Database Conference, and it was a big moment in my career. I remember distinctly the feeling of being surrounded by academics and business leaders from around the world, and they were talking to me.”


Wightwick says the Forensic Science conference in 2020 will feature several UTS-hosted side events and exhibitions, and some socialising events. He also says the ICC has pursued the correct approach in ensuring that the physical location and quality infrastructure of the venue is not its only attraction.

“When I take visitors on a walk down the Goods Line to Darling Harbour, there’s a ‘wow’ factor. The ICC is a beautiful complex beside an iconic harbour. But they don’t rest on that—the work they put into connecting the relevant communities into their conferences, along with Business Events Sydney, is the real value of these big conferences.

“The beneficiaries are not just UTS students and academics. The events at ICC Sydney create benefits among businesses, startups, research groups, government agencies and the other tertiary institutions.”

Around the ICC’s location at Darling Harbour is a precinct of universities and the finance district of the Sydney CBD, on the eastern shore of Darling Harbour. Also on the eastern shore of Darling Harbour is the Sydney Startup Hub, created by the New South Wales Government agency Jobs for NSW, in 2018. Matthew Proft, Manager—Client Engagement at the Startup Hub, says the hub participated in the outreach events for Sibos and CEBIT, among others, in 2018.

“A good hub is an agglomeration and networking exercise,” says Proft. “A big conference at the ICC, such as Sibos or CEBIT, means exposure to customers. And not just any customers, but customers who are big, looking for ideas and with a global perspective.”

Proft says the Startup Hub hosted a stand at CEBIT 2018 to showcase startups with products such as VR solutions for the property industry, concussion detection technology, smartwatch apps for the healthcare industry and an agtech company with a satellite imaging solution of fertiliser levels in soil.

“The key requirement for most startups is access to relevant customers who can help them grow,” says Proft. “The delegates from a Sibos or CEBIT are people who can change the trajectories of Australian startups.”

He says Sydney Startup Hub did an event with Sibos where a group of delegates was brought up to Stone and Chalk in the fintech division of the Hub. “We had Australia’s fintech startups meeting some of the biggest decision-makers in global fintech, thanks to Sibos. It’s beneficial to both sides that they meet. It was a great event.”

Proft says Australia has some world-beating research and entrepreneurship but it is not close to the global centres of innovation and capital. “Bringing the ecosystem together around events at ICC Sydney, like CEBIT or Sibos, is a major thing for our startups,” says Proft. “It isn’t just our innovators who want to meet the global decision-makers— these delegates are excited to see what is happening in Australia. That’s why we call it an ecosystem: everyone has a value to someone else. The ICC enables that.”