How can your big tech conference experience benefit the less fortunate?

[I’m big on soft topics this month so far, but don’t fear, I have some other technical posts coming up.]

I was tweeting with Calvin @hpstorageguy Zito this morning, in response to an experience he had with a homeless person in San Francisco during VMware PEX (Partner Exchange).


When I was up in San Francisco for VMworld last summer, I had two encounters with homeless folks. One was a man being very aggressive outside CXIParty, which was not conducive to help, but the other was less uncomfortable.

A guy who had very recently received a tee shirt that had been given out in the vendor expo that week asked if the company on it was a good one. And it got me thinking. I couldn’t answer his question, honestly, although I had a vague memory of what that company did. I probably had the shirt in my bag back at the hotel, and it’s probably gone to Goodwill since then. So did it do anything for me? Not really. Could it have helped someone else? Almost definitely.

And having been accosted by many vendors at the shows last summer promising a chance at a free iPad, I got to thinking. The cheapest refurbished iPad on the Apple store today is $339. That’s probably going to feed a family of four for a month, maybe more. Not glamorously, and probably not at a San Francisco boutique grocery, but through a food pantry it will definitely make a difference.

Between my own experiences and Calvin’s thoughts this morning, I’m wondering what tech conferences can do to help enable attendees to help the host city’s homeless and helpless, and what attendees would do themselves.

How can we help?

It would be easy to find a local charity that helps the less fortunate, and find a way for attendees to contribute. However, there’s a lot more that could be done.

Vendors exhibiting in the Enormous Room Of Solutions could donate their leftover wearables and flashlights and other useful non-tech trinkets to local shelters. Maybe replace your tee shirt with a smaller take-home piece of swag (8GB USB drive with your glossies and demos?) and a donation on the booth visitor’s behalf to such a local shelter or food pantry or soup kitchen.

Conference organizers could simplify the donation of swag on site, for folks who don’t want to walk the mile to Glide or Goodwill or the like. Consider integrating a benefit operation into the customer apppreciation party or other large events. Make sure you have something helpful to do with the catering leftovers (no matter how much we complain about the food, it’s still better than what thousands of San Franciscans have to eat every day).

And whatever you do, make it clear (tastefully) what you’re doing. Many of the 20k+ people at VMworld or Cisco Live assume leftovers get thrown away at the end of the day. And we’ve all heard exhibiting vendors complain about having to take shirts home at the end of the event. If you can make a difference, make it clear.

So where do we go from here?

I’d love to hear from folks involved with organizing the big conferences, as well as those of you attending them, about what you think is practical and what you personally would do to help the host city when you go to a technology conference.

And if you’re local to San Francisco, what organizations do you think could do the most with donations (whether goods or cash) to get their benefits most effectively and efficiently to the people on the streets and shelters and underserved homes?

4 thoughts on “How can your big tech conference experience benefit the less fortunate?

  1. Good post, Robert. I’ll keep that in mind as we wrap up exhibitions at shows, especially since many of the swag things are “stale” for subsequent use, meaning, if it says “TechEd North America 2014” on it – I can’t use it at Cisco Live… etc.


  2. Pingback: Travel tips and links for your summer conference season – 2018 edition | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

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