Bill Clinton has just delivered his speech at AIDS2010. In his remarks, he referred to the lost hours and dollars spent at non-productive conferences that are a characteristic of the bloated overheads of many Westerns NGOs.

President Clinton also pointed out that “healthcare is not only a right, but an extraordinarily good economic investment.” If you consider the long-term gains in economic productivity from investing in the health of one individual then the fight against AIDS becomes an economic priority as well.

Walking around the exhibition area at AIDS2010 it is clear that many NGOs have invested a lot of money in this conference. But the business presence here, outside of the pharma industry, is conspicuously absent. (Umm, didn’t we just finish clapping and nodding our heads for the President’s words of warning on bloated overheads and economic incentives?)

To be clear: 1) Conferences are not per se a waste of money: they can provide cost-effective networking and learning opportunities if approached properly; 2) many businesses have understood the economic importance of responding to HIV/AIDS and other healthcare issues (see earlier post on PPP3.0).

But before registering for another HIV/AIDS conference, NGOs (and donors) need to ask themselves: “What are our strategic objectives for this conference and how will we measure their achievement?”

Before businesses turn down the invitation to another HIV/AIDS conference, businesses need to ask themselves: “If we’re serious about HIV/AIDS are we know enough about what’s going on to say that we’ve got the most effective and efficient response?”

And the HIV/AIDS conference organizers? They need to ask themselves: “Are we building a platform where NGOs and businesses can meet their strategic objectives and how will we measure our success?”

I look forward to your questions….
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