THE peak body working for community services and organisations in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven plans to use feedback from a Kiama conference to guide its planning for the next 12 months.
The Illawarra Forum hosted the two-day Stand Up, Stand Out conference last Tuesday and Wednesday at The Pavilion.
Speakers included former Queensland Premier and YWCA NSW chief executive Anna Bligh; Minister for Ageing, Disability Services and the Illawarra John Ajaka and Senator Doug Cameron, Shadow Minister for Human Services.
The conference aimed to delve into challenges and opportunities in Illawarra and the industry.
Mrs Bligh said returning to the non-government sector after politics gave her a unique perspective.
A long-established NGO, the YWCA has a major service hub based in Nowra.
"I started my working life in non-government services helping people, and it's great to be back," Mrs Bligh said.
"But I've noticed a lot of changes - good changes I think, but change is never easy in any sector.
"While this is a beautiful place to live and it's got lots of opportunities, there are a lot of people who are doing it tough."
Mrs Bligh said there were young people "battling all kinds of pressures that didn't exist for people of my age group".
"The internet has brought lots of opportunities, but it's also brought new forms of bullying, new forms of exploitation of young people.
"We also see a lot of poverty; people who are working hard to break that cycle of disadvantage to give themselves and their children a better chance.
"I know from my time in politics that the public gets the best services when the government and non-government sectors work well together, when they know each other's language and they work to understand what the other party's looking to do."
Mr Ajaka discussed the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
"I have been provided with the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from across the sector; selfless employees who work to assist and support people with disability, and so many people the sector supports," he said.
"We need to support the community sector as it further develops capacity, internal structures and the rapid expansion that will transform the scale of their operations and crucially, the nature of the services that are provided.
"The Illawarra, I believe, leads the state in relation to the provisioning of disability services."
Illawarra Forum chief executive Nicky Sloan said almost 200 people attended over the two days. She said other highlights included Dr Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of Australian Council of Social Services, and Paul Ingle of WISE Group, New Zealand.
"Paul spoke about the community services environment in New Zealand about 10 years ago, the reforms they had and the impact on many organisations," Ms Sloan said.
"It was a really positive message for a lot of organisations there who are struggling with their future.
"We will be using a lot of what we've learnt from this conference, and from the feedback to plan our strategies for the next 12 months."