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Reflections from the Field

Tearfund’s 2022 Impact and Innovation Conference 
By Phil Reilly 

In Sept 2022, Tearfund Canada held its first Impact and Innovation Conference, bringing together its partners from around the world to learn, laugh, and worship. It did not disappoint.

Ethiopia is a beautiful country filled with incredible natural beauty. It was my second time this year to visit, and I was excited to return. Amidst this beauty, Ethiopia is also a country that is caught up in conflict and famine. It was against this backdrop of contrasts that Tearfund Canada held its first Impact and Innovation Conference. A conference that brought together our project partners for a time of connection, learning and knowledge sharing to tackle some of the most complex issues facing our world. It did not disappoint.

This conference was the first of its kind for Tearfund Canada and was hosted by Terepeza Development Association (TDA) in Sodo, Wolaita. We’ve partnered with TDA for many years, and we knew they would be the consummate hosts to our partners. Gathering our partners from Canada, South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, DRC, Ethiopia, and India was an incredibly rich experience. For our partners, this became a time of forming new friendships and deepening relationships that had been forged only ever through email or Zoom. For the staff at Tearfund Canada this provided us with a unique opportunity to learn for their expertise and on-the-ground experience. It further added confirmation that our partners really are some of the most committed and skilled experts in helping the poor.

The week at the conference was guided by a well-planned and interactive schedule that allowed participants to have meaningful and engaging discussions. Seminars ranged from: volunteer engagement for disaster relief; church mobilization; national fundraising; trauma counselling; and conservation agriculture and market linkages. Coupled with field visits to local TDA projects, our learning outside of the classroom setting provided solid context and the opportunity to hear directly from the communities and people we serve. These field trips stretched and challenged us all as we heard directly from Pastors who created their community roadmaps towards transformation; we heard from women who were now able to be economically empowered and food secure through conservation agriculture and village savings groups; and we saw the incredible impact of farm filed schools that modeled nature based solutions to ensure that farmers could have more yield from their crops and in turn, provide their family with greater food security.

From early morning breakfasts to evening dinners, conversations and interactions were dynamic. It was clear that providing a focused space for our partners to share their country projects was life-giving. Without question, our partners left feeling better equipped and supported with solid relationships formed to continue knowledge sharing long after the conference finishes.

Personally, the Impact and Innovation Conference left me with three distinct learnings:

  • First – there is no question in the power of the local church to be agents of transformation in their communities. Every partner positions themselves alongside the local to church to empower and equip them in tackling their community needs together.
  • Secondly – I will say it again, our partners are some of the most compassionate and capable experts I have ever come across. I was struck by the fortitude and strength they go about their work amidst such complex needs. They are hope-filled and committed.
  • Thirdly – I am more convinced than ever that as an organisation we are not so much involved in international development but a better way of understanding our work is international cooperation and collaboration. Our posture at Tearfund is to ensure that our partners are the resident experts and they in turn come alongside the resident experts in the community where our projects are. This model of collaboration and figuring out together what it means to lift families out of poverty and transform whole communities is both powerful and sustainable.

What a privilege it was to share this experience together in Ethiopia. I can’t wait for the next conference!


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