A European Society Seen Through an International Lens

June 15, 2018

A European Society Seen Through an International Lens

As the first instalment of our special agreement with the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), an alliance resulting from the innovative response to the increasing decentralization of international associations, Boardroom met with ESTRO’s CEO Alessandro Cortese and newly appointed Managing Director of Innovation, Sven Bossu, to discuss the growth strategy of a European organisation in Asia. ESTRO, theEuropean SocieTy for Radiotherapy and Oncology, has developed close ties with Singapore, a destination that was quick and efficient in understanding the association’s needs and overall mission.

Globalization has had a powerful impact on professional societies of all varieties, requiring many associations to seek field information in foreign nations. For associations that have an eye on global expansion, it is highly likely that market potential and market share will vary widely from country to country and from region to region.

Alessandro Cortese explains that ESTRO is a medical, niche society dealing with radiotherapy, whose members are all clinicians and professionals involved in the field of oncology. As we grew,we’ve realised that our main mission – the education of our members and scientific dissemination – has no real boundaries, even if the other side of it is more political, such as the advancement of radiation oncology, which is clearly for us Europe-focused,”he explains.

Growing demand

Over the past five years, the demand for ESTRO products from Asia Pacific (in terms of congresses and education) grew to about 25 percent. Today, a staggering fifth of the society’s revenue comes from that region. Obviously what ESTRO does works for the needs of radiation oncologists from Europe—and from Asia Pacific in particular. It’s that type of regional growth that had to be officially addressed.

Alessandro explains: The number of classes we offer in Asia has been steadily growing for some years, with about 1,000 Asian (and Australian) radiation oncology professionals attending ESTRO activities per year. When we met with the national societies in Asia Pacific, we realised that the demand for additional courses was even greater. However, there was a need for us to find the right scalability; we could not just increase the number of our products and, in a way, create our own competition.

ESTRO progressively started to test some ideas with a holistic approach. Associations are made of people, and the moment you start involving people from a region, it’s an open door for change. As you bring new ideas, you discover new cultures and new needs in a process that touches on the culture of a society itself.

This article was written by Boardroom Chief Editor Rémi Dévé (editor@boardroom.global). The full version of it is available in the latest issue of Boardroom available here.

June 8, 2018

Build Diverse Connections with ICC Sydney

As Australia’s premier convention, exhibition and entertainment venue, International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) sits at the heart of Sydney, one of the world’s most diverse global cities.

ICC Sydney is located at the epicentre of the A$3.4 billion, 20-hectare transformation of Darling Harbour, a vibrant public domain. It boasts a prime waterfront location within a dynamic dining, leisure and business precinct, providing a truly unique stage for the world’s leaders and thinkers to meet, collaborate and innovate.

A City That Inspires

Since opening in December 2016, the venue has cemented Sydney’s reputation as one of the world’s most desirable meeting destinations on the doorstep of financial, creative, start up and education hubs.

To date, ICC Sydney has successfully hosted more than 1.6 million visitors at 1,000 events, bringing people together in an inspiring destination. The world class venue boasts a striking contemporary design, leading technology throughout and flexible meeting spaces to cater for the changing architecture of meetings.

ICC Sydney’s presence has been felt in Europe by event organisers who are increasingly looking to the venue to stage their events, enjoying the ultimate in choice and flexibility while experiencing Sydney’s outstanding infrastructure and opportunities for knowledge exchange.

In its first year of operation, the venue welcomed the 10th World Chamber of Congress to Sydney for the first time and hosted the largest and most prestigious event in the international law calendar, the International Bar Association Annual Conference, where 4,500 delegates from 128 countries travelled to Sydney.

Looking ahead, ICC Sydney is counting down the months to welcome more than 7,000 business leaders through its doors in October as it hosts Sibos 2018, the world’s premier financial services event. Returning to Sydney after 12 years, the prestigious event will celebrate its 40th birthday with the world’s financial community coming together to debate, network and discuss how the digital economy, technology and the growing fintech community will shape the future of the financial industry.

Forging Meaningful Connections

Underpinning ICC Sydney’s success has been its commitment to forging new ways of delivering for its clients. This includes its industry-first Feeding Your Performance culinary philosophy which sees the ICC Sydney team source the best, peak-of-season produce from local farmers to fuel the bodies and minds of delegates.

It is also forging connections in other ways includingits unique multi-streamed Legacy Program. Now underway, it has been designed to connect clients with a diverse cross-section of the local community through four diverse streams – Innovators & Entrepreneurs, Generation Next, Aboriginal Australia and Sustainable Business.

Each stream provides clients with an opportunity to connect with locals through dedicated initiatives – from direct exposure to Sydney’s network of entrepreneurs and startups and fostering the next generation of thought leaders via student engagement, to working with local Aboriginal businesses, and measuring the ecological impact of events.

Further showcasing the life, culture and creativity of Sydney, ICC Sydney publishes its quarterly custom magazine, Sydney Views which provides events professionals, business travellers, and delegates from around the world a fresh glimpse into Sydney’s dynamic city profile.

To experience ICC Sydney’s world class event offering and the best of Sydney, book your next event today.

This article is powered by ICC Sydney / sales@iccsydney.com / +61 2 9215 7100

June 1, 2018

Washington, DC:
A Value-Added Approach for Meetings and Conventions

Washington, DC is a leading destination for meetings and conventions of all sizes. The city is dedicated to developing initiatives and investing in new opportunities by adding to its strong industries with $11.5 billion in development, 19 hotels in the pipeline and many new and renovated special events venues in the works. Washington, DC’s appeal and ease of access are unparalleled, making it a hot spot for the international business community and specifically its top international meetings markets: UK, India, Japan and China.

According to the latest International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Statistics Report, Washington, DC is the #1 city in the USA for international association meetings. With 17 free-to-enter Smithsonian museums, historic landmarks, tech-friendly venues and artistically-appealing buildings, the city is one of the top destinations to host a meeting.

Washington, DC’s landscape is ever-changing with new unique venues such as the popular innovative digital art gallery, Artechouse, and DC’s first winery, District Winery, a 17,000 sq. foot venue in Capitol Riverfront overlooking the Anacostia River. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center (pictured) will begin a fresh renovation this fall with capital improvements include new seating, enhanced digital signage, a streetscape plan and a “mamava pod” for nursing mothers.

New and upcoming developments that bring even more unique meeting and event space include:

  • + Eaton Workshop (Opening late summer 2018) 

A pilot project aimed at inspiring social change, the new global hotel brand will debut with a 209-room property downtown. Eaton Workshop boasts 10,000 sq. feet of event space, rotating art exhibits and a co-working club that can accommodate up to 370 members.

  • + The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Expansion (Opening spring 2019)

The world-renowned DC venue will add 2,500 sq. feet of new performance space, 7,500 sq. feet of pre-function and event space, new art installations and digital advancements. Outside, guests can utilize a new video wall, a terrace for up to 1,600 people and a scenic walkway to the Potomac River and nearby monuments and memorials.

  • + International Spy Museum (Opening spring 2019)

One of the city’s most popular museums will move from Penn Quarter to L’Enfant Plaza, a short walk from the National Mall. The new location will be 140,000 sq. feet, more than double the original space, and will feature a lecture hall/theater and event space with great views.

  • + The Conrad Washington, DC (Opening winter 2019) 

A 360-room hotel from Hilton Worldwide adds more luxury to CityCenterDC. Features include two outdoor terraces, a rooftop bar, conference rooms and 30,000 sq. feet of luxury retail space.

  • + SLS Hotel (Opening late 2019) 

DC’s first SLS-branded property is expected to open at 5th and Eye Street NW. The design-focused 12-story building will house a 175-room property on floors 2-8. The mezzanine and cellar will include amenities and a 5,500 sq. foot ballroom.

The ease of travel continues to add to DC’s appeal for international business travelers. The city recently launched direct nonstop air service into Dulles International Airport from key international markets, including El Salvador via Volaris, which began in May 2018; Edinburgh, Scotland via United Airlines (seasonal, May 23 to Oct. 4, 2018); London Stansted Airport via Primera Air (August 2018) and Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (September 2018).

“We welcome more business and hope the new nonstop air service and hotel inventory will help make it easy to choose Washington, DC,” said Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC. “Business travelers can access industry thought leaders, meet in incredible venues and enjoy the city’s captivating free museums and Michelin-starred restaurant scene all year round.”

This article is powered by Destination DC. To learn more and submit an RFP, visit washington.org/meetings.

May 31, 2018

The Secretary General’s Voice
– Making Associations Relevant

A member of Boardroom Advisory board, Mohamed Mezghani has been appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in January. Boardroom has asked him to contribute a monthly column in which he explains all about the challenges of holding such a position. This is Mohamed’s fourth contribution, in which he reflects on how to stay relevant.

Two years ago, on the occasion of the European Association Summit, UITP was handed over a recognition as the oldest international association based in Belgium – it was created in 1885. Leading such an old organisation gives a feeling of pride but also a sense of responsibility. One important challenge is to keep the association relevant and with a state-of-the-art governance system. An association born in 19th century has to reinvent itself constantly. In this regard, some important elements have to be taken into consideration.

First, associations are affected by the trends impacting their market and the stakeholders they represent. Hence, it is important that association membership profiles and working topics reflect these trends to keep its legitimacy to speak on behalf of its sector. Monitoring the latest market developments is key to be able to anticipate those changes in time and make members aware of them. Its membership may also becoming more diverse and more global. We move from a mono-stakeholder category association to an organisation representing the whole ecosystem. This makes the association more credible as it enlarges its representativeness but poses challenges: how to find common policy positions with such a diversity of interests?

Secondly, the ways we work are evolving. Members are introducing modern technologies and tools into their own business and expect the same in their interaction with the association. They also expect to find, within the association, the needed resources and expertise to support activities in which they participate. The time when members used to produce themselves the association deliverables is over. They are ready to attend and contribute to meetings and give feedback on the produced work but their day-to-day business doesn’t leave them time to deliver the association work. Then, delivery timelines should be shortened to reflect the association agility and reactivity – this also has to be taken into account.

Thirdly, the association service portfolio has to evolve to reflect the changing expectations of members, as one witnesses the globalisation of its membership, the competition with other associations (at national or international level) or with third parties developing competing services for niche products (events, benchmarking clubs, training), the increasing online availability of free, good-quality information, and the growing digitalisation that is changing the way we communicate and engage with members and stakeholders. Associationsmust constantly question the relevance of their products by getting rid of some of them, innovating in others and creating new ones.

Last but not least, the public sphere is marked by a quest for transparency and accountability. As soon as we ask a financial contribution to our stakeholders (i.e. membership fee) we have to show them that this money is used ethically. Associations are no longer those ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ with an informal management based on personal relationships. Non-for-profit doesn’t mean improvisation but needs transparent decision-making processes. Association leaders are accountable before the members, the same way CEOs are before their shareholders. Their behaviour is scrutinized and might be questioned at any time – and they must lead by example.

The world of international associations is changing. Members expect associations to support them in developing their business and advocate their interest. They want value for money in a friendly environment that provides good networking opportunities. They expect efficiency and people-focused relationships. They share common priorities but expect personalised services. These are not contradictions but challenges that show the new dimension taken by associations and how essential they become. That’s what makes this job so exciting!

May 28, 2018

How the Influencer Economy will Impact on Associations

Wei-Tyng Tsai currently serves as Senior Event Manager at Freaks 4U Gaming GmbH in the Berlin HQ,a 360-degree marketing agency in gaming and eSports industry. She has been active in the conference and association management world for over 10 years and is involved in convention, congress and exhibition management for a broad range of industries.

She devotes herself to help associations and agencies transform the communication means between meeting organizers and attendees from a millennial view. Wei-Tyng’s broad knowledge of community and influencer management has supported her association and industry clients to reach out online and offline target audience efficiently.

Ahead of a talk Wei-Tyng will be giving at The Meetings Show, which takes place on Wednesday 27 & Thursday 28 June at Olympia London, we found out more about how the influencer economy will be affecting associations.

 

 

 

In simple terms, what is the influencer economy?

The influencer economy, in a nutshell, is the business network or system generated by influencers in the local, regional or national community.

Why is the influencer economy something that association event planners should be aware of?

Influencers could form an organic micro-economy which would leverage vertical and lateral effects for the organisation events. They are the ‘Opinion Leaders’ in certain groups or communities; often they interact with each other online, where most associations are reluctant to engage their audience in the digital world.

Do you think associations currently do enough to communicate with their audiences digitally?

Digitalisation is still fresh to the association world and the furthest they have gone is adapting to is building a website for their conferences/congresses/meetings. Associations are however gaining more and more awareness of the influencer phenomenon, yet they are mostly hesitant to take actions. Partially this is because of the sceptical attitude towards to it, but mainly it is due to the lack of know-how knowledge and operational experiences.

How could influencers be important in the success of an association events?

Influencers or Key Opinion Leaders are the ambassadors of your organisation. If the associations are considering expanding their membership territories and deepening the member engagement, they are the gateway for association leaders to collaborate with in the next steps.

Do influencers work for both online and offline audiences?

Yes, they work primarily online to build and interact with their audience, the conversation/interaction could be brought to real lives and converted into event participations if there is suitable scene to engage influencers at the offline evens.

What will association buyers gain by attending your session at The Meetings Show?

I hope they will gain their first insight of how influencers could generate online viewership and offline participation through a case study. They will learn the principles of how to identify association ambassadors within their own organisation.

If you had one top tip for association event planners, what would it be?

Embrace and adapt to the change of communication means for the younger generations; from event apps to social media platforms, the goal is to broadcast your association’s vision in a suitable and efficient way while interacting with your targeted young audience. Hire or use colleagues from the younger generations and take their perspectives into account when you develop the latest marketing strategy for the organisation.

Wei-Tyng Tsai will be speaking at The Meetings Show 2018, at 9.50am on Wednesday 27 June. For more information about the education programme and to register to attend, visit www.themeetingsshow.com.

 

 

May 24, 2018

3 Questions to Cvent’s SVP and Marketing Director

After announcing their expansion in Europe, Patrick Smith, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer of Cvent and David Chalmers, Senior Marketing Director of Cvent Europe talked with Boardroom during IMEX 2018 in Frankfurt about technological developments when planning a conference as well as the impact of GDPR on associations.

What can Cvent offer associations?

Associations are one of our biggest customers as they run events for their members. We can offer services in two primary areas, one of which is our event cloud solution, that is all about running an event end to end. We started out with our registration system, conceptualising an event, inviting people, putting up a website and printing out badges on site. During the actual event, we use tablets for a smooth check-in.

We have a global application with information on the venue, the attendees and the schedule, but this app also functions as an engagement tool. Participants win points for asking questions or participating in meetings for a prize, so it gamefies the event. The other area we cover is helping find a venue through our supplier network containing 255,000 entries with detailed information necessary for organising a meeting, all free of charge. Our network connects buyer with venue in a simple way.

What is new for associations regarding technology?

What we can now offer is tracking attendees during the event by scanning their badges using RFID sensors. This gives associations more interaction with attendees and intelligence around the event. Associations could profit by reporting back to their organisations with proof of a successful event as it can now be digitised. Even financial costs can be tracked electronically with this new technology in a way that was not possible before.

How can Cvent’s platform help associations tackle GDPR?

Using an online platform is the best approach in terms of complying with the regulations. GDPR is about data privacy as well as data security. Working with a company of our size which has all the security certifications is the safest way to be sure that the personal information you have captured for your event is kept safe. Using an event management software platform helps associations avoid hacking or leaks of emails and spreadsheets. Associations feel the risk of the regulations as they have a lot of subcontractors, freelancers and agencies, and that is a lot of passing around of data. Putting all of that on a platform makes it secure.

We also offer time stamped consent areas allowing us to store this information or even delete it according to the person’s request. This becomes much simpler if all the information is on one platform instead of different places. What’s more, we can anonymise an attendee but still be able to keep the count of an event. In fact, we are currently working on a campaign on the spirit of GDPR educating people through webinars and infographics. We believe that in this way we can build trusting relationships with our clients. GDPR is not something to be afraid of, it is something associations should embrace.

This interview was written by Boardroom Digital Editor Vicky Koffa (digital@boardroom.global)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 23, 2018

ICC Sydney Pioneering Innovation with Feeding Your Performance Program

International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) is committed to cultivating a lasting legacy for delegates, clients, its own people and the regions that underpin its success.

While many international convention centres now use sophisticated methods to measure the economic impact of business events in their host cities, ICC Sydney is looking beyond its city centre boundaries. In a first for the industry, last year the venue announced a research partnership with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to measure the impact of its all-encompassing Feeding Your Performance (FYP) programon its food and beverage supply chain over time.

One year on, ICC Sydney announced the results of the first annual report which has heralded its commercial model as a blueprint for innovation, delivering economic, social and environmental advances for Sydney and the people of its home state, New South Wales (NSW). Now embedded across ICC Sydney’s operations, the organisation has achieved this through a triple bottom line approach including a unique locally-focused supply chain, a progressive sustainability strategy and an industry-first Legacy Program.

Feeding Your Performance

Overall, delegates attending events at ICC Sydney generated A$785 million in direct expenditure for the State in its first year of operation and, according to the University of Technology Sydney study, the venue delivered a total A$8.3 million to the NSW economy in 2017 through its food and wine purchases. This represents a direct investment of more than $A4.3 million in a network of more than 85 NSW producers and farmers, alongside a broader community of producers connected through co-ops and boutique providers.

The culinary aspect of the FYP program is also showcasing the state’s outstanding produce on the global stage and creating new markets for agriculture and tourism, while providing financial security for suppliers and driving employment and growth opportunities in regional areas. It is simultaneously nourishing the bodies and minds of visitors with fresh, local ingredients expertly prepared by ICC Sydney’s culinary team to aid concentration, stamina and focus.

Sustainability at the Heart

Underpinning these outcomes is ICC Sydney’s commitment to quality and service excellence with a conscience. As part of this, the report has noted ICC Sydney’s is also feeding the environment by reducing ‘food miles’ and its carbon footprint by choosing growers based on their geographic location and the quality of their food and beverages.

ICC Sydney has also partnered with OzHarvest to donate unused excess food todisadvantaged members of the community as part of an effective waste and water management strategy while energy resource efficiencies are delivered through smart design features integrated with cost efficient and renewable technologies.

The FYP program has already won the hearts and minds of ICC Sydney’s clients and the venue is committed to building on its progress to date, driving world class event experiences and long-term social, economic and environmental impact.

To experience ICC Sydney’s award-winning Feeding Your Performance philosophy, book your event with ICC Sydney today.

(Pictured: Geoff Donaghy, ICC Sydney CEO, meets suppliers in the New South Wales countryside)

 

May 18, 2018

3 Questions to Tourism Australia’s Managing Director

John O’Sullivan, Managing Director of Tourism Australia, joined the team in March 2014, coming from a professional background spanning across three key fields — sport, media, and events. During his first time at IMEX in Frankfurt this week, he sat down with Boardroom to talk about Australia’s competitive edge.

How do you position Australia in the world?

It really comes down to three key areas: our natural beauty, our food and wine, and our cosmopolitan cities. There’s no question that this is a great product to be able to market and sell internationally because we have, in abundance, the things that international visitors are looking for. As far business events are concerned, with Australia’s track record in delivering them and our winning combination of unique natural landscapes and friendly welcoming people we are clearly on the radar as the ideal business events destination.

Earlier this year, you’ve launched the Business Events Bid Fund Program (BFP). Has it garnered a lot of interest from planners already?

We have received a positive reaction from the international business events industry who agree the Bid Fund Program will ensure that Australia maintains a competitive edge against other international destinations. We have actually already got five applications in the two weeks since launching on 1 May. The BFP is designed to secure, among other events, new, high-value international association, meetings for Australia, and now adds financial support to the offering, making Australia even more attractive.

Are you seeing an increased awareness of Australia as a congress destination among international associations?

The recent win of the UITP Global Public Transport Summit  to be held in Melbourne in 2021 – a four-day event that will see 2,000 delegates from all over the world meet converge to Australia and deliver $9.4 million in economic contribution for Victoria – says it all. Australia as whole and Melbourne in particular have a global reputation for collaboration with federal, local and state governments, as well as city-wide partners working together to successfully secure and deliver conferences. Our Tourism 2020 strategy is definitley yielding fruit : we are an ambitious organisation. and we are delighted when yet another important business event recognizes this.

This interview was written by Boardroom Chief Editor Remi Deve (editor@boardroom.global)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 13, 2018

Jerusalem
A Resilient & Powerful City

‘How to change the perception of Jerusalem and how to showcase Jerusalem’s transition into the modern world’: this is the objective Mrs Ilanit Melchior, Director of the Jerusalem Development Authority, where she helped set up the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureau.

What’s better, then, than to invite international associations from all over the world and let them explore the city, along with Cécile Koch from Boardroom, meanwhile making sure that relationships with local academics and corporate people are closely tied up? As explained by Mrs Melchior during a business session with ambassadors from different Israeli corporations and academics, this is in line with the dynamic and strategic vision of Mayor Barkat, as the city has undertaken actions to become an international congress destination.

Mayor Barkat identified three pillars in his strategic plan: the renewal of urban life, the growth of creative industries, and the investing in Jerusalem-based clusters (Bio-Tech, Tourism and Film).

Five-year economic plan

After extensive research, Jerusalem’s government established a five-year economic plan to grow Israel’s capital city.“I believe that running a city is like running a corporation,”says Melchior, who came from a corporate background before working with Barkat to launch the CVB. “If you show the stakeholders you’re good enough, you can push whatever you want forward.”

Melchior admits that getting the word out about Jerusalem as a meetings destination is the CVB’s biggest challenge. “When I say ‘Jerusalem’ [to international planners], their eyes open,”says Melchior. “They dream about [meeting in Jerusalem], but for some reason, they don’t come here… My job is to make this vision come true.”

As the city wins more and more international events, planners are hearing the buzz about the modern Jerusalem and putting it on their radar. “It’s not about the 3,000 years of history. It’s about now, and the most important thing is it’s about the future,”says Melchior.

Some events that have recently taken place in Jerusalem include Wikimedia Hackathon, Forbes, or the OutCrowd Foundation which attracted this year over 10,000 people. “People think of Jerusalem as this historical place,”says Cathi Culbertson, vice president of event marketing and conferences at Forbes, “but it’s amazing how modern it is.”

Safety net

When it comes to safety –a subject that can be touchy for planners–Melchiar travels the world over to tell how Jerusalem deals with it.  “It is how you communicate, the tools you use to do so, in accordance to your target audience, and what actions you take”, she says very openly. Part of Jerusalem’s safety policy is to never cancel an event or campaign after an attack, and on the contrary show that all is under control, and return to normal life as quick as possible, within hours and not days.

This policy is definitely paying off, as the figures show: in 2016 Jerusalem had 32% more tourism and 10% more overnight stays of congress attendees than in 2015.

On top of that, the Ministry of Tourism has a ‘safety net’ procedure that will compensate international conferences for their marketing expenses, if the conference that was to be held in Israel is cancelled due to geopolitical events.Although this procedure is due to end in 2020, it will be renewed due to its great success.

Improved infrastructure

Continuous improvement of Jerusalem’s infrastructure is also a must for Barkat to reach the goal of 10 million annual tourists over the next several years. Developments driving Jerusalem’s increasing popularity as a meetings destination include a high-speed train connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, expected to run by September 2018, and a new terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport, a 40-minute drive from the Holy City, also directly connected to the International Conference Centre by train.

ICC Jerusalem, the International Convention Centre, offers 12,000+ sqm of exhibition space and 27 conference halls and seminar rooms. As to accommodation, the city expects to add an estimated 4,000 hotel rooms to the current 15,500 within the next few years.

This article was written by Cécile Koch, Boardroom Managing Partner (cecile@boardroom.global)

 

 

May 4, 2018

In the Shoes of the Secretary General (Part III)

A member of Boardroom Advisory board, Mohamed Mezghani has been appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in January. Boardroom has asked him to contribute a monthly column in which he explains all about the challenges of holding such a position. This is Mohamed’s third contribution, in which he reflects on cultural differences.

…Culture Doesn’t Matter

Since I took office early this year, I travelled a lot, visiting all continents. I attended several meetings and events organised by UITP or third parties. I lost count of the number of business cards I have collected and handed out. It is interesting to see the differences in the way we deal with business cards around the world. We all know, that, in certain Asian countries, the exchange of them is very ceremonial and a strict etiquette has to be followed. In other circumstances, it happens that you give your business card to someone who will immediately put it in their pocket without looking at it at all. And there are also situations where your interlocutor will apologize for not having a card… because they work for a public entity that doesn’t provide them with cards. That’s the case in several developing countries. I also remember one of my previous bosses at the start of my career who forced me not to put my first name on the card because, according to him, it might be badly perceived by potential customers. No comment.

When we work in an international context, the cultural dimension is essential. We shouldn’t see it as a constraint but as an opportunity to enrich our own experience and to learn. In this regard, there is one fundamental principle: the world doesn’t have a centre. If you don’t accept this, you’ll be always considering your perspective and your point of view as thereference and you’ll often fall into cultural misunderstandings. We face these situations when we organise events for example. The time schedule of the event, the way we interact with speakers and attendees, the protocol issues, not to mention the terminology used, vary according to circumstances. As an international association, we cannot behave, in Lagos or Dubai, the way we are used to in Brussels or Singapore. What is non-negotiable is the quality of the deliverable not the format. In some cases, we tend to focus too much on the container while the energy must be put on the content.

This is also reflected in the way we see our association. I like saying that UITP is not a European association expanding globally but a global association that happens to be located in Europe. This changes completely the perspective and the capacity to accept and own cultural differences. It is with this in mind that we decided to have a very multinational and multi-ethnic staff. We need this diversity to be in a position to understand and navigate in all kinds of environments. We also encourage staff mobility from one region to another. Our team must also reflect the diversity of membership. We have members in 96 countries, we must speak their languages (even if the use of English is growing as working language) and understand their needs and expectations.

Cultural differences shouldn’t be a reason for not doing projects or developing services. We often hear ‘No, it’s not feasible in our context’or ‘This was done in Tokyo, but it’s impossible here’. When we say that, it means that we don’t want to go out of our comfort zone, we just want to pursue business as usual. It is obviously a big mistake: a copy/paste of a Tokyo’s solution will, of course, not work. What is effective is to analyse what worked in Tokyo, the success factors, and get inspired by it while adding a local approach.

I have noticed that in many cases we underestimate the capacity of people to accept changes. This happens when we have a top-down approach but when we listen, enrich our approach with input from counterparts and build an equal-to-equal relationship, partners will easily get ownership and see the benefits. That’s the way we build a win-win approach. I know it may appear as a cliché to use such wording, but it is so true!