In the Shoes of the Secretary General (Part I)

February 26, 2018

In the Shoes of the Secretary General (Part I)

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 very first insights.


Two months after taking office as Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport, I would say that I didn’t see the time passing. Whether it was to launch a new strategic vision for the association, to visit members, to meet sister associations or to spend time with colleagues, this kick-off period has been inspiring. Listening others’ views and expectations, and sharing mine has been a daily exercise. I am not new to UITP that I joined in 1999 and where I held various position, but people don’t talk to you with the same objectives and the same words; it varies according to your position and your capacity to act and follow-up on their expectations. For the majority of people, it is because they respect the position and give a special attention to deal with its top decision-maker. For some others, I must say a minority, you can easily notice they are opportunistic and are only looking to serve their personal interest, not to say their hidden agenda. All of a sudden, they notice your existence!

These multiple demands for meetings, delivering speeches at events or interviews need a careful organisation and a priority management. It is obviously very good for the ego. I call it the red carpet syndrome. This is precisely the trap in which you shouldn’t fall. That’s why I decided to involve the President as much as possible in representing UITP, and to share this task as well with my directors who, according to the topics, might be in a better position than me to speak on behalf of the Association. Not to mention the members who are very active and very involved: they have the practical experience and expertise that give their speech an indisputable credibility. This being said, it is important to personify the position and give it a face and a recognisable style. But this should be done naturally and with sincerity. It is something I learned from my theatrical experience: overacting is caricaturing, and this will make you lose credibility.

Wearing the shoes of Secretary General after four years as deputy implies a mix of continuity and disruption. Continuity in the values you always believed in, in your trust in your colleagues, in your passion for the mission of the Association and dedication for its members. Simultaneously, you are expected to show an indefectible sense of responsibility, a smart way of delegating this responsibility, a strategic vision and leadership skills much expected by colleagues and members. All the better, that’s suits me perfectly.

February 18, 2018

Diamonds Are a Scientist’s Best Friend

Dr Amanda Barnard is the first woman and the first Australian to win the Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (Theory), a pinnacle of achievement in the world of science. The prize is the latest in a string of prestigious titles Dr Barnard has accrued.

A World Wonder

Dr Barnard’s soft Australian accent hints at a life lived on many continents. When she was studying for her PhD (applied physics) in theoretical condensed matter physics at RMIT University in Melbourne, she was living in Toronto, Canada, and commuting back to Melbourne. She took just 17 months to complete her PhD.

She got the job, at the Argonne National Laboratory, a government lab in Chicago, USA. But after a couple of years, she left to work at the University of Oxford. “One of the great things about science is our ability to travel, because science is the same language all over the world. Maths is the universal language that we speak,” she says.

A Gem of a Discovery

It’s hard to imagine something as tiny as a nanoparticle. They are one billionth of a metre in size and make up a sort of invisible world. About 15 years ago, Dr Barnard started using supercomputers to study them. It was the most brilliant gem that captured her attention: diamonds. “I was thinking: let’s try to understand how the different shapes, sizes and structures of diamond nanoparticles can impact their stability and their properties,” she says.

Dr Barnard discovered that diamond nanoparticles have unique electrostatic properties that can repel or attract, similar to a magnet. She also found that their surfaces link up to form a porous aggregate, “like a very ordered sponge”. Her research is potentially life-changing for millions of people around the world.

For example, a study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is investigating whether diamond particles can more effectively deliver drugs such as chemotherapy, insulin and gene therapy. Dr Barnard’s research underpins this work and her findings could mean that the amount of drugs needed to deliver the same treatment will be about 10 times less.

“We can target the disease better,” explains Dr Barnard. “It’s a slow release because of the porosity of the diamond particles and being able to have something like a ‘chemotherapy patch’ to deliver the drug slowly, over an extended period, will have less side effects.”

It was Dr Barnard’s years-in-the-making diamond nanoparticle discovery that secured her the 2014 Feynman Prize. She is the first woman to win it in the 22-year history of the prize – a promising development and one that this scientist accepts with deep responsibility.

Bringing Knowledge Home

Dr Barnard advises young scientists to gain experience – in life and in work – by travelling early in their career. But, she says, it’s crucial to bring their learning home. After moving back to Melbourne in 2008, she took up a position with Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). She draws on her experience gained from years of working abroad to collaborate with fellow scientists around the world.

“The days of clustering together in one city or one institution – or even one country – are gone. We work globally,” she says. “Over the years of that diamond project, I worked with people in Russia, the UK, Italy, the United States, Japan and Germany. With electronic media these days, we can be in contact every day.”

First published on  The full version of this article can be read here on the Business Events Australia website. Author: Imogen Brennan

February 11, 2018

Montréal – Paving the Path for Progress


Fresh off its 375th birthday, Montréal has morphed into Canada’s cultural capital, offering a certain je ne sais quoi that’s not quite North American, but not entirely European, either. Home to 120 different ethnic communities and a growing population of over 1.6 million, Montréal has evolved into an international city that embraces its storied past, but is also ready to dive head-first into the future with a wealth of research and increasing number of congresses revolving around aerospace, life sciences and artificial intelligence.

Words Lane Nieset

A buzzing port since its youth, Montréal has received a myriad of settlers to its shores and kept its pioneering attitude alive with its signature joie de vivre spirit. Visitors today are welcomed with open arms to the multilingual city that’s one of the top for conventions on the globe—and a certified destination for sustainable events. Over the past 35 years, the Palais des congrès has held over 7,300 events; hosted over 19 000 000 participants; and generated more than 6 billion dollars in economic spinoffs. But for Montréal, the gain isn’t in the numbers alone, it’s in the legacy that’s been created thanks to the local champions who are proving to the world (and attracting congress bids in the process) that the city is a hotbed of growth when it comes to scientific research.

Despite being home to top-notch researchers in fields like genetics, aging, economics and life sciences, Montréal’s scientific community is building on its international reputation. Two ways the city aims to bolster growth: earning scientific awards and attracting large-scale international conventions. Attracting and holding large-scale international conventions makes it possible to generate significant intellectual benefits, while shining the spotlight on science and the scientific luminaries associated with the events,” said Raymond Larivée, President and CEO of the Palais des congrès de Montréal. 

Into the scientific spotlight

One of the key factors of the city’s success in attracting international congresses: the active Ambassadors’ Club. Founded in 1985, the club’s 330 distinguished members help turn the attention of global associations toward Montréal. The club’s president, Hany Moustapha, Professor and Director at AÉROÉTS and Senior Research Fellow at Pratt & Whitney Canada, has been a member for a dozen years and is a leader in the metropolis’ aerospace industry. With the help of members with this type of expertise like Dr. Pavel Hamet and Daniel Bouthillier, the club has successfully hosted world firsts like the International Congress on Personalized Health Care, where hundreds of delegates joined together for the first time to discuss breakthroughs in molecular biology and medical approaches that focus on individual genetic makeup. Just two years later, the congress is returning to Montréal in September, bringing over specialists, researchers, academics and clinicians to discuss the application of P4 Medicine (personalized, predictive, preventive and participatory health care).

The Ambassadors’ Club has also partnered up with the Palais des congrès and the Fonds de recherche du Québec to support the region’s researchers and scientists in terms of bringing and organising congresses in Montréal. In an attempt to tighten the ties between the Palais des congrès and the scientific community, the group set up the Prix Relève, a competition that awards grants recognizing researchers involved in the process of securing and organising major international scientific conventions. Two years ago, the Palais also partnered up with one of the leading occupational health and safety research centres in Canada, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), to further development in this field and continue to grow the life sciences sector, which already accounts for 30 percent of the Palais’ events.

The full version of this article can be read in the February edition of Boardroom available here.

February 4, 2018

Jerusalem – A Growing Knowledge Hub


The longest inhabited city on the globe, Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is not only a holy place for three of the world’s major religions, it’s also an evolving association destination, Lane Nieset writes.

Two Millennia of Academic Heritage

Thanks to the presence of 17 academic institutions and cutting-edge research from the Hebrew University and Hadassah University Medical Center’s world-class labs, Jerusalem has emerged as a modern-day leading hub of academic knowledge. “In recent years, the university’s administration has made intense efforts to attract the best students, teachers and researchers, and to equip them with the best tools to succeed. In turn, our faculty and students have made world-class contributions in diverse fields, ranging from the arts and humanities to the basic and applied sciences,” explains Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

There’s a reason why Time Magazine named Jerusalem the world’s top emerging technological hub in 2015. Hebrew University ranks no. 1 in the 2018 QS World University Rankings report and sits among the top one percent of the world’s 26,000 higher education institutions. Not only does the university count the father of physics, Albert Einstein, as a founding father, it also boasts eight Nobel Laureates; nearly 10,000 patents for 2,600 inventions; and 4,000 research programmes that explore everything from Alzheimer’s medication to medical marijuana.


Jerusalem Fast Facts

-35 minutes (or 18 by train) from Israel’s international airport, Ben Gurion

-One of the world’s most secure airports, with direct flights between two and five hours from Europe and Russia

-International Convention Center with 27 halls, accommodating up to 10,000 people

-More than 17,500 hotel rooms spread across a variety of budgets

de the association through all phases of their events, they also ensure that this support continues year over year.

Jerusalem has also rightfully earned the title as “Start-Up Nation,” boasting the largest number of per-capita start-ups and venture capital investments in the world. One of the best examples of success sprouting from the city itself: in March 2017, Intel acquired Mobileye for $15 billion. The Israeli technology company, which develops vision technology for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and autonomous driving, got its start in the halls at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. With this type of home-grown success, Jerusalem is showing the world its power as an innovation hub.

Association Success in the City

Jerusalem is clearly standing out in the global arena in terms of academic research, biotechnology and medical innovation, and computer vision and image processing. In this context, it has started laying down a strong foundation for future conferences, with Israeli representatives of scientific international associations attracting international colleagues to the city for events like the 42nd Congress of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies, mHealth Israel, a global HealthTec conference, the 28th Annual Meeting of the International BFM-SG, or the International Symposium on the Cannabinoids which will be held in 2021.

Not only does Jerusalem offer association delegates the chance to meet in the world’s holiest city that’s as rich in culture as it is in business, it gives them the opportunity to be part of a growing knowledge hub and build a legacy both for their association as well as for the dynamic city.

For organisations who need financial assistance or are looking to boost delegate attendance, the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureau (JCVB) acts as a one-stop-shop and has helped the city host more international delegates than any other in Israel, assisting with everything from financial incentives of up to €50,000 to marketing and technological tools geared toward hotel and venue booking.

More info on Jerusalem as a conventipon destination on

January 27, 2018

Hackathons for Associations?

haTraditionally, hackathons – the word is a combination of ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’ – are events that focus on entrepreneurship and engineering, often fueled by caffeine and junk food, culminating in the creation of inspiring prototypes and new ideas. Essentially, a hackathon aims to challenge its participants so they turn their ideas into reality – it’s a great illustration of what a sprint of collaborative work can accomplish. Taking a note from the tech world, associations are realising the value in this dedicated type of group problem solving.

Words Rémi Dévé

Hackathons were born in the world of tech startups in the 1990s and traditionally brought together computer programmers to create new software and tech solutions, judged by a panel of subject-matter experts and industry leaders. Facebook features such as the “Like” button and “Timeline” display were developed during hackathons. Today, hackfests, as they are also sometimes called, have spread to almost every industry sector, and are being used by businesses, community activists, and nonprofits to create innovative products, prototypes or programs, as well as help spark new ideas, identify challenges and solve real-world problems. Associations are also seeing the value of those intense sessions and jumping on the bandwagon.

Powerful tool

Hackathons are all about community and collaboration. For associations, they
 have become a powerful tool
to promote engagement and collaboration with members or conference attendees, especially because the core mission of hackathons has endless possible applications. Hackathons can also help build bridges with the technology ecosystem. In today’s world it simply makes sense to be around start-ups, tech gurus, IOT engineers and developers. It doesn’t matter what your industry is, technology is changing it, and associations have realised this.

But why would you, as an association, organise a hackathon instead of a regular seminar for instance? As Ney Neto, Director of Business Development & Innovation, MCI Brazil, says, a hackathon can actually be very efficient in the context of association management. One of the biggest challenges for an association is to keep its members engaged. Communication has changed with the digital transformation. E-mail blasts and one monthly newsletter might not be enough to have your members engaged. So a good objective for hackathoners can be to come up with a prototype a communication tool that will promote engagement with your members.he argues.

On another hand, hackathons might represent a good opportunity for industry professionals to listen to tech savvy people, the millennials, or your next trainee if you will. As digital natives, they think differently when it comes to digital communication, and a hackathon is a wonderful environment to exchange with them. One of the professions of the future is called Social Engineers, the meeting designers who go about this technology ecosystem. They seat in co-working spaces, talk blockchains, meet-ups, hackathons, game jams, and they can facilitate the connections between developers, IT mentors, and the professional or trade associations. In this context, they will be the ones designing innovation journeys to solve problems collectively.says Ney.


Read the rest of this article in the February issue of Boardroom, out soon. In the mean time, check out our past issues.

January 19, 2018

A Trailblazer in Infectious Disease Research

Once believed to be almost eliminated as a public health risk, infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, there are many professors and scientists, research centres and institutions committed to improving the health of Canadians in particular and people in general through the support of research and dissemination of knowledge pertaining to the field.

Words Rémi Dévé

Ranging from childhood ear infections and measles to flesh eating diseases and sexually transmitted illnesses, infectious diseases affect us all. Over 18 million people died from the influenza pandemic of 1918 and more than 20 million people have already died from AIDS since its outbreak. The World Health Organization reports that at least 30 new diseases have been scientifically recognized around the world in the last 20 years. Diseases such as SARS, Ebola, and cryptosporidiosis are emerging without warning – and some without cures. At the same time, diseases considered to be part of our past such as tuberculosis, cholera, and diphtheria are making a comeback.

Collectively, infectious diseases account for 25% of all annual physician visits. The total cost of treatment and lost productivity associated with infectious diseases in Canada is estimated to exceed $12 billion each year. Antibiotics are the second most frequently prescribed class of drugs – second only to pain relievers.

The good news is that Canada-based institutions like the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO – InterVac), located at the University of Saskatchewan, in the city of Saskatoon, are leading the way in infectious disease research. Winnipeg is also home of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) which houses the only Containment Level 4 operational laboratories in Canada working on some of the most serious pathogens including Ebola, Marburg and Lassa Fever.

Brad Peters Director of International Sales at Tourism Saskatoon, says: “The University of Saskatchewan has grown a worldwide reputation as a Canadian University with one of the broadest disciplines, particularly in the life sciences. All on one beautiful and central campus, with cutting-edge programs and research in areas such as medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, kinesiology, nursing, biology and toxicology. In Saskatoon, you can exchange ideas with leading researchers in the fields connected to the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

In this context, VIDO – InterVac, thanks to a multidisciplinary approach, focusses on human and animal health, primarily through vaccine and technology development. They have, for instance, commercialized eight animal vaccines including six world firsts. When the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus spread to North America in 2013, they managed to develop an improved vaccine before the virus infected Canada.

The University of Saskatchewan is also home to Canada’s only synchrotron which harnesses powerful imaging and analytical techniques to solve challenges in health, environment, materials science and other areas of global social and economic importance.

It is safe to argue that Canada has become a global force in infectious disease research. Over just a few years, the opening of new world-class facilities and the creation of prestigious organisations have added to the country’s already well-established reputation.

This article was sponsored by Business Events Canada. Bring your conference/meting to Canada and learn from its experts: Emma Cashmore, Managing Director, Axis Travel Marketing LTD, or call +44 (0) 208 686 2300. 

Picture: Canadian Light Source

January 14, 2018

An Emerging Knowledge-Based Economy in Rwanda

A relatively newcomer in the meetings world, Rwanda is shaping up as one of East Africa’s premier business tourism destinations, thanks to the efforts made by the government and its partners to help strengthen and grow the sector. Betting on a knowledge-based economy, the country’s continuing growth can indeed be attributed to its good governance and sound fiscal discipline, as well as to the commitment from both its public and private sectors to build a more equitable country. Words Rémi Dévé

There is definitely something going on in Rwanda and its capital city Kigali. Over the past decade, the government and the private sector have invested massively in building the right infrastructure, skills, and institutional frameworks to provide an environment that is conducive to making a profound change in the country: from the establishment of higher institutions of learning, like the African Leadership University, University of Global Health equity or AIMS university, to the laying of fiber-optic cable nationwide, this landlocked territory is overcoming all obstacles and moving forward.

The idea has indeed been to transform into a knowledge-based nation. Unlike most African nations, Rwanda has limited natural resources. Far from being a limitation, this has presented an opportunity for the country to take an approach to development that differs from that of its neighbors—an approach where information and communication technologies (ICTs) form the foundations of its plans to fundamentally transform its economy. At the beginning of the century, Rwanda drew up a blueprint—dubbed Vision 2020—for how to achieve this goal. Adopted in 2000, it outlined several initiatives, programs, and strategies for transforming Rwanda into a middle-income country and transitioning its agrarian economy into an information-rich, knowledge-based and service-oriented one by 2020. Rwanda’s unique experience has also been driven by strong partnerships among the regulatory, policy, and implementing bodies.

The business events sector lies at the heart of this transformation. As Rwanda and Kigali host more and more international meetings —the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Global African Investment Summit, the African Union Summit (AU), the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), and The World Academy of Sciences, just to name a few— the Convention Bureau, which was one of the first established in East Africa, has been instrumental in getting the destination on the map. As a result, out of 39 countries, Rwanda placed 5th in Africa in the 2016 ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) rankings, while Kigali placed 3rd among the continent’s top cities for meetings, conventions and events.

Ranked 1st as the safest country in Africa and 9th in the world by the World Economic Forum in 2017, Rwanda is indeed quickly becoming a destination of choice for international conferences, with infrastructure development including the Kigali Convention Centre and the growing presence of international hotel chains, collectively offering numerous meeting spaces.

The full version of this article will be published in the next issue of Boardroom, due out early February.

January 5, 2018

Building Connections with BestCities in Tokyo

Comprised of twelve convention bureaus partnering to help associations achieve success through their events, the BestCities Global Alliance has, for some time now, put in a lot of efforts on education, best practice, and advocacy within the meetings industry. After a successful first forum in Dubai, the second edition, themed ‘Building Global Connections Across Cultures’ took place in Tokyo in December 2017. Words Rémi Dévé

Championing inclusivity and multi-culturalism within the meeting tourism industry in 2018 and beyond: that was the aim of the second BestCities Global Forum and on that matter the four-day programme, packed with thought-provoking sessions and plenty of networking opportunities, definitely delivered. Fifty or so delegates coming from all over the world and all kinds of associations took part in workshops and informative presentations learning about cultural management and intelligence, while looking at ways of establishing purposeful meetings, and acquiring practical skills they can apply to their day to day work back home and future events.

What is the BestCities Global Alliance ?

The BestCities Global Alliance is a worldwide partnership of convention bureaux whose objective is to deliver the world’s best convention bureau practices for the meetings industry. The Alliance comprises of members in Vancouver, Bogota, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Edinburgh, Houston, Melbourne, Singapore, Tokyo, Madrid and Berlin. The members exchange business leads, organise sales missions and client workshops as well as sharing best practices and knowledge on the international meetings industry. Not only does BestCities work alongside the association through all phases of their events, they also ensure that this support continues year over year.

A means to an end

In his introductory address, Paul Vallee, Managing Director of the Alliance, explained: “What we can help with is providing value beyond pure tourism benefits. Associations have a higher purpose than just the organisation of meetings, which must become more than simply well planned events, with an increasing focus on their lasting impact and success in the long-term. For destinations and associations, events in general should be regarded as a means to an end, not an end in itself. And BestCities can help in the matter. In fact, that’s exactly what we want to promote with our Incredible Impacts grants, which were just given out to the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH), the World Parkinson Coalition (WPC) and the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT): those were really chosen as examples of excellence and what can be best done in the meeting industry.

In fact, the possible – and now necessary – legacy component of meetings was what a lot of delegates took away from the Forum. Theo Tunga, Head, Operations Service, of Geneva-based ITU Telecom, clearly realised that is something his organisation could work more on. Recognising that our association events can go “beyond tourism” in areas such as legacy development, sustainability and accessibility was really an eye-opener for me. And the fact that an alliance like BestCities can help us just do that and advance the purpose of our associations by helping to create lasting legacies was, in a way, reassuring. We’re not alone in this he said.

Collaborating on strategic outcomes with international associations, while really understanding what they want to achieve and what they’re about from the inside out, the BestCities network conducts and shares detailed event research to aid planners in creating innovative meeting outcomes. In addition, they work closely with local industry stakeholders while also providing access to global knowledge and contacts. In this context, most of the associations present at the Forum came to understand BestCities’ added values when organising events.

Cathedral thinking

On the content front, the session led by Rick Antonson on cathedral thinking proved to be very popular. In the Middle Ages, building a cathedral was considered one of the greatest works that a community could undertake. But constructing such a monument was an endeavour of such scale that they would often take decades or even centuries to finish. The people that laid the foundations would do so in the almost certain knowledge that they would never live to see the finished product.

Like the craftsmen that laid the first stones at Notre Dame, today’s leading scientists, business leaders and creative innovators are beginning to think in terms of a new kind of wealth – the handing down of purposeful and life-affirming projects that only their grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, will see bear fruit. Medical industries might be the epitome of cathedral thinking: it’s very likely that scientists trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease won’t be around when there will be one. Rick Antonson urged the audience to think about what they can cause, not only what they can do, and to reflect on the kind of long-term legacies that meetings can have.

Other sessions explored the impact of culture in business intelligence and the Hofstede’s cultural dimension model or how workplace values are affected by culture. In partnership with the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau – the organisation was smooth and flawless to say the least, with the best timekeeping I have ever experienced! – the Forum also of course offered attendees a few cultural activities in order to explore Japan’s unique heritage.

Has your association a great legacy programme? Has your last conference left something great behind?  You could apply for and win an Incredible Impact grant from BestCities, in partnership with the International Convention and Congress Association (ICCA). For more information, visit


December 21, 2017

Defining Innovation & Creating an Intrapreneurial Culture

In over a decade at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), Michael Walsh has seen a large amounts of transformation within the sector. The Director of Strategy and Innovation shares with Boardroom what innovation and technology mean to him, how to keep pace with consumer behaviour, and how to adapt to a changing workforce.

Innovation vs. technology

Nobody knows technology inside a venue more than Michael Walsh, as he has led the venue’s technology since its build in 2006. In his current role, Michael oversees marketing, communications, business and innovation. To him, innovation can be defined as “change that adds value” – and this has sometimes nothing to do with technology.

An example of a recent innovation at MCEC? the recent launch, at the venue, of Shed Cafe inside the exhibition area. “The idea for Shed Cafe came from our front-of-house and kitchen staff who identified the existing cafe was in the wrong location – tucked away from where people congregate and pass by. We invested half a million dollars to relocate the cafe and it’s now one of our most successful revenue earners” says Michael.

Keeping pace with consumer behaviour

As consumers demand faster internet speeds, more live content, high definition presentations and zero tolerance to internet dark spots – so too do event organisers and attendees.

Walsh says events at MCEC are adopting a hybrid model where audiences can access content remotely and in person. Recently, CISCO ran their annual conference at MCEC where live social media updates were displayed across the venue, generating almost 7,000 tweets from the event – a 20 per cent increase from the previous year.

Creating a culture of innovation

A key part of Walsh’s role is creating and continually fostering a culture of innovation. The MCEC do this through an internal innovation or intrapreneurial program called THINK.

“THINK is about cultivating ideas from our workforce and not just the executive team” says Walsh. Staff at all levels are encouraged to submit their ideas for change that adds value via an online forum. The ideas go directly to the business innovation team who then work with senior management to explore them further.

MCEC’s Visualisation Studio was born out of THINK and allows event planners to create a virtual 3D model of their event space. The technology enables better event planning and a sales tool for event planners to pitch their event and even sell tickets.

Flexible spaces

“To create a truly innovative space, we listened to our customers. There is demand for greater efficiencies when it comes to hosting events. Businesses want to avoid logistical nightmares moving large groups of people from a large convention centre to an intimate gala dinner space” says Walsh.

As work is underway for MCEC’s expansion to a 70,000 square metre space, the focus is on delivering what Walsh calls flexible spaces. Due to open in mid-2018, the new MCEC will allow the same space to be transformed from a meeting to a black tie event within hours.

No replacement for human contact

When asked what the future of innovation within the events sector looks like, Walsh pinned an increasingly hybrid approach using both technology and face-to-face contact.

Walsh says there will be more frequent and better use of event based mobile apps and SMS allowing participants to access content. He also expects to see better use of social media including live streaming through platforms such as Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope, “… but nothing will replace the need for human contact” he said.

This article was sponsored by Business Events Australia. Contact them today and find out for yourself why there’s nothing like Australia for business events. Simon Gidman / Business Events Manager, UK/ Europe / T: +44 207 438 4633 / /

December 15, 2017

The Importance of Empathy Within Associations

openIt is the very essence of associations to gather different kinds of individuals and personalities, most of the time coming from the world over, around a single cause. Franco Viviani, President of the International Council for Physical Activity and Fitness Research (ICPAFR), reflects here on the notion of empathy and what it means for associations.

In international associations, it is not uncommon to find different human typologies, each of them with different backgrounds. For anthropologists and sociologists, a Chinese is, for instance, the product of a society composed of interdependent individuals. In Asia, individuals adapt to the situation because they do not want to break the harmony of the whole. Good relations with others are of paramount importance, resulting in a strong sense of belonging for every member of the group. For example, if exercising on a regular basis is considered to be a good thing by the group, the individual will never jeopardize the equilibrium with, say, his or her laziness.

Different is the American, who can be considered as independent. Americans consider their individual rights as inalienable, and constantly struggle to show their uniqueness. If, for example, they decide to register to a gym to lose weight, they will experience huge satisfaction when achieving the goal. Contrary to the Asians, Americans focus on the product (the ideal weight) and not on the process.

What happens

One question at this point: how can empathy actually happen when culture seems to determine the way people think and behave? Association executives and members have to be aware of cultural differences, in order to interpret desires, goals, and aspirations of their peers the right way.

But first, what is empathy exactly? An emphatic relationship requires from us to let go, but, at the same time, to take a step back. We all have the capacity to share our feelings with others, something that the Germans call Einfϋhlung, or “feeling into”. “Fellow feeling” was conceptualized by Adam Smith, a 18th-century economist: everybody can have the sensation – good or bad – that what is happening to others is happening to them as well. And, more than a decade ago, neuroscientists started to recognize different kinds of empathy, all of them connected to the fact that humans share what the psychologists call “the Theory of Mind”, ie the capacity to understand not only the emotions and feelings of others, but also their beliefs and intentions. That way we can anticipate and hopefully act accordingly.

Clearly, some components of empathy are simple, others complex. For example, compassion includes the motivation to act when we see someone suffer. Cognitive empathy, in addition, is defined as the ability to “put oneself in someone else’s shoes” and understand their feelings. The most studied aspect is emotional empathy, ie the capacity to share another’s feelings by entering that person’s behavioural state. These three components are critical for our social life: mastering them is fundamental to build good relationships.

Recently, empathy started to be taught at trainings, with the aim to resolve disputes. Chariness is here requested because this complex emotion has many nuances, depending on the circumstances in which it appears. For some scientists it is a sort of “Russian doll”, in appearance very simple, but in reality very complex as we get to the core of its mechanism. What is interesting is the fact that empathy and kindness don’t always go together, as empathy tends to appear if the other person is close to us. This must be kept in mind in international settings.

Interpersonal Relationships

Empathy also often softens the relationships in circumscribed groups (family and friends), but doesn’t necessarily improve the dealings with outsiders. Recently, considering the pseudo-virtues of empathy Bloom & Davidson argued that the outcomes of its exaltation go in the opposite direction to the starting assumptions. Empathy is not an ethical guiding light, as the attention focuses on a few individuals and its field of action is limited. In short, empathy is valid for interpersonal relationships, but can become harmful when it appears in broader circumstances. In this context, the notion of public opinion is antithetic to that of empathy, as it implies a contrast of ideas and not identification among peers.

Back to the associations. As they are generally formed by individuals who share common goals, empathy may be useful to mollify interpersonal relationships. Some of them, who clearly play a role in globalization processes, lack empathy, as they don’t see or impact the general public. They are testament of what I call the “cosmopolitan eradication” of the gated communities of the international metropolises, like London, New York, Dubai, or Singapore, in which they work. Social networks, with their filter bubbles, echo chambers and one-to-one marketing, encourage closed communities of like-minded individuals and discourage openness.

If associations need to promote empathy, some measures can be taken, starting, for instance, with the inclusion of women, particularly in the board, as research shows that women tend to be empathic than men. Empathic efforts can also include individuals of different ages and cultural background – young people may display a diffused intelligence that counterbalances the crystalized one of the senior executives. They are also more open, especially if raised in an international context. Different backgrounds indeed exert multiple influences on cognition. For example, different mother languages impart different cognitive abilities, and that can promote nuanced inclinations towards empathy.

Future research will clarify whether or not empathy has been overestimated. For the moment, we can use it cautiously, in well-defined circumstances, bearing in mind that putting oneself in other people’s shoes can have unexpected consequences.

This article was contributed by Franco Viviani, President of ICPAFR, University of Padua, FISPPA & Biomedicine Departments.