Held in December 2017 at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the first-ever Dubai Association Conference was set to reinforce the essential role associations play in Dubai’s socio-economic development and its transition to a knowledge-based economy. On that level, it definitely delivered and brought together association executives, government representatives, university faculties and students, as well as professionals interested in forming associations, coming from Dubai and the region, but also from all corners of the world. Words Rémi Dévé
Like Dubai itself, or even the United Arab Emirates, the association community based in the region is rather young. Wishing to move away from a purely oil-based economy, the Dubai government realized very early that trade and professional organisations can play a key role in driving social integration, competitiveness, and knowledge sharing, and therefore support in the development of a knowledge economy.
Three takeaways of the Dubai Association Conference
Susan Robertson, Executive Vice President of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) reminded the audience that “associations make the world smarter, safer, and better (…) and can advance causes that government and official institutions could never do, by providing the most up-to-date information, best practice, and professional development and networking opportunities.”
In a session dedicated to globalisation, David Macadam, CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers and Middle East Council of Shopping Centres based in the UAE, argued that “better serving your overseas members, providing value and building engagement abroad are key strategies for associations wanting to go global. But you have to think this through: you can significantly increase your likelihood of success by researching the market and the competition and setting clear objectives, timelines, milestones, and metrics and using this research to create a kind of roadmap.”
For successful volunteer engagement, Mark Dorsey, CEO of the Construction Specifications Institute, urged the audience to “be clear about what your organisation expects from its volunteers. People are usually attracted to a purpose and if you’re clear about the purpose, it will be all the more easy. In fact, volunteer work might provide people with opportunities to learn skills they wouldn’t be able to learn otherwise.”
Platform for dialogue
In this context, the Dubai Association Centre (DAC) was launched a few years back and has already achieved considerable progress. Offering assistance for the establishment of non-profit, apolitical, and non-religious professional associations and trade bodies in the Emirate of Dubai, its main objective is to become a platform for dialogue and education for associations interested in exploring opportunities in the Middle East Region and to ultimately contribute to building an association community that drives the knowledge economy in the UAE and the wider Arabian Peninsula. The Dubai Association Conference is another step in the road to Dubai’s association success.
In the opening session of the Conference, His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing & Dubai World Trade Centre, explained: “Dubai has seen a tremendous rise in the number of associations over the past few years, which is testament to the city’s significance to reaching their target groups based in the region. This rise has resulted in a heightened demand for networking and engagement platforms for associations across different industries. The Dubai Association Conference has helped respond to that demand and allowed for much-anticipated community-building.”
His Excellency Hamad Buamim, President and CEO, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry added: “Associations are among the biggest contributors of economic growth and business activity globally, and they are crucial for generating the flow of innovative and creative ideas that can add value to our society. Supporting the growth of Dubai’s association community is one of the main objectives of DAC, as associations have valuable knowledge, expertise and skill sets that can enhance the emirate’s competitiveness and drive its knowledge economy forward.”
‘Building a Community’: that was in fact the very theme of the Conference. As industries ranging from technology and healthcare to education and finance are growing quickly in Dubai and the UAE, there is a need for connecting industry professionals among associations, government, academia, and the private sector, a need for facilitating discussions and networking and knowledge sharing. In addition to providing all of this, the Conference, which had a strong focus on the future and unveiled the concept of the Super Kids during a session that proved very popular, touched upon the latest trends in areas such as membership, online communities, restructuring education, volunteerism and governance, among others. It also went beyond traditional methods of education to focus largely on collaboration and engagement.
The Dubai Association Conference also offered a unique opportunity to discover the various facets of Dubai, and what makes the city one of the most dynamic destinations in the world. At the same time, it provided a better understanding of what is available in the city for associations to tap into. Designed as a study mission, the itinerary featured a deep-dive into the UAE’s rich heritage at the Etihad Museum, a glimpse into the future at the Prime Minister’s Office and Dubai Future Academy and its Dubai Future Accelerators. There was also a behind-the-scenes peek of the site that will host Expo 2020 Dubai.