Current Affairs

A Virtual Only European Association Summit

Who would have thought that when the European Association Summit (EAS) came to an end in 2020 – right before lockdown – the 2021 edition would be an exclusively virtual event? Visit.brussels, which organizes the Summit every year, actually made the decision to go all digital early in 2021 and this edition proved to be nothing but packed with great insights, interesting workshops, and engaging sessions.

Words Remi Deve

Held for the first time in a fully virtual environment, the 9th edition of the EAS was all about the future-proofing of European and international associations, and gathered the wider association community around four themes – Business & Strategy, Communication & Membership, Event Organization and Public affairs – in short the key topics of association management. Over the course of two and half days, delegates could choose from a large (too large?) selection of lab sessions, case studies and demo sessions based on their interests.

Obviously, Boardroom could not attend all the sessions. If all of them are still available for one whole month on the event’s platform so as to keep momentum, there might have been a fear of missing out: it was simply hard to choose what to participate in.

Boardroom Chief Editor Remi Deve concentrated on Communication & Membership. After an interesting introduction to digital marketing thanks to Rotterdam & Partners, Lysan Drabon, from the Project Management Institute, argued that the customer is new member and that “the old membership model as we know it is dead. Long live now the subscription model”. She walked us through how her organization completely revamped the way it looks at membership, shared with her audience a transformation plan designed for her association to remain relevant, and made the case for a “test and learn process”.

The Global Association Hubs session was designed as an Interactive mix of thought-leadership panel and group discussions aiming to transform associations’ perceptions about the power of partnerships to achieve a wide range of strategic and tactical objectives. When talking about partnerships, all panelists agreed that the end result should always be “value creation for the members”, as Magdalena Mook, CEO of the International Coaching Federation, put it, while Tracy Bury, President of AC Forum, warned the audience “not to devalue what (they) bring to the table. In this regard, trust, transparency, mutual reliability and accountability are key to achieve a great partnership.”

The first day’s plenary was particularly interesting, as it looked to technology and digital learning. Since the pandemic broke out, many associations have scrambled to convert face-to-face training to online formats. But if they are not clear what business outcomes they want to achieve, and “overlook key elements such as content strategy (designing for digital, and shifting from just courses to more resources), a new target operating model, data analytics and stakeholder management, nothing will transform… even if you invest in a state-of-the-art platform,” remarked Amanda Notel, co-founder of NilesNolen.

We also attended the session about the role of associations in sustainable development – the topic has become increasingly popular to define associations’ relevance as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic. Organizations can indeed empower their members around the world to contribute, and Lodewijk Govaerts, Non Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, presented an overview of the global industries that have made good progress in the field. Sectors like energy, transport, manufacturing, construction and agriculture, just to name a few, are believed to be doing their part of the share. Likewise – and perhaps rather surprisingly – the financial sector has not been sitting idle, with the rise of ‘green’ specialization to be seen everywhere from green development banks to green assets and funds.

Altogether, the European Association Summit 2021 was highly practical, with tips and tricks association executives could implement in their daily operations. It showed how   association activities are closely related to the latest political, societal and technological challenges and how organizations are here, in fine, to make the world a better place, through their mission, their sustainability goals, their impactful initiatives and their advocacy at the European and international level. In this context, the event’s sessions guided associations through the best ways of addressing the common challenges they are confronted with.

“The association meetings sector has been a driver for knowledge exchange across humanity and with the EAS it’s our goal to help it recover in the best possible way. In this context, I think we delivered on our promises: this year’s EAS was all about knowledge sharing, best practice and impactful activities,” says Elisabeth Van Ingelgem, Director of the Strategy and International Department at visit.brussels.

The European Association Summit is the annual event gathering the association community in Brussels. Organized since 2013, the conference has been a frontrunner of educational activities for association professionals. The 2021 edition was organized by MCI, with ESAE, the UIAFAIB, the Global Association HubsMPI Belgian Chapter and ASSOCIATIONWORLD.

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