BestCities Global Forum 2021: Deciphering the Complexity of Legacy Creation

18th January 2022

At the dawn of the new year, we take a step back to reflect on progress made and challenges faced in the past twelve months, as well as on future plans and resolutions. Has our organization achieved its preset goals? Do we have something to show for all the work we have done? are just some of these reflections. The answers should come easily to those who have already integrated the notion of legacy-building into their internal strategy and modus operandi. BestCities Global Forum 2021 tried to shed some light for associations on practical ways of including this idea in their events.

Words Vicky Koffa

The thought of creating something sustainable that will create positive change, no matter how big, for future generations is not new to our industry. It is, however, much more relevant now that we are trying to get on the other side of the pandemic stronger and better. Associations, may they be trade or professional, are key to this process since they penetrate every aspect of life and have the power to influence the community and the state. An association with a clear view of how its existence and work can provoke such positive influence is bound to be more effective.

Are all associations aware of this power they have? Do they even all qualify as able game-changers? Would they be willing to put this idea to practice if it means extra cost and time for them? All this was put under the microscope during the BestCities Global Forum held in Madrid, Spain, 2-5 December 2021, under the theme ‘The Madrid Challenge’. 

Legacy in the Making

BestCities Global Alliance, a collaboration of 11 destinations worldwide focused on creating positive impact, brought together 25 association executives from around the globe with representatives from the 11 members of the alliance. The goal was to examine, argue and consider including the much-discussed notion of ‘legacy building’ and ‘inclusivity’ for their next event – and not only.

Inspired presentations, like the one of Armando del Rey – co-owner of a legendary local restaurant, Kai Troll – CEO of Best Buddies EMEA – and a visit to the Spanish Red Cross – partners of Madrid Convention Bureau (MCB) on creating legacy through conferences, tried to portray a picture to the participants of what legacy and inclusion could look like and why it is important. David Noack, Director of MCB, explained: “Unusual collaborations such as that of a CVB with the Red Cross show exactly how we can do more than just talk about legacy. We can improve the social, environmental, or working conditions of a destination through well-designed actions. All we need is imagination and commitment.” People with disabilities can be included in the rolling-out of the event, solidarity activities can be generated by the event; those are just a few examples of things that can be easily implemented. The event itself serves as a trigger so that legacy and impact can go further.

Bright example was the case study of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO)’s Alessandro Cortese, who collaborated with MCB and helped persuade the Spanish government to invest €700m for radiotherapy machines, which were in short supply in Spanish hospitals. His suggestion was to include legacy goals in the internal strategy of your organization and measure the value creation from within first; inevitably, this will lead to legacy for the local community.  He said: “Associations should choose destinations according to where we are needed each time, where we can create the most change. We have to put citizens in the centre of our goals and empower our members to comprehend how they can best help their community; this will lead to true legacy.”

Putting Legacy In More Practical Terms

In the discussions that followed it became clear that legacy is not an exhaustive list of activities and outcomes, its importance is not measured in size or money raised, or peopled affected. It does not apply to every association in the same way, but it does apply to every association in some way. Associations helping the underprivileged might have more obvious tangible results since their mission is already set on creating immediate positive impact. But this doesn’t mean that more theoretical associations focusing on research, for instance, cannot achieve such impact; in fact, their legacy is based on innovative research put into practice and, thus, creating a more sustainable world.

BestCities Global Alliance reassured participating associations that the tools to help them navigate through the endless options of legacy are available. The Copenhagen Legacy Lab, which we extensively wrote about in BR, was introduced two years ago and has since proven a valuable database of how to start and continue the discussion on creating legacy through business events. 

This year, the host city launched its very own tool, PLUS, a digital platform that Madrid Convention Bureau makes available to any meeting organizer so that sustainability and legacy criteria are included in the design phase. Following the guidelines of the 17 SDG’s, PLUS facilitates contact between organizers and local agents for the implementation of positive impact actions (social, environmental & cultural) that result in a lasting benefit for the society.

The Legacy Challenge

The main idea introduced by this tool, i.e. sustainability meets legacy, was in the core of this year’s ‘The Madrid Challenge’. On the first day, destinations were invited to sign up for BestCities’ Commitments to a Sustainable Future, a collection of recently revised Alliance standards that strives to make a positive impact in the world. Sustainability is a main ingredient for achieving long-lasting legacy and both destinations and associations can support this.[UMO2] [PV(S3]  Sustainable venues and transportation in the city on the one hand, and specific requirements for a sustainably organized event and outreach activities on the other are an excellent start for positive impact. During the Forum, in fact, associations who were present signed up a pledge to include legacy components in their RFPs, operations and mission.

The way I see it, the ‘Challenge’ is not whether outreach activities and legacy goals can be applied to most conferences; using successful case studies, looking at the true mission of your association and keeping an open mind will always bring ideas. To begin with, both the destination and the visiting association should have a clear vision of what impact they are trying to make. The challenge is trying to find the sweet spot between these two visions and create an event with optimal results. Legacy creation is the responsibility of both the destination and the association through close collaboration already from the bidding process and well after the event has ended.

BestCities have committed to working constantly towards a more sustainable industry with legacy at its core. Research through successful case studies will be part of the work for this year with focus on measurement of the impact these conferences had. Using tools such as The Copenhagen Legacy Lab and Meet4Impact , this research will try to paint a clearer picture of what legacy means. The results of this, among other topics related to legacy, will be discussed at the BestCities Global Forum 2022 in Vancouver, Canada.

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