Building Back Better

Building Back Better Series: Can Associations Count on the Support of the Meetings Industry?

12th July 2023

Actually, yes. During the wakeup call we recently had to face, the meetings industry stepped up and showed its resilience and ability not only to adapt quickly and efficiently but also to be in the forefront of driving positive change. As associations continue their efforts to make the world a better place through their diverse initiatives, they have found that they are not alone. Guidance, collaboration, and education on hot topics like DEI and sustainability are widely offered to associations by industry organizations willing to add to the cause. In this chapter of our Building Back Better series, we delve into the industry projects associations can rely on to help steer them to a safer future.

Words Vicky Koffa

The journey to change is built on global collaboration, strong community, forward-thinking ideas, and support at every step of the way. Associations of any kind, willing to contribute to this journey, are lucky to have a helping hand from different actors in the events industry. The initiatives of the Incredible Impacts Awards, the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative (NZCE)New IntentWomen Who Advance Associations (WWAA), the European Society of Association Executives (ESAE) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) all add an extra layer to a future-proof society through association guidance and encouragement.

Incredible Impacts Programme

The Incredible Impacts Awards, a collaboration between BestCities and the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), underwent recent changes to further acknowledge associations that make a significant difference. These awards celebrate the innovative and impactful projects led by associations worldwide. By highlighting their achievements, the meetings industry showcases how associations are shaping a better future.

With a $20,000 (USD) grant, a new selection process and a seed grant of $5,000 (USD) for new legacy programs, the revised Incredible Impacts Awards now emphasize the long-term outcomes and broader societal contributions of association-led initiatives. This shift aims to recognize projects that go beyond economic considerations and deliver tangible benefits to communities, environments, and industries. By honoring associations that make a positive difference, the awards inspire others to adopt innovative approaches and have a more profound impact.

Lesley Williams, immediate past Managing Director of BestCities (the organization is now led by Loren Christie), says on the relevant press release: “We’re pleased to provide support to associations eager to implement a legacy program, with an eye towards encouraging most, if not all, international associations to integrate legacy and impact into their conference planning going forward.”

Net Zero Carbon Events

The Net Zero Carbon Events (NZCE) initiative – hosted by the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) – has been linking since August 2021 all business events stakeholders (venues, suppliers, and associations to name but a few) towards a common strategy to tackle climate change and meet the 2050 net zero goal. Now with over 520 supporting organizations from 55 countries, NZCE has gathered to date 303 signatures from operators who have committed to the Pledge. Last year, phase 2 introduced a roadmap which set out a common framework for all stakeholders to make their net zero journey together. It recognized the challenges of varying progress among organizations and aimed at decarbonizing the in-person element of events.

In its current phase, NZCE is setting its priorities, focusing on 8 workstreams: Measurement, Reporting, Carbon Offsetting, Venue Energy, Production and Waste, Food and Food Waste, Logistics, Travel and Accommodation. Collecting data of success stories and failed attempts from all stakeholders involved will lead to fruitful ideas for the sustainable future of the industry. Reporting progress made as time goes by will provide hope and encourage more organizations to hop on the sustainability train. Associations have the unique opportunity to turn to NZCE for guidance and support from peers who might have experiences of sustainability practices to share or even help implement.

New Intent

With a more social focus, Rory Archibald has founded an organization to drive the need for diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and environmental action within the global business events industry. New Intent will work with destinations, event strategists, and the entire event supply chain to advocate for the critical importance DEI and environmental action has in creating positive societal transformation.

“How associations approach DEI can profoundly shape the future of their membership, event attendance, education delivery, and the overall evolution of the industry. New Intent was established as a DEI advocacy organization within the business events community to address this pressing need. We are dedicated to assisting all stakeholders in the industry to adapt and embrace DEI policies and practices,” Archibald says.

Through workshops, frameworks, and opportunities for open and honest discussions, New Intent aims to facilitate the transformation of these conversations into meaningful actions. Over the past six months, there have been collaborations with destinations, venues, and associations to guide them on their DEI journey. Additionally, roundtable discussions have been conducted during industry gatherings such as IMEX in Frankfurt to collect valuable insights and analyze the requirements and priorities in this domain.

Women Who Advance Associations

The 2023 campaign of the Women Who Advance Associations (WWAA) movement speaks for itself. It showcases female leaders, trailblazers and change-makers who actively advance the association community and serve as an inspiration for gender equity and social inclusion. Sophia Hyder Hock, Chief Diversity Officer at Destinations International, says (as mentioned on the WWAA website): “Our association embraces equity by investing in my position – someone dedicated to creating more equitable and inclusive spaces internally for our team and externally for our members. Destinations International is developing professional development certifications, resources, and research – and already have a DEI Assessment tool that helps destination organizations understand where they are in their journey while also holding them accountable for taking actionable steps.”

Nikki Walker, the Global Vice President of Associations & Communities at MCI, is an advocate for the inclusion of the younger generation. She believes (and hopes to inspire other associations) that the younger members are the future, and they must have a voice in designing the relevance of their association for themselves and their world. “Our Association Engagement Index (AEI) provides global data and clear indications of the importance of engaging the younger generation so that they advocate for their association. This data shows they are the least likely to recommend their association today. Associations must work to change this,” she says.

European Society of Association Executives (ESAE)

The core goal of ESAE is to educate and facilitate associations to exchange best practices and advance their professional development. In this role, the organization has initiated programs, training sessions, and resources to foster an inclusive environment in the association community and ensure that all voices are heard, regardless of race, gender, age, or background. 

ESAE launched its DEI Charter earlier this year, and appointed its Vice President, Liesbeth Switten, as the ESAE Board member responsible for DEI. This is, aimed as an inspiration for other membership-based organizations in Europe to embrace, influencing entire industries as a consequence, for the better. 

“The pressing need for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace and the society at large, is an excellent example, where many associations have started setting guidelines for their staff and members to follow. Associations not only play the role of honest brokers within their respective industries, but they can also influence their members and the society at large by showing the way and leading by example. ESAE is eager to encourage associations to adopt inclusive policies and practices, promote diverse representation in leadership positions, and create safe and welcoming spaces for all participants,” says Ioannis Pallas, ESAE Association Manager.

American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)

Recognizing that embracing diversity leads to richer ideas, broader perspectives, and enhanced decision-making processes, ASAE has made significant strides in advancing DEI within the meetings industry. “To support the future growth of associations and their ability to positively impact the world, ASAE is engaged in a continual strategic thinking and planning process. ASAE calls this journey of discovery that we’re on Destination 2026, where we want to grow and evolve in the right way and according to the needs of our members,” says Michelle Mason, President and CEO of ASAE. 

In fact, ASAE is working to address the current, most pressing needs of association leaders by focusing on four overarching priorities: Create Member Value; Foster Workforce Development; Elevate Associations; and Enhance Culture and Infrastructure. Building strong professional peer communities, expanding awareness of association career pathways to new audiences, focusing on enterprise-wide ESG and updating ASAE’s delivery and technology infrastructure are some of the practices the organization is currently applying to aid associations in their journey.

Associations, with the support of the meetings industry, are transforming events into platforms for sustainability, social impact, and inclusivity. By recognizing associations’ long-term outcomes, encouraging sustainable practices, promoting social causes, and fostering diversity, the meetings industry enables associations to leave a lasting and positive impact on society. Through initiatives such as the ones mentioned above, the industry showcases its dedication to driving positive change.

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