Current Affairs

Building Better Together at AfSAE Virtual Africa Association Summit

19th October 2020

The first Virtual Africa Association Summit (AAS2), which took place in late September, yet again proved a great success coming at the heels of a global pandemic. Themed “Building Better Together,” the summit was timely and significant. It came at a time when associations and other membership organizations across the world are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on association events, shows, and exhibitions, which are the major sources of association revenues.

The conference provided an opportunity for industry members to share their experiences, responses, and perspectives; and to reflect on what is happening. The summit was organized to dissect the do’s and don’ts while offering an opinion on what a successful association needs to be doing now in anticipation of tomorrow.

The virtual conference was convened by the African Society of Association Executives, a Pan-African organization that works towards building and advancing the importance and effectiveness of associations in Africa and, to shape Africa’s future through sustainable association management.  Eight sub-themes shaped the discussions for the two-day program: strategy, governance & leadership, engagement & membership, communications, collaborations & partnerships, events, financial sustainability, and technology.

Keynote speech, renowned African law scholar and Pan-Africanist, Prof. PLO Lumumba, told participants that African associations and civil societies “must step up to diagnose their problems and provide their own solutions rather than relying on Western philanthropies and governments for help.”  Prof. Lumumba, speaking from the perspective of Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want, reminded attendees that civil society organizations must develop a symbiotic relationship with governments and coordinate for the common good of Africa. Even after calling for the relationships between states and civil society organizations, he noted that the key challenges faced by African civil societies were “over-dependency on donors and hostile legal environments.” Agenda 2063 is a Pan African vision of an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena. It is a concrete manifestation of how the continent intends to achieve this vision within a 50 year period from 2013 to 2063

Spelling out his ideas on ‘humane leadership’, Dr. Alex Granger, thinkshifter, global speaker, life coach, and author noted the importance of collaborative leadershift and teamwork among associations, civil societies, and governments to address the challenges that are currently facing the African associations and civil society. A great leader, while quoting from the famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu “is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.” The speaker noted that while the pandemic had a ‘very real’ impact on the sector, a collaborative approach points to hope and recovery. His final parting; “genius of leadership is humanness.”

US and Africa alongside

The summit presentations also featured invited US-based association executives alongside their African colleagues. Sharmila Sandhu, who is the Vice President, Regulatory Affairs – American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and Blanca Campos,  Vice President, Policy and Government Affairs – Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois (CBHA) spoke on advocacy skill building for association professionals, where they clearly set out the role of association leaders as advocates whose jobs involve to connect, persuade, and educate. They also emphasized that government officials often aren’t experts on many issues and require experts to help push for the agenda, as “most will appreciate the knowledge that association leaders bring to the subject and their interest in creating awareness.”

Michael Martinez, a digital marketing consultant, who has previously worked with CNN among other top global media organizations summarized up that with the proliferation of social networks, often called social media, all associations must create a presence on these media. Key strategies to a successful social media marketing and communications is through developing a strong strategy on awareness, engagement, consideration, conversation, advocacy, and loyalty.

Camille Sanders, an experienced nonprofit strategist specializing in membership marketing from Water Environment Federation invoked the Marketing Rule of 7 that states that a prospect needs to “hear” the advertiser’s message at least 7 times before they’ll take action to buy that product or service.

Most associations’ pain points often come from strategic management. A weak, disjointed, and non-responsive board often impacts how the associations perform, hence the need to articulate, in association by-laws, clear do’s and don’ts of effective board governance, said Jay Cariño and Haley Jones from the Association for Nutrition & Foodservice Professional, and the American Staffing Association respectively. They outlined steps on how boards should function, the structures, and affairs.

AfSAE’s next Summit will be held on 23-24 September 2021, in Kigali, Rwanda.

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