At long last. That was the general feeling that pervaded the rooms of the Nashville Convention Centre, which hosted the ASAE Annual Meeting last August. The members of ASAE didn’t have the occasion to meet in person until then, because of… well you know of all that, and there was a definite eagerness for education, learning, capacity-building but also peer-to-peer exchange during informal, serendipitous encounters in the hallways – something you can’t really replicate online.
The sheer size of everything could make the most engaged participants feel dizzy: more than 100 educational sessions indeed covered topics such as board governance, global operations, nondues revenue and fostering diversity, equity and inclusion – this last topic lies at the core of ASAE’s strategy for the upcoming years, and was front and centre during the conference – and there were almost 5,000 people who attended in person, including association executives, exhibitors, consultants and media – the highest number since ASAE met in Chicago in 2018.
Themed ‘Disruption = Opportunity’, the event gave pride of place to inspiring keynote speakers, including Safi Bahcall, an author and biotech entrepreneur, and venture capitalist Marcus Whitney, founder of the first Black health care venture capital fund in the country, who both argued that failure is an inevitable result of attempting to innovate, but that shouldn’t put you down. “You’ve got to make friends with failure. That’s how you know you’re on your hero’s journey,” stated Whitney.
For the very first time, a Global Summit was also organized on the Saturday before the conference started. Exploring how associations can solve global problems through collaboration, the invitation-only afternoon gathered about a hundred association CEOs who explored the mega trends that are likely to affect the way they operate. In a world that’s governed with uncertainty and volatility, it was agreed that collaboration is key. “The storms we’re going through at the moment are actually also opportunities,” said Thomas Debass, managing director of the Office of Global Partnerships at the US Department of State. “You don’t want to view them as threats, but rather as how they can point to solutions.”
ESG (Equity, Social, Governance) and the need for associations to incorporate them in their business models were also much talked about. “In fact, there needs to be an emotional engagement for it across your stakeholders’ chain,” said moderator Magdalena Mook, CEO and Executive Director of the International Coach Federation (ICF). “You have to be a leader in the matter, it’s the only way your organization will be sustainable in the long run.”
Globalization and the need to grow globally were also at the heart of so-called Exploration Labs during the conference itself. Many US-based associations discovered the opportunities and challenges of international engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. If many association executives eagerly welcomed new international engagement, they now find themselves questioning what they are trying to accomplish and are sometimes struggling to identify the most effective strategies to deal with short- and long-term opportunities and needs.
“Many organizations are looking for growth opportunities in international markets,” said Francisco Gomez, CEO of Factum Global, during a session entitled Global Strategies: How to Succeed Internationally. “However, few organizations follow a disciplined process before engaging internationally. To be successful, associations need to embrace a strategic approach that is able to assess target market potential, and understand entry requirements, regulations, and local competition. They actually don’t have a choice: if they want to grow, it’s the only way to go, or somebody else will take their space and their place.”
ASAE’s next Annual Meeting will take place in August 2023 in Atlanta.