GIAF 2023: Empowering Associations to Stand Strong Now and in the Future

3rd July 2023

In high spirits, enquiring minds and energized discussions, the delegates of this year’s Geneva International Association Forum (GIAF) filled their knowledge baskets with insights from industry experts on a number of future-oriented topics ranging from the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber (in)security to sustainability practices and designing the event of the future. Through masterclasses, interactive workshops, inspiring keynote speakers and networking opportunities, the event created a safe space for associations to get down to the nitty-gritty of their mission for the future.

Words Vicky Koffa

Organized by Brussels-based ASSOCIATIONWORLD, the event took place at the Hilton Geneva Hotel & Conference Centre on 26 and 27 June. In its third edition this year, GIAF gathered over 60 association executives from international and Geneva-based organizations along with the event’s destination partners from around the globe as well as supporters and suppliers.

Designed to create a community for associations, GIAF’s goal is “to provide knowledge transfer, to enable peer-to-peer exchange, to share best practices and to design joint initiatives to tackle common challenges, to help achieve better results and greater impact,” as Kai Troll states. As a purely educational event, GIAF 2023 dealt with topics that associations show the most interest in, in order to face the fast-paced times we experience. These topics include: Association Strategies; Design Thinking; Event Development and Impact; AI / Digital Marketing; Empowering Members; Public Affairs & Advocacy; Income Diversification; Strategic Partnerships; and a Next Generation Leaders Program.

Empowering Leaders for Association Evolution

Everyone’s favorite keynote speaker, Cedric Dumont, pioneer in base-jumping and wingsuit flying and a graduate in High Performance Psychology, kicked off the festivities with an inspiring speech on emerging trends in leadership and high performance. His approach on how to optimize your chances of success, take calculated risks and be persistent left the audience with an admiration for Dumont’s adventures and a deeper understanding of what it takes to reach higher levels of performance. 

According to Dumont, “we need to learn how to say no to an overload of different projects. Focusing on one thing at a time makes you more efficient and more productive. Work less to do more. This leads to increased performance, which in turn is connected to emotional wellbeing and mental health through feelings of satisfaction and fulfilment.” This approach revolves around the concept of energy saving and energy creation for your personal and, consequently, your professional life.

The second day’s keynote speaker, Colm Clarke, Partner at Exempla Management & Consulting, explored the importance of content strategy for associations through his original presentation of Lord of the Rings vs Game of Thrones. Comparing leadership transitions and stakeholder alignment around common challenges to those of these two series, Clarke presented important insights for associations. Key takeaways from this intriguing session include not ignoring any kind of competition when trying to get an association’s message across its members. In fact, associations should try and differentiate their content from what already exists out there by creating experiences and storylines, not just dry conferences and sterile sessions. The idea is to use thought-provoking speakers to stir things up, create the unexpected element and, hence, produce better learning experiences.

Associations and the Future

A significant part of the event was dedicated to the new advanced technologies already available and what sort of opportunities are presented for associations when using them the right way. As Philip Weiss, CEO and Founder, ZN Public Relations and Communication Services, put it during his informative presentation:“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an accelerator of success, but in order to exploit it fully, associations need to firstly shift their perspective towards the digital world. Being open to learning and self-learning, using available digital networks and embracing trial and error will bring enable you to engage with your members now and in the future.” 

“AI, however, is a tool with great potential for associations and just as many risks,” says Thorben Grosser, Managing Director in Europe at Eventmobi, as he passionately explained the strengths and weaknesses of AI. Replying to member inquiries, assisting with content generation, summarizing large texts, using different linguistic styles and creating ‘personalized’ fundraising and advocacy messages are now possible by pressing a few buttons. At the same time, AI systems can have strong biases when creating a text and do not offer much transparency as to where the information comes from. Relying completely on an AI’s output is, thus, dangerous. Unsurprisingly, AI also poses a security risk as your sensitive input data might not remain private.

GIAF dug even deeper in the role of AI for the future of meetings. During the workshop held by Ivo J. Franschitz, Founder of ENITED, we thought outside the bubble of the present to create GIAF in ten years. The participants clearly agreed that the metaverse would be a part of the meetings industry and AI would be extensively used to identify discussion topics and challenges, but the in-person element would still be strong (perhaps on a more localized scale to save energy). With so much knowledge readily available, the main purpose of associations would remain to create communities which will drive change.

A surprise announcement was expecting us at the end of the event. ASSOCIATIONWORLD, partnering with Tourisme Montréal, will be organizing MIAF in February 2024. The Montreal International Association Forum (MIAF) will serve associations based on the other side of the Atlantic, as a city with an extensive portfolio of such organizations. MIAF will add another destination where this family of events take place and offer associations a safe space for open communication among peers.

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