It is no secret that COVID-19 has radically disrupted how associations create social impact and deliver value to their members across the globe. From pivoting to virtual events to creating new digital-first offerings, associations have been finding new and innovative ways to partner with a broad spectrum of global vendors, suppliers, destinations, and each other to meet the moment and better support their members, stakeholders, and the public-at-large during this difficult time.
“COVID-19 has been a disruptor that has brought about both challenges and opportunities,” said Joanne Joham, President of J Joham Associates. “Associations with a proactive approach to supporting their communities during this time have stepped up and delivered education, events, and other member support in creative and engaging ways virtually.”
Quickly serving members in need
Like other professionals, professional coaching practitioners were significantly impacted by the pandemic. Many coaches are solopreneurs—that is, individuals who are running businesses on their own—which means few of them have time to continue their coaching work, manage their business, and keep abreast of the many government support schemes launched in recent months.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) immediately recognized this critical member need. To support their community as quickly as possible, through their shared affiliation with Associations International, ICF quickly partnered with the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) to immediately leverage its robust COVID-19 support portal and resources for their members. By partnering in this way, ICF was able to get members in the United States the information and support they needed while also introducing AFWA to ICF’s membership, many of whom could benefit from AFWA members’ services, all without recreating the wheel.
“Emerging member needs gave both associations the collective will to work differently,” said Magdalena Nowicka Mook, Chief Executive Officer of ICF. “By leveraging the circumstances to form a new partnership, we were able to connect two communities that could support each other. Once we made the connection, things took off. Some AFWA members offered discounts for ICF members while some of our members bartered coaching for financial management support.”
Rethinking association events
Throughout the past year, associations across the globe pivoted to virtual events and congresses to continue delivering education and upskilling opportunities to members despite the pandemic. While these new digital events tested traditional event formats and revenue models, they also allowed associations to engage more attendees, leverage partnerships in new ways, and deliver value to a broader group of members, prospects, and key stakeholders in a more inclusive way.
In Latin America, Congrex Americas helped the Pan-American League of Rheumatology Associations (PANLAR) develop a flexible strategy to expand its reach while continuing to support members and patients in Latin America. This year-long effort included moving its PANLAR 2020 Congress online and supporting the virtual 3rd Pan American Congress of Patients of Rheumatic Diseases. Leveraging partnerships with the Pan American Network of Associations of Patients of Rheumatic Diseases (ASOPAN) and Creaky Joints Español, a digital Spanish-language community of arthritis patients and caregivers, PANLAR successfully grew its traditional 250-patient congress to reach 35 national arthritis-related organizations and engage more than 5,000 patients online at a fraction of the cost of its traditional event.
“The move to virtual events broke down many pre-existing geographic barriers,” said Javier Montilla Q., Managing Director at Congrex Americas. “With COVID-19 deprioritizing the broader focus on many health care-related challenges, associations must think differently to reach those in need. By partnering to support this online congress, all three organizations were able to expand the scope of their outreach far beyond what each could have done working alone.”
Looking ahead, such partnerships will be critical to the next generation of association events. For example, global associations and destinations, such as those in the BestCities Global Alliance and Global Association Hubs Partnership, can partner to marry the unique local assets and capabilities of destinations with the needs of associations to create bespoke congresses that still attract in-person attendees while leaving lasting legacies for both destinations and associations.
“Meetings are platforms for associations to achieve their missions,” said Chloe Menhinick, Director of Communications for the International Currency Association. “That’s why they need to think about convention bureaux, technology platforms, and other providers as collaborative partners to help them better understand each association’s needs so they can all work together to deliver better meeting outcomes for all stakeholders going forward.”
Maximizing stakeholder and industry impact
While many associations are new to global partnerships, others have led with a collaboration-first model for many years. Since the onset of COVID-19, some of these organizations have been able to leverage their pre-existing partnerships in new ways to deliver outsized impact for their key stakeholders and industry when it was needed the most.
Since its founding in late 2016, the Singapore FinTech Association (SFA) has signed more than 60 partnership memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with associations and government bodies in 40 countries across Asia, Europe, and beyond. This allowed SFA to establish a truly global presence on behalf of its individual and corporate members in Singapore, while developing a deep knowledge of both the local and international fintech ecosystem that it could draw upon during the pandemic.
Over the last year, SFA was able to leverage its long-standing relationships with the Monetary Authority of Singaporeand AMTD Foundation to help institute and administer a grant program to support Singapore fintech companies in need. Additionally, SFA partnered with Razer Fintech to link meritorious certified companies to Razer’s $50 million COVID-19 Support Fund, and they signed an MOU with the new Shanghai FinTech Industry Alliance to collaborate on a talent exchange and the joint development of new industry platforms.
“Over time, SFA built up credibility and trust with our partners, which allowed us to work with them in new ways to help the sector during this difficult period,” said Chia Hock Lai, Founding President of SFA. “Combined with our organizational capabilities and agility, we were able to quickly identify member needs and roll out many new programs with our partners in just a few months.”
Meeting difficult moments with solutions
While COVID-19 led the global agenda in 2020, society was further challenged by events that highlighted the continued struggle against racism and inequality. The killing of George Floyd while in police custody in the United States led to large-scale protests around the world and calls for the association community to support their members and lead with solutions.
In response, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) partnered with the Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM) to establish an alliance that encouraged their members to work together to address racial bias in the workplace. This first-of-its-kind partnership focused on moving beyond issuing statements of support to helping organizations review their existing workplace policies and create a more inclusive workplace. For ACC, this is one of many partnerships including storytelling masterclasses in partnership with TED and a mini-MBA program for in-house lawyers delivered via King’s College London.
“Roles and responsibilities of in-house counsel are expanding around the world,” noted Giuseppe Marletta, Managing Director, Europe at ACC. “That is why ACC is always pursuing both global and regional partnerships in order to find innovative ways to add value for our members and meet their common professional and business interests.”
The partnership landscape going forward
As international associations emerge from the pandemic, partnerships will remain critical to helping them advance their missions and sustain relevance in what will remain difficult times.
“Partnerships will be key to success for international associations going forward,” concluded Steven Basart, Vice President, Asia for Kellen. “Technology, regulatory developments, and the need for flexible operations to meet local needs will continue to drive the need for associations to think and partner differently around the world as we emerge from the pandemic to continue to meet member needs as they evolve on the ground in real time.”
To execute against this imperative, association leaders need a global mindset that enables them to identify and deliver on mutually-beneficial partnerships that create shared value for both members and society more broadly.
“For associations, the key to surviving and thriving in our ever-changing world is the ability to give voice to their diverse communities and create value with individuals and organizations from other countries,” counsels Şirin Köprücü, principal of StrategicStraits, Inc. “An informed global mindset can improve the results, creativity, and trust-building capacity that international associations need in 2021 and beyond in light of interconnection, rapid change, and disruption.”