Conference Design

Growing with the Washington International Association Forum (WIAF)

26th October 2022

After successful editions in other association hubs, including Brussels and Geneva, the ASSOCIATIONWORLD foundation launched its very first US-based initiative in Washington last week. Gathering nonprofits, professional societies and trade organizations, the WIAF focused on growth and internationalization.

Words Remi Deve

That was a bit the sentiment that pervaded the Rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center where most of the sessions of WIAF took place last week: if Washington is rightly considered as a gathering place of American and international associations, there are not many opportunities for them to exchange best practice and to meet with their peers. WIAF provided a platform to do just that, and associations that were present clearly took advantage of the Forum.

Themed ‘A World in Motion: Taking the Discussion on International Developments to the Next Level’, the Forum took a step back to look at all the mega trends influencing the need for associations to grow globally and provided a wide range of – sometimes deep-dive – case studies.

The first day started with a panel discussion on Good Governance, led by Nikki Walker, Global Vice President Engagement – Associations & Communities at MCI. If she acknowledged that there is “no magic model for associations”, she also recognized that the way towards good governance can be long and winding. If fact, it took the  Association for Supply Chain Management 12 years to get it right. “It has to do with the fact that we merged with many other organizations in the process,” said CEO Abe Eshkenazi.“And that we always take time to do a self-assessment: does our governance model really reflect the industry we represent?”

This was followed by a presentation on how to implement a global brand strategy. during which Kirsten Suto Seckler, Chief Marketing Officer, Shatterproof and former CMO of Special Olympics International, unveiled the building blocks of a strong brand and what to be cautious about especially if you do business in many different (cultural) areas of the world.

High engagement level

Sessions where the audience could engage were also a favorite. Marjorie Anderson, Founder, Community by Association, explained that if business models may appear very different on the surface, and use the very different terms “member”, “customer” and “community”, many of the core principles for building engagement, trust and long-term business viability are in fact universal. The idea is, in the long run, to strategically utilize community to deliver long-term member value and engagement, adding to the benefit of your overall membership and association.  

The Factum Global-led conversation on cultural awareness and how to avoid missteps in emerging markets proved to be quite intense, as everybody shared stories of cultural differences that had to be overcome to achieve sucesss. This was followed by a case study presented by Dr. Jaime “Jim” L. Diaz-Granados, Deputy CEO at the American Psychological Association, who managed to put everything in context, saying “It’s one thing to have an international strategy, it’s another thing to have a global perspective.”

ASIS International provided a deep-dive into their region-by-region global strategy. Susan Mosedale, Chief Global Member Engagement Officer, and Colm Clarke from Exempla, ASIS’ partners in Europe, shared the lessons learned as they outlined the various models and the rationale behind ASIS’ operational tactics. “You have to look beyond ROI, at ROE or return on engagement,” said Susan. “If some activities, benefits and products that you offer your members in different regions of the globe don’t bring the financial income you hope for but help you appear as a thought leader, this is what counts. At some point, your strategy has to stem from all the opportunities that are presented to you.”

All in all, the fact that WIAF tried to move away from the theory was praised by participants. “Moving from the theory, making it practical and sharing real life scenarios that worked and didn’t work for other associations, this is what I found particularly interesting,” concluded Elissa Myers, Chief Executive Officer, Advice & Consensus and Academy for Eating Disorders.

The next event organized by ASSOCIATIONWORLD will be BIAF, on 12-13 December in Brussels.

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