How Associations Can Thrive in the New Global Paradigm

30th August 2021

Let’s experiment with content format: that’s the intention behind this piece by Global Association HubsMartin Sirk and Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance’s Tommy Goodwin. And at Boardroom, we decided to go for it, though the initial reaction was a definite ‘no way, we can’t look like a simple blog post!’ But indeed, if you can't cope with this kind of change to your media consumption, how do you expect to deal with much bigger changes facing your own organization?

Martin Sirk and Tommy Goodwin struggled to compress the huge volume of insights from an online education session they designed for this year’s ASAE annual conference into a traditional magazine article, especially given the wealth of additional ideas generated in pre-event planning sessions with other panel members Elissa Myers from the Academy for Eating Disorders, Alfons Westgeest from global AMC Kellen, and Sylvia Gonner from CultureWiz.

But since the session was concerned with new global paradigm-shifts, Martin and Tommy decided to dispense with the normal conventions of writing articles for Boardroom.  This is the result!

Think different about media articles!

  • Content over style
  • Bullet points versus polished paragraphs
  • Reasoned arguments can take place later
  • Opportunity for readers to respond point-by-point
  • Bite-sized smorgasbord can be tastier than plated banquet!


  • Need to think differently after COVID-19: the world has changed
  • Global development faces economic/political/technological paradigm shifts
  • Courage to think big  not incremental, small-scale change
  • Serious innovation mindset, not just tinkering around the edges
  • Re-examine everything, think differently about everything

1. Think different about risk

  • Can no longer just be a box-ticking exercise
  • Different categories: financial, governance, reputational, geopolitical
  • Risk literacy: importance of risk across the organization (staff and board)
  • Not all risk is bad risk  risk can be positive
  • Example: Global decoupling/geopolitical risk as threat and opportunity 

2. Think different about revenue

  • One big event miss  bankruptcy
  • Need for revenue diversification, but keep mission front and center
  • Nobody wants associations to simply be commercial providers of products and services 
  • Potential revenue is hidden in all your assets: human, tech, events, community

3. Think different about digital 

  • Every association is now a digital-first association 
  • This requires both new skill sets and new mindsets
  • Build and leverage online community  think platforms first
  • Members want to learn from each other, not just the association 
  • Universal applicability can be deployed regionally or country-by-country 

4. Think different about value delivery 

  • Associations need to think like a startup company
  • Transformation mindset constantly required
  • Sensing and responding: associations are good at sensing, but not responding
  • Test and learn, co-create with members and stakeholders
  • Get things into market  perfect is the enemy of good/delivered
  • Constant plan/do/check/act cycles

5. Think different about events

  • Opportunity to re-invent flagship event(s)
  • Hybrid/digital allows associations to engage more globally
  • Conferences and events around the world  chasing the sun, translation, etc. 
  • F2F will be tighter/smaller in the near term, but associations can attract and retain a large audience via digital/hybrid
  • Pay attention to other associations’ experiments & outcomes!

6. Think different about inclusion

  • Involve have and have-nots
  • Think about ability to deliver resources in different locations
  • Economic disparity: price according to World Bank economic zone, but what else?
  • Remember to be inclusive globally… think cultural differences
  • Attune to cultural nuances that allows you to thrive in each location
  • Link diversity and inclusion to national and global, not just local

Tell us what you think!

If you’d like the authors to expand on any of the bullet points, send a mail to Remember this is an experiment: if you don’t like it, shout it out, if you do, send us your feedback.

7. Think different about governance

  • Boards need to be sensitive to a fast-changing environment
  • Board members’ skills/aptitude, not just representation
  • Need for agile governance
  • Need to redefine & challenge understanding of “agile”!

8. Think different about “global”

  • No HQ-driven one-size-fits-all strategy anymore 
  • Coming out of the pandemic, expect big regional/sub-regional/country differences
  • First move advantage will be critical
  • Need boots on the ground  different models (staff, AMC, chapter/volunteers)
  • If members are screaming somewhere, it mustn’t be a whisper when it hits HQ

9. Think different about partnerships

  • The near/medium-term future of global will be regional 
  • Hybrid/regional events, conferences, education, but with whom?
  • Partnerships will be key to achieving global reach amidst logistical hurdles 
  • How can global partnerships help to create something new/better/different?
  • Example: Singapore Fintech Association – 50 partnership agreements
  • Cities can be brilliant partners – if they understand associations

10. Think different about competition

  • Landscape is only going to get more competitive, especially for attention
  • Attention is the new data (data was once the new oil)
  • Need antennae out to see where other associations, interest groups, etc. are going 
  • Next competitor may not be an association… or even know it’s an association today

11. Think different about sustainability 

  • Climate change front and center going forward
  • Will be critical to attendees’ evaluation of meeting opportunities in the future 
  • Embedding sustainability into events, programming, external reporting, etc.
  • Example: European Commission’s recent “Fit for 55” proposal

12. Think different about the role of associations

  • Broken trust in many aspects of life around the world
  • Actively managing reputation and integrity has never been more important
  • Associations are never offstage
  • Associations have to take the lead, members expect it!
  • Society needs associations to form connective tissue amidst disruption and decoupling

This piece is part of the exclusive partnership between Boardroom and the Global Association Hubs, which comes as an innovative response to the increasing decentralization of international associations as they look to develop their activities globally.

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