Leading the Discussion on Positive Change

17th January 2020

It’s hard to name another segment of society that impacts its surroundings more than associations. From setting industry standards to creating new employment opportunities and offering expertise for better policy creation, associations play quite a large role in global society. During the second edition of the Dubai Association Conference, held this past December at the Dubai World Trade Centre, sessions focused on this very topic and how associations can develop core strategies around sustainability to become drivers of social change.

Words Cecile Koch

Geneviève Leclerc of #Meet4Impact served as curator of the conference, which was held under the theme of “The Societal Impact of Associations” and structured around four main pillars: (1) Impact and Legacy, (2) Designing an Impact Management and Measurement Program, (3) Organizational Resilience, and (4) The Art of Collaboration.

Leclerc focused on impact and legacy during her introduction speech by projecting herself into the future, where she looked back in time (to the present) at the birth of impactful acting. She explained how a structural and knowledgeable concept was needed and that slowly, the understanding of the importance of sustainability was being perceived in the global society.

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During her keynote speech, Patricia V. Blake, Chair of the American Society of Association Executives and CEO of Heart Rhythm Society, shed light on examples of projects and activities that associations have created that impact people around the world. 

One particularly interesting panel featured members from different industries and segments who discussed designing an impact management and measurement program. Garance Choke, founder and CEO of CODA Societies, for example, spoke about how her company helped set up better structures for organizations like hospitals, allowing the institution to give more value and impact to patients instead of focusing solely on business and efficiency. 

Bernard Derome, Secretary General of the World Design Association, meanwhile, talked about the impact his association had on the cities they’ve named “World Cities of Design”—cities that have incorporated the concept of ‘better design’ in their day-to-day organization, which goes far beyond aesthetics. 

One way an association can have an impact is switching from using plastics to finding solutions for the waste of plastics. Guy Bigwood, Managing Director of the Global Destination Sustainability Index, addressed the urgency of tackling sustainability issues and how cities can help improve the situation. 

Sustainably Focused 

In 2015, the UN launched one of its most ambitious goals: a 2030 blueprint for a better world. Designed with the help of businesses, not-for-profits, governments and civil society, the 2030 Agenda mapped out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).  However, during one session on the topic, only a few associations in the audience said they had actually implemented some of the SDG’s in their mission.  

AmpUz’s Avla Bajwa, a board member of the United Nations Global Compact for the UAE chapter, explained that the 17 SDGs can be broken down into smaller pieces so associations don’t feel as overwhelmed at first. But to be successful, the goals have to be part of an association’s overall strategy. During one of the learning labs, Guy Bigwood led a TED-style presentation emphasizing the importance of applying the SDGs. Destinations in the meetings industry are already starting to understand their role in this matter, and now it’s time associations integrate these goals into their mission statements as well.  

This article was written by Boardroom Managing Director Cecile Koch. The right to publish it, in parts or in full, has to be granted by the Publisher.

Leadership & Governance

As society evolves, associations will have to be flexible with their human resources policies to support (and accept) innovation and transformation. During a panel on tackling the future of associations, delegates heard from Barbara Ewals, director for Partnerships at the International Society of Geriatric Oncology; Caroline Stockmann, CEO of the Association of Corporate Treasurers; and Senthil Gopinath, CEO of ICCA. The trio discussed the impact of having to work with a variety of members’ cultural backgrounds, how to handle a new CEO coming into office, and the importance of mastering different languages, to better understand other cultures and people. The conclusion: show empathy and develop a clear vision for your association’s future. 

Inauguration of Dubai Association Centre’s new offices

The Dubai Association Centre’s New Look

Just before the conference opened, the Dubai Association Centre (DAC) — which counts over 60 registered associations — inaugurated its new offices, located in the heart of Dubai, within the Dubai World Trade Centre complex. The concept is modeled after a co-working space with communal areas to allow for the exchange ideas, in addition to serving as a place where associations can receive the latest updates on what’s happening in the sector. 

“The inauguration of Dubai Association Centre’s new offices is an important step in building a strong association community and further demonstrates our commitment to empowering associations and equipping them to provide leadership,” said His Excellency Helal Al Marri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Dubai World Trade Centre, during the inauguration. “Around the world, especially in markets where associations have a well-established presence, we repeatedly see the positive impact associations can have on professional development, training and standards, ensuring their respective sectors and industries are able to effectively support the members  and communities they serve.”

Echoing this sentiment, Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Associations need the right ecosystems in place that can support their success and growth – that is what we are doing with the Dubai Association Centre as we build and grow the association community in the region. Through DAC, we are providing a framework for international and professional associations to establish a presence in the UAE and conduct business in the Middle East.”

Bringing together over 220 local and international participants, the second edition of the Dubai Association Conference proved to be a success. Alison Shamwana, executive director of the International Hepato-Pacreato-Biliary Association, is one example of the congress’ success. “I registered because I was interested in the topics, and I was completely satisfied with the actual content of the conference,” she said.

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