Legacies of Association Events: Two Case Studies

For this first collaboration with Boardroom, part of an exclusive partnership ESAE signed at the end of last year, Jenny Ennis, Meetings Manager, European Society of Sports Traumatology, Knee Surgery and Arthroscopy (ESSKA), and Fanny Senez, Events Manager, International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA) look at two examples of association conferences that have left positive legacies in their host cities.

Legacy is one of the many buzz words thrown around with increased frequency in today’s society, especially in the not-for-profit and associations sectors. But what does leaving a legacy really mean for the events industry? According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, there are many definitions and meanings. Legacy is something that is a part of history or that remains from an earlier time; it is something that is a result of past events; it might relate to money or even property. 

Speaking specifically about events, the first two definitions seem to be the most relevant. However, the economic legacy left by an event, such as the visitors it brings or the revenue accumulated for the host organization, must not be underestimated. The best way to examine the legacy question, of course, is to look at real examples.

Traumatology in Glasgow

An interesting case study is the ESSKA (European Society of Sports Traumatology, Knee Surgery and Arthroscopy) biennial Congress held in Glasgow in 2018. The event attracted over 3,200 international delegates from 101 countries, contributing £5m in direct benefits to the city. This in itself can be considered a legacy to be proud of. However, for ESSKA, legacy was also about creating links to the local community and showcasing the appeal of Scotland as a destination of choice to a new, multi-national audience.

From the start of the bidding process in 2012, ESSKA leadership was impressed by Glasgow’s commitment to sustainability and legacy. Glasgow’s ethos is that events should always leave a positive footprint behind.

Like many associations, ESSKA organized numerous parallel activities during the congress that involved local communities—some of which even extended beyond Glasgow’s city limits.

For the first time, Glasgow Convention Bureau worked with the Glasgow Science Centre to host a special event for members of the public, featuring Professor C. Niek van Dijk, a world-renowned surgeon who has treated international dancers and athletes, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Professor van Dijk shared stories and insight from his career in the hope of inspiring Glasgow’s next generation of medical minds.

Zhanna Kovalchuk, Executive Director of ESSKA,commented: “This was the first time that we have engaged with members of the general public during one of our congresses, which really helped to raise our profile within the city and open up our congress to new audiences. Given that it was Scotland’s ‘Year of Young People,’ we also hope this will have motivated those considering a career in medicine to find out more about our specialty.”

As the gateway to Scotland, 35 ESSKA delegates took advantage of Glasgow’s prime location by participating in a four-day cycling race to raise money to support research led by the ESSKA Foundation. The 377-km “Cycle for Science” challenge took delegates on a tour through the Scottish countryside before returning to the city just in time for the opening of the congress. It was an incredible experience for those involved — locals and visitors alike — and, at the same time, left a positive legacy for the Foundation.

Aileen Crawford, Head of Conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau, said: “ESSKA is a great example of how we, along with our partners across the city, can work with conference organizers to take the subject matter of the conference outside the walls of the convention centre and into the local community.”

Following the success of this legacy left in Glasgow, ESSKA is now committed to ensuring that its future events will always leave a positive legacy, working closely with convention bureaux from conception right through to delivery of the project. ESSKA strives to create deep, sustainable relationships with academic, professional and other communities. It appoints local ambassadors to support them in creating and nurturing such networks, not just during events, but in the long term as well.

Mobile in Barcelona

Avoiding a negative legacy is just as important as creating a positive one. Environmental concern is one such issue that is increasingly taken into consideration by event organizers and associations, usually as part of sustainability programs.

Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) is known in association circles as one of the largest events of its kind, attracting more than 107,000 attendees and over 2,400 companies each year. For years now, event organizers have set up an ambitious Environmental Program where participants can directly contribute by offsetting their carbon footprint, recycling their badge, and minimizing the impact of their travel and on-site participation. The Congress has been certified carbon neutral from 2014 to 2018 and was recognized as “The World’s Largest Carbon Neutral Trade Show” by the Guinness World Records in 2015 and 2016.

On a larger scale, the carbon neutrality program aims to reduce the impact of business on the environment, including at the office. Again, these goals were achieved through strong local partnerships with the city authorities, such as Barcelona City Council, L’Hospitalet City Council and Fira Barcelona.

Meanwhile, an interesting initiative that provides tangible legacy impacts on local social and cultural entities is the MWC Donation Room, where all exhibitors can donate materials from their stands to local socially responsible organisations. In 2018, 31.5 tons of materials were collected and redistributed to 20 selected local organizations.

The Barcelona Mobile Congress is also an interesting case to look at from a population perspective. Not so long ago, legacy programs became a priority in the city following the negative press coverage of residents protesting against the increasing number of visitors that were not just as a result of tourism, but also due to large events.

Legacy may be realistically seen as a future ‘must’ for associations. But if organizers have the budget to lead the way, sometimes supported by consultancies, smaller associations can actually knock at the door of convention bureaux and local authorities to inquire what simple actions can be taken.

The millennial generation entering the association workforce may also play a strong role in the development of new kinds of ‘Association Social Responsibility’ policies. They will undoubtedly help organizations turn their vision and mission into a tangible reality.

Sources: www.mwcbarcelona.com/about/about-the-gsma/environmental-programme/ & dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/legacy

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