Feature

Resilience & Reinvention in Dubai

Now in its third year, the Dubai Association Conference gathered about 180 delegates from 14 countries, including 25 hosted association leaders from outside the Gulf region. The 2-day programme, which took place on the very site of World Expo last February, included a full day of keynotes and workshops. The second day was dedicated to the visit of the many pavilions of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Words Remi Deve

Themed ‘Associations and the New World: Resilience & Reinvention’, the Dubai Association Conference was organized by the Dubai Association Centre (DAC), which acts a gateway to the world’s fastest growing economies — offering an ideal setting for global associations to expand within industries and sciences across the Middle East and beyond.

Partnering with the American Society of Association Executives, it brought together Dubai-based associations together a VIP group of 6 top association executives, led by ASAE President and CEO Michelle Mason. The programme curated by GAHP International Advisor Martin Sirk, with the support of Geneviève Leclerc, of #Meet4Impact, and Tommy Goodwin, of the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance, was designed as a combination of plenary sessions and breakout workshops featuring lively interactivity and plenty of engagement opportunities. There was also plenty of time for participants to exchange perspectives, best practices and cutting-edge ideas.

Strategic thinking

The conference kicked off with two plenary sessions. During the first one, the founders of the Dubai Association Centre, H.E. Hamad Buamim, President & CEO, Dubai Chambers, and H.E. Helal Al Marri, Director General, Department of Economy and Tourism and Director General, Dubai World Trade Centre Authority, updated the audience on the progress made at DAC, which now hosts over 80 associations. This success is largely due to the strategic alignment of Dubai Association Centre with the economic development priorities of Dubai: associations are viewed as vital contributors to Dubai’s growing economy as they help not only with capacity building, knowledge exchange, attracting talent but also with advancing Dubai’s agenda in healthcare and sustainability for instance.

The session was followed up with a chat-show format discussion where speakers built on what was said before, explaining how associations have been playing a critical role in influencing Dubai’s policymaking and strategic thinking.

There were also plenty of opportunities during the day for small group discussions – designed as ‘Learning Labs’ – on varied topics such as association membership, risk management, event design, business models, leadership, event legacies and more. Take-aways occupied almost the whole spectrum of association management which would be impossible to report on in this article. They included – among many other things – tips to improve the measurement of the positive societal impact of association events, advice on how to work more efficiently with boards, or identification of the challenges and the positive opportunities from creating effective DEI strategies within an organization.

Must-attend event

Magdalena Mook from the International Coaching Federation, who participated in a panel titled ‘Risky business for risk-averse associations’, put it like this: “The Dubai Association Conference offered associations like myself an ideal platform to learn, connect and exchange with their peers. I enjoyed it very much. But it’s also a great opportunity for Dubai to present its competitive advantages, starting with its ability to host large events at Expo 2020. I really think it’s a must-attend event for executives and decisionmakers from from around the world.”

Previous editions of the Dubai Association Conference have explored key themes and priorities for associations, attracting experts from around the world and building momentum behind Dubai’s growing status as an association hub. The inaugural event in 2017 successfully established the conference under the theme ‘Building a Community’ while the second edition in 2019 built a compelling programme around the theme ‘Driving change: The societal impact of associations’.

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