The Agile Asian Association: A Perspective

14th June 2017

Reflecting from Manila, Octavio ‘Bobby’ Peralta argues that Asian associations need to be agile organizations – active, quick to adapt to changes, and business savvy – especially in this age of disruption. To achieve this, Asian associations must strive to be well-governed and professionally managed.

Having been an association executive for the last 25 years (and counting) and having had the opportunity to travel to many countries around in Asia and Pacific and elsewhere because of my work, I can say that I am a living witness to the phenomenal economic growth of the region over the years. With this journey to progress, I also noted how associations have evolved with a sense of purpose and commitment to be part of this development process.

I have also learned quite a bit about associations in the U.S. having been a long-standing member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). So, I could say that in my case, I am fortunate to know about association governance and management from both perspectives of “the east and the west”.

Governance in many associations in Asia, and in particular, in the Philippines, however, has not kept in pace with governance developments elsewhere in both the non-profit and corporate worlds. Most associations in the region adopt the board governed and managed model or so-called “volunteer-run” type unlike the board-management delineated model or “volunteer-driven, staff-run” one that is pre-dominant in U.S. associations and which is in the same mould as corporate governance.

A typical association governance structure consists of the board of directors (or trustees) who are elected by members and who acts in their behalf, committees, task forces, components (or chapters) and staff. In the “volunteer-run” (VR) model, this governance system is undertaken solely by volunteers who are not compensated for their work. The difference between the two models lies in the staff complementation. As contrasted with the VR model, in the “volunteer-driven, staff-run” (VDSR) version, the management staff, headed by a chief staff officer (CEO or executive director) is composed of professionals, i.e., salaried employees.

Based on the study of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), hereunder are some basic differences between the two models.

  • Activity focus – In the VR model, activity focus in associations is built around successful programs and short-term membership services while in VDSR, activities are driven by strategic priorities and professional business planning in a holistic view, with focus on the return of investment (ROI).
  • Strategy positioning – Emerging needs and market opportunities are restrained by lack of resources in the VR model while in the VDSR, resources are proactively planned with a focus on integration and delivery of strategy.
  • People resource availability – In VR, knowledge and talent are not that steady since they are based on volunteer availability while in VDSR, knowledge and talent allocation is planned, recruited and cultivated, hence, knowledge is stored and retrievable.
  • Community dimension – A responsive community with key drivers is how best to describe the VR model while in VDSR, the community is multi-driven by as many in the group.

It is apparent from the above-cited differences that the VDSR model would be a better option to emulate and adopt by associations in this part of the world and this is what the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE) has been advocating on. But this is easier said than done.

Read the rest of the article in the second issue of Boardroom. You can download it here.

Bobby Peralta is presently the Secretary General of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP), the focal point of 106 development banks and other financial institutions engaged in sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region. He is also currently the Secretary General of the World Federation of Development Finance Institutions (WFDFI), the umbrella organization of 328 development banks in 154 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East. With over 25 years of experience as an association executive, Bobby Peralta is a long-standing member of and contributor to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the CEO & Founder of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE).
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