The Secretary General’s Voice
– How to Stay Humble

A member of Boardroom Advisory board, Mohamed Mezghani has been appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in January. Boardroom has asked him to contribute a monthly column in which he explains all about the challenges of holding such a position. This is Mohamed’s eighth contribution, in which he reflects on how to stay humble

Over the last weeks I had the opportunity to visit many of our members and establish formal cooperation agreements with sister associations. It is so exciting and encouraging to see how much these members value their belonging to UITP. I am received with the honours and feel the importance they see in these visits and the attention we bring to them. The same goes for partner associations: they are so eagerly willing to join forces with us, which is obviously reciprocal. It also indicates high expectations that we’ll have to answer to. This had made me reflect on the reasons of such treatment and the desire to get close to us.

First, I think our diversity and global dimension which make us a credible representative of our industry has everything to do with it. We represent all stakeholders in all continents. How many trade associations represent the whole eco-system with a multiplicity of member profiles who may sometimes have opposite interests and must go beyond their corporatist positions? How many of them have offices spread all over the world? Though we are in the era of digitalisation and online communication, geographical proximity is still an asset. In many regions, members want easy access to our team, to call us up instead of emailing us, so we can meet them when needed and develop informal relationships with them…

Face-to-face meetings are the only way to gain trust in many situations and this is made possible by a large network of offices and by visiting members as often as possible. Members also see an acknowledgement of their achievements in these visits, and a strong support by a global organisation. The challenge is to express this support while avoiding interference in local affairs, in particular when the political dimension is so important especially in public transport.

Then there is the credibility we inspire by the quality of our services, the relevance of our policy positions, and the continuous focus on monitoring trends and the integration of them into our work programme. Being rooted in the current reality of the sector and, at the same time, a forward-looking organisation is a strong objective that drives our work. We are not a research institute nor a prospective consultancy but we must answer the short-term business concerns of the members while increasing their awareness on the longer term trends impacting the sector.

It’s also about caring about members whatever their request and their expectation. It’s about adopting a service-minded approach in our daily relationship with them. We shouldn’t forget that belonging to an association is not their core activity, and they don’t usually have time to understand all our services and benefits. They expect us to guide them and help them navigate through our service packages, to anticipate their needs, to advise them, to make their involvement easy and smooth. We have our own jargon and our own ways of organising work within the secretariat, we shouldn’t bother them with those but speak their language and look at our services from their perspective. And we do that for all members regardless of their annual subscription. At UITP we are proud to have a ‘one member, one vote’ policy.

Being diverse, credible, and equitable and remaining available for our members strengthen the association and make it more relevant. But whatever the honours we are received with, we shouldn’t forget that the association is first and foremost made up from our members, and operates thanks to them. Our role is a facilitator. So let’s stay humble.

Picture: Alinur Aktas, Mayor of the City of Bursa and Councilor of Marmara Municipalities Union (Turkey) and Mohamed Mezghani signing a collaboration agreement to launch a UITP Training Centre in Istanbul

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