International consulting firm, Factum Global, recently hosted an interactive virtual session which was themed of “Thriving internationally in times of COVID-19 and beyond”. Facilitated by Lee Gimpel of Better Meetings and sponsored by Banna Coffee, the event featured a dialogue with Thomas Smith, Executive Director, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Scott Stuart, CEO, the Turnaround Management Association (TMA).
Participants spoke about their experience in dealing with the 2020 crisis and discussed how they pivoted to position their organizations for international success. Francisco Gomez, Founder and CEO of Factum Global, moderated the dialogue and shared his observations on how visionary associations are embracing the crisis and leveraging digital transformation to reach new markets internationally. The event offered plenty of insights. The stories shared during the session can serve as inspiration for any association executive interested in best practices for operating internationally without getting on a plane!
The American association industry has arguably been traditionally looked at as a local industry to the United States. While many organizations have pursued international initiatives over the years, few have done so with a strategy in place and even fewer with the objective of growing their reach beyond their home market in a sustainable way. Over the last few years, however, associations have started to explore international strategic growth. Some have done so because they have saturated their home market, many are doing it because their industry is becoming increasingly international, and others are pursuing new markets to diversify their sources of revenue and membership. Regardless of the motivation, a trend has emerged during the last few years and associations have been crossing borders.
As the industry navigates this international trend, another movement has emerged. Many associations have been realizing the importance of investing in technology to better understand and serve the needs of its members, manage costs, engage new audiences, and even protect the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this digital transformation trend.
Missing an opportunity
While visionary organizations such as the Turnaround Management Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers welcomed the opportunity to embrace change, adopt new technologies, eliminate obsolete offerings, invest in new product development and potentialize their international initiatives, many associations struggled, some are still wrestling with the challenge, and some decided to stop their international efforts all together and focus on their home market. While this protectionist approach is understandable – and may be right for some – many might be missing an opportunity to re-imagine their business and membership models and position their organizations for international success.
This event provided a space for executives to share their experiences and open people’s minds to the idea that exploring international opportunities might just be the solution to the challenges presented by this crisis. With the world going virtual, geographical boundaries become less relevant and the prospects are endless. As Tom Smith said during the session, “A crisis can be the great motivator and accelerator.” In his view, “COVID-19 accelerated things that needed to happen anyway.” He shared that thanks to the organizational changes motivated by the pandemic, ASCE is now positioned to be more sustainable and cost-effective. Furthermore, he believes that the investments in technology have given the organization a chance to engage new audiences that would otherwise not have access to their offerings. From younger people to communities in other countries, technology has profoundly changed the way in which ASCE operates.
Adopting new technologies also had a significant impact in the way that the Turnaround Management Association operates. TMA is also engaging broader audiences and tapping on cost-efficiencies. However, as this transformation created opportunities, it has also generated new challenges. Revenue losses, pricing structures for virtual conferences, the new role of sponsors and ensuring internal capacity are some of the things both TMA and ASCE are dealing with. For Scott Stuart, probably one of the most critical issues is “how to create meaningful experiences in the virtual world.” He says that “finding the balance between education relevance and networking has been top of mind for TMA.” This is how he thinks he can ensure his members get the most value out of the virtual environment.
But embracing change and successfully navigating the crisis is not the end of the road. To the contrary, in the view of these two forward-looking organizations, the work is just beginning. Several challenges await and were discussed during the session. Will the levels of interest and attendance of virtual events be sustained in a post-pandemic world? Will a hybrid model be the answer? What does that do to your costs? What is the role of strategic alliances and partnerships? Will we see association consolidation in some areas? How will associations monetize what they are now giving away for free? Will there be changes to office space and working from home?
To hear Tom, Scott, and Francisco’s views on these topics, click here and access the session recording.