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Associations Look to the Future

People sitting around a conference table

Skift Take

Societal transformation and the future of association meetings were the themes an ICCA conference, part of Business Events Industry Week, held in the most apropos setting, ASAE's headquarters.

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) held “The Future of Association Meetings and Societal Transformation,” a half-day conference at the headquarters of ASAE during Business Events Industry Week. The gathering was intentionally intimate and interactive. The plan was to keep it to 70 attendees max. Seventy-five showed up, and all were included.

Speakers highlighted their challenges. There was also plenty of time to share during table chats led by assigned facilitators.

Going Global

The global dynamics of associations was a recurrent theme of the conference. “Associations seem to embrace an international dynamic, and many even mentioned that staying global means staying relevant,” says José Barreiro, ICCA’s regional director of North America, who helped plan the conference. “I loved hearing this because as the person leading the US/North America chapter of ICCA, I’d love to see more global meetings in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.”

Getting and Keeping Members

With a look to the future, ASAE has created a strategy called Destination 2026 with four pillars:

  • Create member value
  • Foster workforce development
  • Elevate associations
  • Enhance culture and infrastructure

Under “foster workforce development,” the focus is on nurturing and developing diverse talent in the community. In addition, an initiative is to expand awareness of association career pathways for current and new audiences.

“Growing membership, engagement, and taking on a greater role in education to support the future leaders of associations and the meetings industry was on everyone’s radar,” says Barreiro.

Bringing All to the Table

A conference highlight was a conversation between Michelle Mason, president and CEO of ASAE, and Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC.

“Both associations and destinations reiterated the importance of all voices being heard and leading by example with minimal negative environmental impact on destinations and the communities they serve and are part of,” says Barreiro.

Mason stressed the importance of having concrete objectives for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. “You can’t measure what you can’t manage,” she said. “Have to be intentional, strategic, and integrated.”

She explained that ASAE has members who attend their conferences with hidden disabilities. “How are we being inclusive for all?” she asked.

In addition, to better serve its members, ASAE hired Maunda Land as senior director of conscious inclusion, focusing on DEI and accessibility.

The Hill We Climb

“Our speakers must be representative of our audience,” said Mason. This year’s ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, held in Cleveland, Ohio, August 10-13, is themed “In Unity, We Thrive.”  The opening keynote speaker is Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. She recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” during President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.

ASAE is also investing in research with the help of Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, to measure the impact of associations. “We are elevating the power of associations telling the positive stories we have,” Mason said.

She added that ASAE experiences the same challenges its members experience. With that in mind, it created an Association Insights Center. Monthly, 40 CEOs meet to discuss topics and the issues impacting them.

The ICCA leadership team, including ICCA President Marta Gomes and ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath, Barreiro and Head of Education and Legacy Programs Ksenija Polla, were in attendance. 

Photo credit: ICCA / ICCA