After coronavirus: a new dawn for international associations?

COVID-19 has given international associations a golden opportunity to influence policy and help shape a better future, if we are open to it.

International associations are trusted sources of information, with unparalleled levels of industry knowledge and best practices supported by a global industry network at our fingertips. Having said this, associations can be limited in their effectiveness thanks to old-fashioned governance structures and a myopic view of the role they play.

The opportunity to transform
One of the key roles of an association is to influence policy, but COVID-19 is forcing changes in the way associations operate and think, including becoming more tech savvy, more connected online, more engaging, and more willing to let members decide how they want to engage with them. The pandemic has, in fact, given them an opportunity to transform and modernize.

APSWC example:  The Asia Pacific Spa & Wellness Coalition has launched ‘Ask the APSWC’ for members to voice ideas and raise issues directly with board and fellow members in an open discussion format for immediate comment and feedback.

Cross-sector or cross-specialty collaborations are also being recommended as associations realize how effectively like-minded platforms can influence the external market and add value for their members and industry stakeholders.

APSWC example: Delegates at the APSWC Round Table 2019 in Kuala Lumpur have driven a collaboration with the Agricultural & Food Marketing Association – Asia Pacific (AFMA), amongst others.

This is a time of experimentation for associations, and while some ideas may not work, others could yield a purposeful impact from the work undertaken.

The bigger picture
Associations should not avoid taking an influential role in helping solve societal problems, for example including addressing the environmental pollution caused by a surge in use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Increased mainstream awareness of the critical nature of the major issues that face us offers associations the opportunity to become solution engines and therefore provide genuine assistance to their members.

National governments or individual companies are not going to be able to solve these alone, so international associations that work across borders have a huge advantage.

Agile communicators
If international associations and trade federations can avoid being hampered by cumbersome internal structures and hierarchies that impede quick decisions in our fast-changing world, and instead become agile enough to step up to the plate and positively influence situations in a timely manner, increased success and member engagement will surely follow.

More than ever associations need to be considering how they can engage their members in a way that affects real change. Task forces, where smaller groups of members have a real voice, are ideal. Relying on a board of volunteers who often move slowly, and rarely use the media to full effect will yield few results. It is essential for associations to become more media savvy. 

Meetings with value
Meetings are still the primary platform to engage with members but there is much work to be done here also to ensure that they are more compelling, giving participants a ‘reason to be there’.

It is essential to accept that if meetings aren’t solving problems then there is no reason for that meeting to exist. There is hope, though, as associations become better at communicating the impact of the events they hold, utilizing metrics that are able to measure ‘problems solved’.

Based on article by James Lancaster, published on 17/07/2020 at

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