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‘Reflections and the Future of Associations’


After three months of attending the weekly “Strengthening Associations Series” webinars of the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE), I made sure not to miss the last one on June 24, 2020.

Entitled “Reflections and the Future of Associations,” it featured a special C-suite panel composed of Australian Dental Association Federal CEO Damian Mitsch, Restaurant & Catering Industry Association Australia CEO Wes Lambert and Australian Property Institute CEO Amelia Hodge.

AuSAE CEO Toni Brearley facilitated the conversation and deep-dive discussion into the road to recovery for associations in Australia.

Though Australian-focused, these takeaways will also resonate with associations in the Philippines. This situation may be applicable to associations everywhere.

1.  Resilience—The pandemic has impacted associations in terms of cancellation of major events and their ability to deliver face-to-face training programs and networking events. However, associations have adapted swiftly and made quick decisions on the use of technology to reach out to their members’ needs and aspirations. We use “technology on steroids,” one panelist commented. 

2.  Members first—Instinctively, members are first on the minds of association leaders. “You’ve got to be in the trenches with them,” said one panelist. “You’ve got to be with your members in crisis,” said another. Boards and management teams worked together to serve members wanting to seek solutions to their own problems and to fill their hunger for connection during these trying times. “Service was fast and furious,” another panelist commented.

3.  Continuous collaboration—Working with other associations, while being done before, became more pronounced during the pandemic. Associations leverage on synergies and economies of scale to mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis and move onto the next stage: recovery and rebound.

4.  Entrepreneurial innovation—Another positive result of the crisis is associations’ ability to become experts and problem solvers. Associations have also begun working on different revenue channels to accomplish their mission. “There is no turning back. It is not the time to be saying, ‘when can we go back to the old way and how we used to do it’,” noted one panelist.

5.  Flexibility—Whether it’s the way they deliver value to their members or how they have invested in their people, associations have become agile, lean, and fast-moving. “Workplace flexibility is here to stay,” said one panelist. Associations have proven that they can all work productively and successfully from home.

The panel’s final thought: “Let’s not take our foot off the pedal just yet. We keep hearing this, but associations have never been more important than they are now. This period of time has highlighted to members, non-members, and the broader community the pivotal role that associations play to advocate and be the single source of truth for entire professions. We should use this time and harness this attention to continue to provide meaningful solutions to member problems.”

Aren’t these what associations here are saying and experiencing, too?

The column contributor, Octavio “Bobby” Peralta, is concurrently the secretary-general of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific and the Founder & CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives. PCAAE is holding the Associations Summit 8 on November 25 and 26, 2020 with the theme, “Leading with Agility.” The two-day virtual event is supported by Adfiaf, the Tourism Promotions Board, and the PICC. E-mail [email protected] for more details on AS8.

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