I was in Dubai last week as one of the invited international panellists of the 1st Dubai Association Conference organized by the Dubai Association Centre (DAC), a government-initiated entity established by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Dubai Business Events (part of the Department for Tourism and Commerce Marketing), and the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).
The conference, held on December 11 and 12 at the DWTC, drew over 300 attendees from around the world. It served as a platform for dialogue and education for associations interested in exploring opportunities in the Middle East and contribute to building an association community that drives the knowledge economy in the United Arab Emirates
Themed “Building a Community: Dubai 360°,” the program was developed to see Dubai in its entirety—from business to culture to heritage and entertainment—and to bond with other associations, both local and international, as well as with academia, tourism and government agencies.
I was in a panel of fellow CEOs representing “associations of associations” globally—the African Society of Association Executives (based in South Africa), the European Society of Association Executives (Brussels) and the American Society of Association Executives (Washington, D.C.), all CEOs of different associations in their respective countries. I represented the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE) and the Asia-Pacific Federation of Association Organizations (APFAO).
The panel topic was on sharing experiences, challenges and resources of associations of associations as they put together and engage in one platform all member-serving organizations in their jurisdictions. One of the questions asked was the resources needed to achieve success.
I contributed the following formula:
People (Good Board Governance + Effective Management + Volunteer Engagement) + Collaboration + Revenue Generation = Sustainable Association
People—An association is only as good as its people resources—the board (governance), management staff (day-to-day operation) and volunteer members (committees and task forces). Able leadership on two levels—board and management—is essential to develop and implement programs and services to members. Engaged volunteer members provide additional help and resources to the organization.
Collaboration—Partnerships and alliances are also resources that associations can tap to “multiply” what they are currently doing. Working together with like-minded institutions build a larger community and expand the “power of collaboration” to undertake more activities. Extending even further to creating a broader “ecosystem,” i.e., outside the association community (nonmember service users and customers, sponsors, academia and government) provide many more opportunities for associations to grow.
Revenue generation—While associations are not-for-profit organizations, it does not mean that they should not have enough funds and reserves to sustain themselves during downturns and uncertainties. Diversifying revenues by not only relying on annual membership dues, as well as maintaining a reasonable surplus, are critical inputs for sustainability.
I crafted the above formula based on my experience. It is also applicable to any association wanting to grow and be sustainable. As for Dubai, I think it has found the formula to build an association community through the Dubai Association Centre, which acts as a one-stop facility to assist associations to come together in the emirate to meet, exchange knowledge and network
The column contributor, Octavio “Bobby” Peralta, is concurrently the secretary-general of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP) and CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE). PCAAE enjoys the support of ADFIAP, the Tourism Promotions Board, and the Philippine International Convention Center.
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