Assessing Associations

Event Africa Contributor 08/02/2019 Business Events Made Easy

Are associations and secretariats of use on the African continent? Natasha Skoryk reports.

“While associations have in the past largely been a source of networking and a single voice within their respective industry sectors, today they play a far greater role in ensuring a common approach to issues that affect the broader business events industry,” says Greg McManus, the chairperson of Event Greening Forum (EGF), a non-profit organisation promoting sustainability within the business events sector, through hosting educational sessions for industry and lobbying government in an effort to implement sustainability principles into the daily operations of the events industry. “A good example of this is the way in which almost all associations in this sector have adopted the EGF sustainable event standard for the common good.”

Simply put, no association or industry body exists in a vacuum. As the number of associations and secretariats for MICE grows annually, the focus of leadership cannot be devoted solely to helping their own members. Collaboration is vital. Rudi Van Der Vyver, the CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI), puts it succinctly: “We believe that success can only be achieved through effective collaboration and with this in mind we have over the last two years actively been driving more and much closer collaboration within the industry not only between our members but also between industry associations (to cover all niche sub sectors in the industry) and stakeholders alike.”

The general point of associations seems self-explanatory – it is to grow the industry. Strong associations and secretariats point to a growing and thriving industry. Rudi eloquently introduces their purpose as follows: “As associations we are tasked with a few basic deliverables, all of which are underpinned by the main foundational element of creating value to our members and in turn to the broader business events industry within Southern Africa.”

The first of those deliverables, as Rudi notes, is to set a common standard for the industry. “Associations play a vital role within the business events industry, and especially in Africa where our industry is still largely unregulated, with the adherence and buy in of members to the association’s code of conduct. This drives professionalism within the industry and through professionalism and a consistent drive to higher standards and levels of excellence we create organic growth within the industry,” he explains. In South Africa, there can be little recourse for clients who face unprofessionalism, and formal legislation often leaves much to be desired for. However, bodies like SAACI and EGF can step in and ensure that their members deliver consistently at internationally acceptable standards. Their codes of conduct and standards are thus implemented for members and other organisations alike!

“We provide recourse to clients and suppliers within the industry (when role players and specifically members do not adhere to the code of conduct) and here SAACI takes on an informal “watch dog” role by enforcing the code of conduct and driving ethical business practices within the industry,” says Rudi. When companies and suppliers are certified as belonging to a particular association, this leads to trust from customers, and results in organic growth for the industry.

But, of course, associations and secretariats do not exist solely to police hardworking event organisers and other suppliers. “Another large role to be played by associations is that of providing platforms for development, learning, skills transfer and capacity building whether these be on a once-off basis or based on continued learning/development principles,” Rudi adds. This can be through providing workshops and conferences, or through the organisation’s very existing. Greg says: “Perhaps the most relevant value that we have added is in raising awareness of the benefits of more sustainable events, and how the sector can leverage opportunities that now exist in this international trend. We have given most PCOs and organisations an important tool to use –which is one that can attract repeat and new business opportunities.”

Speaking specifically on his own organisation, Rudi tells us: “Our aim is to be a collective voice for our members to tackle industry issues head on, to create and provide more accessible learning platforms and to affect the required change needed within the industry to continuously drive growth for our members and the industry.” For a sector that is still very much growing and developing, those bodies like SAACI are absolutely vital.

Naturally, it’s up to each member to derive benefit from their various association memberships. “For a member to extract maximum value from any association membership it is absolutely vital to be involved,” says Rudi. “Do not sit on the side lines and think business is going to come in by itself just because you have an association membership. The more involved you are the more value you will extract from your membership, so speak to your association, be active and utilise the platforms on offer as much and as widely as possible.”

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