Associations sit right at the heart of the legacy debate in business events. During the recent Dubai Association Conference, sessions focused on both the societal legacies they can leave and the strategies necessary to leave them. The emirate itself is a major hub for the sector, having set up the Dubai Association Centre in 2014.

Some conferences are impossible to summarise in just a few short paragraphs, but the following statements overheard during and after DAC’s dynamic and interactive education sessions give a flavour of the event’s intellectual depth and the passionately held views on display:

“Our job as association leaders is to make our members the heroes”.

“Destinations that put associations at the centre of their knowledge economy strategy will be tomorrow’s winners – like Dubai!”.

“You can’t afford NOT to make time for foresighting”.

“If you don’t have a role model to help you achieve your dream, become that role model yourself”.

“If SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals) aren’t part of your association’s strategic vision, you risk irrelevance and extinction!”.

“When we become a truly purpose-driven association rather than concentrating on transactional value, our association gains transactionally as well as ethically!”.

Expertly curated by Genevieve Leclerc of Iceberg partner #MEET4IMPACT, and with a theme that focused on the societal impact of international associations, the conference also included numerous innovative meeting formats and concepts, including headphone-enabled breakout sessions in the main networking area and one-on-one leadership coaching sessions by experts from the International Coach Federation. The friendly atmosphere encouraged lively interaction between hosted association leaders and local executives, including those who have set up offices within the brand-new and super-cool Dubai Association Centre, such as Alaa Al Boali, Managing Director of the Middle East Facilities Management Association, who described how the Centre’s design encourages productive and motivating interaction between association executives, where previously they would have worked in isolation.

Visiting association delegates from Europe and North America, including a high-powered delegation from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), were visibly impressed by the strategic vision behind Dubai’s investment in the association sector. Patricia Blake, Chair of ASAE and CEO of the Heart Rhythm Society, praised the “global mindset” of Dubai’s leadership, and others were “blown away” by the vision and purpose behind Dubai’s 30 year-plus strategy. Dubai aims to become a regional powerhouse in trade, healthcare, science and innovation, tourism and construction, and associations in these sectors are seen as absolutely vital to delivering their strategic goals. His Excellency Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, illustrated this thinking by pointing out that the 65 associations that have currently set up operations in Dubai are simply the tip of the iceberg. Dramatic growth is anticipated over the next five years.

As a member of the Global Association Hubs Partnership, Dubai learns from and collaborates with colleagues in Brussels, Singapore and Washington DC, something that has helped elevate the conference to a new level. GAHP International Advisor Martin Sirk, who designed and moderated a number of education sessions during the conference, said “there has been a dramatic improvement compared to the first edition of Dubai Association Conference two years ago, which featured traditional panels and not very much interactivity. This year’s edition was one of the most innovative events I’ve ever attended, with high energy levels and engagement maintained throughout the programme, whilst the choice of expert speakers, for example a top executive from Expo 2020, and the investment in highly skilled moderators and workshop facilitators were incredibly well received by both local and international delegates. But at its heart, the conference provided the perfect platform to exchange great stories and ideas between the participating association executives, enabling them to recognise shared challenges and opportunities, and to create new solutions for their most intractable problems.”.

The Dubai Association Conference 2019: the societal impact of associations.

The Dubai Association Centre (DAC) itself was established by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dubai Business Events (part of the Department for Tourism and Commerce Marketing) and the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Over the past two decades, Dubai has become the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia headquarters for many multinational organisations, and consequently a growing number of international associations have come together in the emirate to meet, exchange knowledge and network.

DAC offers a formal environment for associations to establish in Dubai allowing practitioners within a common industry or profession who are registered in the emirate to form a member-based association. DAC also provides a framework for international associations to open a regional office in Dubai to conduct business within the UAE and beyond.

The Dubai Association Centre: growing the impact of associations in Dubai.

Leading the Discussion on Positive Change (Boardroom article)

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