Associations Creating Impact – Not a Trend, the New Normal

By Maraika Black, Advocacy, Policy, and Public Health Coordinator, European Association for the Study of the Liver:

Health conferences have traditionally focused on actors directly involved in the field – specialists, medical experts, general practitioners, researchers, nurses, and allied health professionals. It has long since been a source of prestige and professional mobilisation for delegates to attend large-scale medical events. Associations have built an entire industry around convening professionals from around the world. Large-scale, international events such as these have bolstered local tourism, facilitated scientific exchange and knowledge dissemination, and supported professional networking. These remain the three major pillars by which a conference’s success is measured; however, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) believes it is vital to shift that perspective to events that are more sustainable, have a stronger emphasis on public health, and focus on connecting with policymakers and media.

In 2022, EASL organised its very first series of impact projects which were delivered alongside the International Liver Congress (ILC) in London, UK. This first iteration of the impact initiatives came in the wake of the EASL-Lancet Commission Report, published in 2020. The report called for a European-wide shift in liver care away from end-stage management and towards prevention and early detection. Chronic liver disease affects 844 million people globally¹ while the UK alone has experienced a 400% increase in liver disease deaths since 1970². Liver disease develops slowly and silently; without signs or symptoms, most people are not aware of their disease until it is too late to treat. These facts, along with the call from the EASL-Lancet report, inspired EASL to take direct action in the city hosting its Congress.

Both in 2022 (London) and 2023 (Vienna), EASL organised several initiatives under the banner of LOVE YOUR LIVER. Three of EASL’s core public health goals are to raise awareness for liver disease, promote liver health through early detection, and attract the best minds to the field of hepatology. These goals formed the foundation for the EASL team to visit local primary schools, set up mobile clinics, provide free certification trainings for professionals, and host multidisciplinary discussions with liver health experts.

Combining impact projects with congresses is a relatively new phenomenon. Few medical or other associations have the time or resources to implement projects beyond the typical four walls of the conference space. Over the last two years, EASL has learned that this perception is just that. In fact, impact projects can accomplish organisational objectives while providing mutually beneficial value for host cities and visiting associations. To the Copenhagen Legacy Lab, the landscape of conferences is clearly changing, and organisers must realise that “congresses of the future need to have long-lasting, positive impact at heart, not solely as a justification to travel and meet, but to augment their contribution to stimulating and driving social and economic change”³.

Professional associations have a unique opportunity to bring their mission and passion for their field directly to the communities they serve. Successful initiatives such as those outlined in the EASL Impact Report 2022 and those in the upcoming 2023 report are grounded in partnerships with local organisations. Impact project implementation relies less on financial resources and more on finding mutual value in the organised activities. In Vienna, EASL operated a mobile clinic which provided over 400 locals with free liver screening and referred more than 40% of participants to their doctors for further action. Hiring certified health professionals to operate expensive liver screening machines for several days is not feasible; however, creating value propositions for these different stakeholders is. EASL partnered with Echosens who provided a Fibroscan™ machine and offered 5 local nurses a free certification course. Those nurses then volunteered their time throughout the Congress to screen interested individuals. This three-way partnership allowed EASL to provide the public with much needed awareness raising for liver health, enabled local nurses to participate in skills training, and afforded Echosens the opportunity to advertise their liver screening device.

‘Hands-on’ sessions were held at the Skills Learning Centre at EASL Congress 2023

Social initiatives are only as impactful as their communications efforts are effective. Mobilising local news outlets, creating highlight videos, and publishing reports are fundamental to pushing projects forward and gaining recognition. The 2022 Impact Report made it possible for the LOVE YOUR LIVER initiative to be disseminated internationally, recognized by organisations such as ESAE, ICCA, and The Iceberg, and to pique the interest of industry leaders keen to get involved and support it.

Impact projects have the potential to directly achieve the missions of professional associations in a rewarding and compelling way. Instead of draining association resources, social initiatives can foster relationship building between organisations and their host cities, open new avenues for fundraising, and ultimately drive change towards more sustainable events. The greatest lesson EASL has learned over the last two years is that organising events without prioritising long-lasting social change is a thing of the past and the future will be forged out of creating more meaningful connections with host cities.


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