European Association Summit – 10 editions of constant evolution

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[EAS 2020 session / Eric Danhier]

The European Association Summit has celebrated its 10th edition. A gathering aimed at education, networking, and discovery keeps being a strong signal that Brussels is the world’s capital of international associations and that it is a perfect ground for fruitful projects and connections.

Jan Lichota is the editor of business tourism communications at visit.brussels.

The 10th edition of the European Association Summit (EAS), recently held on 3-5 May 2022, has confirmed with its content and participation the various changes that have occurred in international and European associations over the last decade and in the Brussels Capital Region itself.

A conference that keeps up with the times

With its initial editions held as an addendum to another event, the conference has grown over time and established itself as its own landmark. Combining EU elements with association internal aspects or Belgian legislation, as well as topics common for various organisations such as communications, events management or governance, it has gained a character going beyond its long-standing approach of an “event for associations, by associations”.

The conference has been organized since its inception by visit.brussels, the Brussels regional agency responsible for tourism and culture promotion. Among its founding partners have been key organizations representing the association community – the Union for International Associations (UIA), the European Society of Association Executives (ESAE), and the Federation of International and European Associations in Belgium (FAIB).partners, at different editions, have also joined other key players within the association community, like Meetings Professional International (MPI), PCMA, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), and AssociationWorld.

The conference is also closely linked to the partnership Brussels has within the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), where Brussels, Dubai, Singapore, and Washington DC show their expertise and service quality towards international associations. Those cities are the main regional hubs for association headquarters in their respective regions, and Brussels is even number one in terms of association headquarters globally.

With a slogan adapting to key matters for associations every year, the conference has put together a format combining case studies from associations from all horizons (e.g. education, petrochemicals, food, legal, social aid, medical, fire safety) that could inspire the participants in their own activities. Whether it was a communications campaign, a board management item, or a human resources aspect, the variety of topics never felt short, thanks to constant changes in the real world, where associations are not just observers, but drivers of policy and actions.

The conference has also benefited from academic input in its programme, with the Solvay Business School (and its Executive Master in International Associations Management) or with Henley Business School at its last edition, as well as various law firms based in Belgium with tailored-made services for international associations and the non-profit sector.

Keynote speakers have been personalities representing EU bodies, such as the European Commission think tank or the President of the Committee of the Regions, or representing associations like the President of the European Broadcasting Union (yes, the one organising the Eurovision Song Contest, among others, but it is an association, too).

Changing needs and skills 

The spectrum of associations has changed and their work as well. Besides being seen in the conference content over time, the phenomenon has also been reflected in the discussions present in various webinars held during the coronavirus pandemic.

The managerial skills, advocacy, communications, executive bodies and office management for organisations which operate at a global level have to undergo a change in various aspects. Whether from an organizational, legal, or soft skills standpoint,The development of new training programmes, communities of practice or enhancing the exchange among peers may be the only beneficial way of having associations adapted to the challenges that shape the global reality.

As observed during the EAS’22 edition, associations are re-defining their financial model and their governance to guarantee their sustainable existence, serve their members and their cause, and get into purpose-driven alliances with a larger societal aim.

A place that shapes its character with associations 

Associations are part of Brussels’ DNA. The city has evolved steadily and has always been home to local craftsmen’s guilds, social organizations, and scientific societies. For over a century, it has also benefited from a special legal status for international associations and currently hosts more than 2400 international associations’ headquarters.

Based on the presence of EU institutions and other 40 international organisations, this large representation is also spread around the whole city, with its focal points in the EU district and in the Louise business district area. Recent and upcoming urban development have also had a beneficial impact on the office structure and the association employees’ working conditions.

Thanks to hosting international organisations as well as being a major diplomatic, international press, and freelancer hub, Brussels has the perfect setup for connections and international development.

Besides assistance to event organisation, dedicated support services continue within the range of visit.brussels. From practical toolkits about taxation, safety and legal aspects to a brand-new concept of site inspections, the associations team looks after the various matters that drive the international associations’ community life in Brussels.

With the European Association Summit, the city’s seasonal discovery programme run by visit.brussels and regular events organised by association organisations, associations can quickly grow their knowledge, capacities and network, thanks to the ease with which they can exchange with their peers.

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