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Organizational Change
Is Your Industry or Professional Association Asleep? And If So, What Can You Do About It?

The future suggests that successful sectors and professions will rethink their inward-looking mandates to embrace a stronger role in creating value for not only their members, but for society and their stakeholders. A new report uncovers a range of compelling opportunities for associations that make this pivot.

As society emerges from the global pandemic, everything is changed. Among the changes that trade, industry and professional associations are grappling with are the new realities for themselves and their members. As we hurtle through the 21st century, the sectors and professions that built our global economy are encountering a chasm, requiring a leap of faith into the future. Global social and environmental tectonic forces are reshaping the risks and opportunities industries and professions face as the associations that represent them steward the success of their organizations and members. To foster sector and professional resilience and relevance for the turbulent times ahead, associations representing professionals and organizations must re-tool their toolboxes — or face irrelevance and potential demise.

Leading associations understand this and update their value propositions for the new reality. The future suggests that successful sectors and professions will rethink their inward-looking mandates to embrace a stronger role in creating value for not only their members, but for society and their stakeholders. While the primary task of associations will remain to serve their members — increasingly, serving their members will come to be redefined as “serving society.”

This research paper and its companion report shed light on this pivot. It sets out to answer the question:

“What role can associations play to help their members accelerate a just and sustainable future?”

Commissioned by the Canadian government, the report uncovers the following opportunities for associations:

  • Opportunities for all: Associations of any size and type have many opportunities to engage members on sustainable practices to help them manage risks and seize opportunities for the future.

  • Visionary benchmark: Associations can benchmark themselves along a continuum – from basic to strategic to visionary and finally to social purpose – to determine where they want to go and how to address gaps.

  • Strategic input: The actions contained in this report can help inform an association’s strategic plan and identity.

  • Overcoming barriers: The main barriers of limited resources and budget, and of member interest and capacity, can be overcome.

  • Business case exists: There is a strong business case for advancing member social and environmental performance — including managing risk, building resilience, enhancing public trust, fostering innovation, addressing stakeholder expectations, growing the sector/profession and showcasing leadership.

  • Roadmap exists: Sustainability practices can be laid out along a continuum of timing, effort and impact, to help associations identify gaps and opportunities and develop a roadmap for moving forward.

  • Societal purpose: An “Association ESG Strategy Roadmap” reveals an opportunity for associations to rethink their core purpose beyond serving members to include serving society — in which they help their sectors and professions uncover their societal reason for existence and clarify the greater good they can contribute to advance society on a sustainable path.

As for you, find out the associations where your organization and colleagues have paid memberships. Find out if anyone from your organization is on the board. Share this research with these associations and recommend they address the insights in their upcoming strategic planning process. There is no excuse for inaction. The science is clear, the roadmap and business case exist, and barriers can be overcome. Every year that associations delay is a year their profession and sector fall further behind — putting themselves, their memberships and society at risk.

Do what you can to encourage associations and their members to review these findings and engage boards and memberships on the questions it contains. In so doing, the sectors, industries and professions that make the economy tick will be put on a more viable path for one and all.


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