An Incubator for International Associations? 
by Tony Venables, Director at MAI (Maison des Associations Internationales).
Magnet. In the world of international associations Brussels occupies a very special place, because of the presence here of the European Institutions, which act as a magnet. A less well known but much more significant factor is the special role always played by Belgium in the fore-front of the movement for international associations. The MAI owes its existence to this tradition with 3000 square meters of space available for conferences, permanent and temporary offices, exhibitions or receptions. Associations cover every aspect of our lives and aspirations, but we attract here clusters round certain key sectors, such as health, environment or migration.
A particularly strong point is the alliance of MAI, FAIB and UIA in the same building, providing respectively resources, representation and scientific research. The MAI covers all the needs of international associations for meeting rooms for different purposes and office space. Networking is encouraged by making a common room for tenants available. The FAIB can help associations with issues relating to legal structure and employment in Brussels, whilst advocating on their behalf with the Belgian authorities. FAIB is also an important organiser of study visits and organiser of events on EU affairs. The UIA is a knowledge centre with a more international and broader reach bringing together conveners and experts in the third sector from across the world. Our three organisations are conscious of the need to form an alliance in contacts with the Belgian authorities and look for opportunities to combine forces in other ways.
Since starting to work at MAI last July, I have come to appreciate the potential for development. Above all we have an extremely good and multi-skilled staff, who make this place run flexibly with very satisfied and loyal customers. Nowhere else in Brussels can you find such support and a mix of large-scale conference rooms with interpretation and smaller workshop rooms at affordable prices. The only possible drawback is being outside the "European quarter ", but even that is being overcome with discussions starting to open a welcome office near the EU institutions.
We are working on a two year plan to both improve the facilities available and make them better known in the European quarter and to a much wider audience. A particular feature of this plan is beginning to stand out. Brussels is host to more international associations than any other capital as a result of the two pull factors already mentioned. Our interlocutors in the Region are well aware though that we cannot afford to stand still. An EU going through multiple crises may be less of a pull factor than in the past, whilst cuts in public expenditure have made access to start-up grants more difficult.
The European Union itself is an unfinished project and by definition the world of associations is one of constant change. What is therefore needed is an incubator, for which we have space available. In a recent document an "innovative project?" the Brussels-Capital Region describes its programme to set up half a dozen incubators attached to university research parks for new high-tech enterprises.  Why not one for international associations, which, if one has to put a monetary value on everything, form probably one of the biggest service industries in the capital? To what extent can the model of cooperation with universities be adapted to the needs of international associations? Are there models of best practice for incubating international associations elsewhere or is this a neglected and taken-for-granted area? There is demand for an incubator from organisations and individuals starting a new international association. There can also be demand from international associations established elsewhere and thinking of moving or setting up a European branch office in Brussels. Another category includes those associations already established but which hit a kind of glass ceiling and need to move to the next level where they would have sufficient resources to recruit staff and apply for funds. We are working on that, confident that UIA will be a valuable resource and guide in the process.
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