Successful event in Brussels

By Clara Fernández López, External Relations Manager, Union of International Associations (UIA) and Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the International Youth Library Foundation

Around 150 participants at the 17th Associations Round Table – Brussels, organized by the Union of International Associations at the Hotel Marriott Grand Place on 24 November 2023 enjoyed a stimulating programme and saluted the event as another UIA success. The enthusiastic attention to the workshops and talks, and the lively conversation of networking in the breaks, reflected how much we have missed these exchanges and how glad we are to see each other in person again. The UIA is delighted by this response to our invitation.

The UIA thanks Premier Partner Destination Canada for its support, and also Partners VisitBrussels and Korea Tourism Organization, as well as OIC Group for collaboration in this event. The Hotel Marriott provided an excellent setting: the ballroom and breakout rooms were ideal for the plenary session and workshop groups, staff were helpful, and appetising food was efficiently served at every break.

The opening talk by UIA President Cyril Ritchie continued the theme of ‘Politics, War, Peace, Associations’ which he called ‘Chapter 2’, following the interest expressed after his keynote speech at the Round Table in Rotterdam, bringing up to date the situation in so many troubled regions of the world and stressing the planet’s need for the work of associations. Daniel Laqua chaired a discussion started by the people round each table introducing themselves and how their associations related – or not – to the United Nations agencies (there are many more than just the best-known), and continuing with some of them reporting to the whole audience on their experiences, which varied greatly.

To give an idea of the topics of their workshops, the speakers gave a brief overview of each, encouraging members of the audience to attend, but also showing how difficult it would be to choose. After a short coffee break participants joined their selected presentation. It was remarkable that each leader had a different style of approaching his or her subject yet all the workshops were great sources of ideas and information.

Sustainability has become a preoccupation of most conference organizers, and the ’10 small changes’ suggested by Virginie De Visscher of Destination Canada provided suitable sources of reflection, underlining the way decisions can be made. She shared – and encouraged others to suggest – ways to juggle the association’s principles and communication of its message while thinking about reduction of waste, budget limitations and use of existing resources, all important considerations nowadays.

Associations must also consider their strategy in trying to accomplish the mission they have set themselves. Help was at hand from Chloé Menhinick, Association and Legacy Advisor, explaining how to retain the present members, attract new recruits and generally ensure members are actively engaged with the organization. Frédéric Destrebecq shared his considerable experience with the European Brain Council on capturing value in an association, questioning its nature and purpose in order to understand whether it is achieving the benefits it seeks to provide.

The relations between NGOs and associations and the United Nations were the subject for Cyril Ritchie’s workshop, as he shared his lifetime of expertise in this field by discussing how such relationships could be established and maintained. Creating partnerships was also in Ryan Brubaker’s workshop topic when, as Web and Database Developer at UIA, he elaborated on the UIA’s Global Civil Society Database and how it could be used to the advantage of international associations.

Associations may need to cooperate with each other in order to work effectively, and Marijke Roelants, of BoldLAW, gave realistic and practical advice on writing legal contracts appropriately fitting the intended operation and conditions of an alliance for the success of the venture. Along with their legal position, value added tax is another constant concern of associations, and Philippe Noirhomme and Andreia Freitas of European VAT Desk reviewed and clarified this difficult subject, recently made more convoluted by the proliferation of webinars and virtual activities.

Olga Lukina and Juan Simoes Iglesias had a younger generation in mind for their workshop. From YMCA Europe, with thousands of volunteers and 37 national organizations, Olga and Juan encouraged associations to involve young people in their aims and activities. They had an important message for all of us on nurturing trust, quoting Ernest Hemingway: ‘The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them’.

The programme closed with a reception at Belgian Beer World, as participants left with old friendships renewed, new contacts created, and inspiring ideas to put into effect.

The UIA is looking forward to the 18th UIA Associations Round Table Europe, which will be held in Florence on 14 and 15 November 2024, and to the 19th edition in 2025, returning to our home city of Brussels.

This text is part of UIA's World of Associations
Issue #7 – December 2023