Exchange Programs and What They Can Do For Your International Efforts

While not all organizations can offer employees a chance to spend time in foreign offices, overseas work experience can prove professionally and personally rewarding. One association professional shares his experience living and working in London.

Last month Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide announced it was sending a group of its executives to India for a month-long business and cultural immersion.

This is the third time the hotel group has sponsored a relocation trip for employees, with previous trips to China and Dubai, and is intended to offer the executives opportunities to visit and meet with stakeholders in cities throughout India and the South Asia region.

“Rapidly growing markets and a more interconnected world are bringing high-end travelers to new markets like never before,” President and CEO Frits van Paasschen said in a statement. “As a company with operations in over 100 countries, we at Starwood know that there is no substitute for witnessing firsthand this huge transformation.”

From a professional standpoint, it was very enlightening, very illuminating for me in terms of the different perceptions of volunteerism.

A firsthand glimpse into overseas markets is just one of the benefits that exchange programs like this one can provide organizations and their employees. Although somewhat of a luxury afforded to organizations with enough resources to support them, exchange programs can also help employees develop stronger relationships with counterparts in foreign offices, widen staff perspectives, and serve as a motivational tool to reward high-performing employees.

Participating in the CFA Institute’s International Rotation Assignment Program (IRAP) in late 2009, for example, had both personal and professional impacts on Chip Deale, former Head of Society Relations at CFA Institute and now executive director of the National Press Photographers Association.

“I loved the experience so much, and I still have the travel bug in me,” said Deale, who spent several months in CFA Institute’s London office. “From a personal standpoint it certainly had that impact on me, and from a professional standpoint, it was very enlightening, very illuminating for me in terms of the different perceptions of volunteerism.”

Examining different cultural perceptions of volunteerism was the focus of Deale’s trip and, according to him, developing a greater understanding and appreciation for why investment professionals choose to become involved or not was one of the biggest benefits of participating in IRAP.

For example, while the culture of volunteerism may be strong in America, it’s not always the same abroad, Deale said. Investment professionals Deale met with in Copenhagen and Stockholm said they “don’t do volunteerism” because they rely on the government to provide those services, while Ukraine investment professionals wanted to get more involved to build awareness around the investment opportunities available in their country.

“When you sit down with [these professionals] and look at what the culture is and what their motivations are or are not, it perhaps opens your eyes and mind up to greater ways of approaching it,” said Deale, who came away with the question of whether the concept of volunteerism was a question of semantics in different parts of the world. “Rather than calling someone a volunteer, should there be other terms used that might in their minds more accurately reflect what [these professionals] are doing for a particular organization?”

The IRAP experience also had a lasting impact on Deale’s day-to-day work—like how to better balance his time. “One of the realities for a global association is you can’t just do things when it’s convenient for you all the time,” he said. “You have to do it when it’s convenient for your colleagues.”

Working in close proximity to overseas colleagues also helped Deale further professional relationships. “Being able to interact with [staff in the London office] on a day-to-day basis both in and out of the office in a social capacity was beneficial in terms of strengthening the relationship as opposed to phone or videoconferencing,” he said.

For those organizations able and interested in initiating this type of program, Deale shared some advice.

Be mindful of the logistical aspects involved. This includes acquiring visas and tax implications.

“The risk was, if we screwed up, not only would I not be able to do the program and get back into England, but conceivably it could have impinged my future global travel on a wider scale and potentially, even worse case, even negatively impacted CFA Institute’s travel and other staff members’ travel whether to England or other countries,” Deale said.

Have a mission. “What is it you’re hoping to accomplish? What is the purpose?” Deale said. “Is it that this is a nice employee benefit? If that’s the case, then fine. But really what do you hope to accomplish by having this and offering it to your employees? How will it help to advance the office and the constituency that it serves?”

Does your association have any kind of international rotation or exchange program? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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