Give Your Meeting Global Flavor With a Guest Nation Program

Some associations offer guest nation programs at their conferences as a way to highlight and celebrate how a particular country is contributing to the industry. Is that approach right for you?

Have you ever heard of Little Passports?

It’s an educational subscription service for kids. They receive a package each month that introduces them to geography and teaches them about different countries.

I’ve been hearing commercials for the service s on NPR for a while now, and thanks to my friend’s daughter, I finally got to see one in real life. I have to say it was pretty cool.

Her package was all about Japan. It included a letter from her two pen pals, Sam and Sofia, which chronicled their adventures in the country, along with stickers, photos, a souvenir, and activity sheets. She could go online to what Little Passports calls the “Boarding Zone” and play more games. It was fun and educational at the same time.

This Japan-focused package got me thinking about how an association’s conference presents a great opportunity to highlight its industry’s global impact and the professionals who are leading the way in other parts of the world—outside of the traditional international-focused networking receptions or lectures.

That’s when I stumbled upon the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ Guest Nation program. Since 2005, AAOS has celebrated a different country at its annual meeting “to foster greater recognition and awareness of the contributions made to the practice of orthopaedics by orthopaedic surgeons from around the globe and to enhance the robust international flavor and excitement of the AAOS Annual Meeting.”

Among the activities that take place: The president of the country’s national orthopaedic society speaks during the opening ceremony, scientific posters featuring research from the country are displayed, and lectures and symposia include speakers from that country.

At this year’s conference in March, Italy was the guest nation and was represented by the Italian Society of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, which had more than 250 members attend. In 2019, AAOS will celebrate the Republic of Korea and the Korean Orthopaedic Association.

And AAOS isn’t the only group with program like this. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has its own guest nation program, as does the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society.

It appears that the practice of selecting a guest nation for a conference is more common at medical meetings than at other industry events. And that makes sense, given the emphasis that medical meetings often have on sharing the latest industry research and techniques from around the world.

However, that doesn’t mean that nonmedical conferences couldn’t try something similar. If you’re not yet ready to take the Guest Nation approach, you might start smaller and simpler. That could mean offering a content track that highlights industry research and leaders from a specific country, or you could host a small delegation from a particular country so they can get a feel for how the industry works in the U.S. (or wherever else you’re based).

Alternatively, if you’re looking to help your own members share their knowledge around the globe, you can take a cue from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s International Speaker Program [ASAE member login required]. ISP awards up to $5,000 to select members who present at meetings around the world. In doing so, NATA hopes to raise awareness for the association and profession at large.

Has your association ever selected a guest nation for its conference or highlighted another country in a unique way during an event? Please share in the comments.

(Easyturn/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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