Should You Consider a Conference Exchange Program?

If you’re looking to expand your attendees’ cultural horizons, it could be time to think about a conference exchange program. Consider the benefits of taking your attendees abroad.

In my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to spend one semester abroad in Germany. On the practical side, it helped me earn credits toward my German minor, but more importantly, it gave me the chance to experience a different culture, explore a new part of the world, and expand my horizons.

Some of those same benefits have led a number of associations to offer international exchange programs of their own. And many are centered on giving members a chance to attend industry conferences in a different country.

For example, the International City/County Management Association’s International Management Exchange Program, which has been around for 40 years, “consists of exchange visits between in-service U.S. members and their counterparts from one of ICMA’s international affiliate organizations.” Participants generally spend two weeks in the locality of the host manager and attend the host association’s annual or other special meeting. They also learn about management practices in their exchange partner’s country through experiencing the day-to-day professional and after-work activities of the host.

“An exchange gives you the opportunity to see how overseas local government organizations—despite differing size, laws, and traditions—do many of the same things you do or plan to do,” said former participant Ewen Hutchinson, who traveled to New Zealand. “You have the time to be involved outside your usual framework and to investigate things you never have time for back home.”

The American Urological Association does something similar with its International Exchange Programs with Brazil, Europe, and Japan. These reciprocal programs include a two- to four-week educational experience at an academic institution and attendance at the national society’s annual meeting. During the exchange, participants observe urologic surgeries and procedures, attend clinics, present lectures, and take part in staff activities.

Here are three ways associations and members could benefit from a conference exchange program:

  • It could provide insight into what international members are looking for. Participants aren’t the only ones who gain knowledge from a conference exchange program. Associations can also get a sense of what industry professionals outside of the U.S. are looking for in terms of education, products, and other services. This would provide some helpful information to organizations contemplating global expansion.
  • It could lead to global advancements in the industry. If the participating associations are scientific or medical groups, connecting researchers across the world can lead to breakthroughs that may not have been possible otherwise. We all know that face-to-face meetings lead to deeper connections. Plus, taking people out of their normal routine and environment often makes them more open to learning.
  • It could lead to more engaged members. For many members, a chance to head abroad and learn from their global counterparts is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they won’t forget. This experience is likely to lead to higher levels of engagement.

Has your association hosted or participated in a conference exchange program that allowed your U.S.-based members to travel to an international meeting, or vice versa? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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