To Go Global, Channel Your Inner Diplomat

The growing international audience that many associations experienced during the pandemic needs more attention to stick around. Luckily, many leaders have already laid the groundwork for that.

Associations are increasingly poised to pursue more global efforts following the pandemic, now that many of them have found a wider audience. But, as I wrote last month, a recent study by Factum Global and StrategicStraits showed that those efforts can easily stall. Though more global customers and potential members might have arrived at your doorstep through virtual events, it will take more than an online conference to bring them more fully into the fold.

During a webinar last week, three international association experts discussed some of the keys to that increased engagement. The event, “Adding Value by Leading With a Global Mindset,” discussed a variety of skill sets leaders will need to improve international engagement. Generally speaking, those break down into three categories. The first, intellectual capital, refers to your association’s knowledge about new markets. The second, psychological capital, addresses your willingness to take on risk.

Diplomacy is demonstrated by the comfort we have to start a conversation.

The third, social capital, can be the trickiest, but also perhaps the most heartening for those treading carefully when it comes to going global. Sirin Köprücü, principal of the consulting firm StrategicStraits and one of the speakers, pointed out that much of what global associations do is built on relationship-building and empathy, something they (hopefully) already practice domestically. “All leaders need to be mindful when exerting their leverage, focus more on needs than wants, gain a deep understanding of cultures and local needs also with regards to national security matters, and negotiate with shared awareness, positive intent, and problem solving,” she said.

Sylvia Gonner, CAE, founder and principal of the globalization consultancy CultureWiz, pointed out that association leaders in the United States have already been laying the groundwork for that work through their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. And while DEI needs are different in the United States than elsewhere, the practice of deep understanding of different cultures can be widely applicable.

“Diplomacy is demonstrated by the comfort we have to start a conversation with a person from another culture that we don’t know, by our empathy, our ability to listen,” she said during the webinar. “People around the world have very different ways to express disagreement: Some have very open and vocal ways, others are very subtle. The diplomat will learn to integrate these differences and bring people together under common ground and foster collaboration.”

Globalization isn’t exclusively a soft-skills effort, of course. It demands market research and, often, carefully negotiated partnerships with in-country experts or organizations. But that work is closely tied to the diplomatic temperament that strong leaders have already developed. Guilherme Lopes, executive director of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading, spoke during the webinar about the challenge and impact of working with international boards. “It’s like running a mini United Nations meeting,” he said. “It’s not easy managing cultural differences, diversity, and different personalities. Usually those who speak English fluently tend to dominate the meeting. So as the staff liaison, as the glue for boards and committees, it’s our responsibility to connect with everyone to ensure that everyone feels like they belong.”

A lot of associations are skittish about growth right now—the largest proportion of respondents to the Factum Global survey said that international growth will be flat in 2021. There are good reasons to tread carefully. But if what’s holding you back is concern about the relationship-building required, you may already be further along than you think.

What’s been your experience engaging with new global audiences? Share your experiences in the comments.

(Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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