The European Summit of Associations celebrated its 10th edition. A gathering focused on education, networking and discovery continues to be a strong signal that Brussels is the world capital of international associations and an ideal ground for fruitful projects and connections.
Jan Lichota is editor-in-chief of business tourism communications at visit.brussels.
The 10th edition of the European Association Summit (EAS), which was held recently from 3 to 5 May 2022, confirmed by its content and its participation the various developments that have taken place in international and European associations over the last decade and in the Brussels-Capital Region itself .
A conference in tune with the times
With its first editions held as a complement to another event, the conference has grown over time and established itself as its own landmark. Combining EU elements with aspects internal to associations or Belgian legislation, as well as topics common to various organizations such as communication, event management or governance, it has acquired a character that goes beyond its historic approach to an “event for associations, by associations” .
The conference has been organized since its creation by visit.brussels, the Brussels regional agency responsible for promoting tourism and culture. Among its founding partners are key organizations representing the association community – the Union of International Associations (UIA), the European Society of Association Leaders (ESAE) and the Federation of International and European Associations in Belgium (FAIB). editions, have also joined other key players within the association community, such as Meetings Professional International (MPI), PCMA, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and AssociationWorld.
The conference is also closely linked to the partnership that Brussels has within the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), where Brussels, Dubai, Singapore and Washington DC show their expertise and quality of service towards international associations. These cities are the main regional hubs for association headquarters in their respective regions, and Brussels is even number one in terms of association headquarters globally.
With a slogan that adapts each year to associative issues, the conference has built a format combining case studies of associations from all walks of life (e.g. education, petrochemicals, food, legal, social assistance, medical, fire safety) which could inspire participants in their own activities. Whether it’s a communication campaign, an element of board management or an aspect of human resources, the variety of topics has never seemed short, thanks to the constantly changing world real, where associations are not only observers, but drivers of policy and action.
The conference also benefited from academic contributions in its program, with the Solvay Business School (and its Executive Master in International Associations Management) or with Henley Business School during its last edition, as well as various law firms based in Belgium with services for international associations and the non-profit sector.
The keynote speakers have been personalities representing EU bodies, such as the European Commission think tank or the President of the Committee of the Regions, or representing associations such as the President of the European Broadcasting Union (yes, the one which organizes the Eurovision song contest, among others, but it is also an association).
Changing needs and skills
The spectrum of associations has changed and so has their work. In addition to being seen in conference content over time, the phenomenon has also been reflected in the discussions present in various webinars held during the coronavirus pandemic.
Management, advocacy, communication, executive body and office management skills for organizations that operate globally need to undergo change in various aspects. Whether from an organizational, legal or soft skills point of view, the development of new training programs, communities of practice or the strengthening of exchanges between peers can be the only beneficial way to have associations adapted to the challenges that shape global reality.
As noted during the EAS’22 edition, associations are redefining their financial model and their governance to guarantee their sustainability, serve their members and their cause, and engage in reasoned alliances with a broader societal aim.
A place that shapes its character with associations
The associations are part of the DNA of Brussels. The city has evolved steadily and has always been home to local artisan guilds, social organizations and scientific societies. For more than a century, it has also enjoyed a special legal status for international associations and currently hosts more than 2,400 seats of international associations.
Based on the presence of the EU institutions and 40 other international organisations, this broad representation is also spread throughout the city, with its focal points in the EU district and in the Louise business district. Recent and future urban developments have also had a beneficial impact on the structure of the offices and the working conditions of the association’s employees.
Thanks to the reception of international organizations as well as an important diplomatic pole, international press and freelancers, Brussels has the ideal configuration for connections and international development.
In addition to assistance with the organization of events, dedicated support services continue within visit.brussels. From practical toolkits on taxation, security and legal aspects to a whole new concept of site inspections, the associations team deals with the various subjects that animate the associative life of international associations in Brussels.
With the European Association Summit, the seasonal city discovery program run by visit.brussels and the regular events organized by association organisations, associations can quickly develop their knowledge, capacities and network, thanks to the ease with which they can interact with their peers.